Last month, as part of Personal Empowerment Institute, I invited long-time friend, Jeff Strietzel, part-time lecturer at Baylor University and Ph.D. candidate, to talk about growth mindset--the ability to see failure and mistakes as an opportunity for growth. His guest post, below, continues that conversation!
A few years ago, I considered asking one of my resident assistants (RA) to step down from her student leadership role. She had made several poor, unprofessional choices.
“This RA doesn’t ‘get it,’” I thought. “She doesn’t have the “smarts” for the job. She’s a bad RA.” After some reflection, though, I realized this RA’s poor performance was probably more my fault than her own. I had not provided her sufficient training and support. Worse, I had fallen prey to a common tendency: viewing my someone’s abilities with a fixed mindset.
People with a fixed mindset believe that basic human abilities or intelligence are static traits (Dweck, 2006); talent is considered endowed, not developed. This haves-and-have-nots belief system can have detrimental effects on our views of others –and our own professional performance!
In her book, Mindset, Carol Dweck synthesizes 30 years of research on motivation, personality, and talent development. Initially, Dweck investigated how people responded to setbacks. She found that operating within a fixed mindset often produced negative emotions and behaviors. Other effects of a fixed mindset were misguided motivations and misplaced goals, diminished risk-taking and an aversion to experimentation, defensive self-protection, and decreased productivity.
Perhaps more harmful, some of Dweck’s participants internalized their setback (e.g. thinking “I am a failure” versus “I failed”), which crippled their confidence and performance. We’ve all been there! I’ve thought this about myself, and in my earlier example, I had transmuted an RA’s imperfect performance into a label (“bad RA”). My fixed mindset approach not only discouraged my RA, it was antithetical to the educational mission, the student affairs profession, and my responsibilities as her supervisor.
In contrast to a fixed mindset, Dweck found those who cultivated a growth mindset were more resilient, successful, and satisfied—even in the face of adversity and failure. A growth mindset is the belief system that one’s qualities and talents can be developed. Said differently, a growth mindset assumes a person’s self-perceptions, motivations, and abilities can be improved through purposeful effort.
In fairness, the stark contrast of fixed versus growth mindset might sound over-simplified. People do, of course, differ greatly in their interests, abilities, and temperaments. However, in practice, mindsets powerfully influence our attributions and decisions, manifesting differently in various areas of our lives. For example, I might have a growth mindset regarding program development or RA training but a fixed mindset about learning statistical software or budgeting. Left unchecked, a fixed mindset hinders our development. Thankfully, like other beliefs, mindsets can change—and we should feel empowered to change!
Here are three recommendations to help you generally cultivate a growth mindset.
Look: Mindsets are beliefs systems and beliefs are not always conscious. Adopt mindset lenses in your everyday life and work. Look for fixed- and growth-mindset behaviors wherever you are. After you do, you will see their ubiquitous influence.
Listen: Listen to the voices in your head; your beliefs whisper to you. Doubtful and sarcastic, the fixed-mindset voice is mean, defensive, and image-centric to a fault. In contrast, the growth mindset is curious, encouraging, and gracious. Once you identify the voices, tune out the fixed mindset voice and turn up the growth mindset voice.
Learn: The growth mindset fosters a love for learning and development. It also enables you to accept all experience –successes and failures—as valuable growth opportunities. Remember, however, that knowing about a growth mindset does not mean you have a growth mindset (In fact, “having” a growth mindset is a fixed-mindset myth! A growth mindset is a lifestyle of learning and development).
In sum, mind your mindset. Look for and listen to a growth mindset. Engage continuous learning.
Cultivating a growth mindset is a process, and it’s messy, at times, but it is worth the effort. You will sooner become the person you hope to be, and you will enjoy the process more than with a fixed mindset, too.
Dweck, C. S. (2006). Mindset: The new psychology of success. New York, NY: Random House.
Jeff Strietzel is a part-time lecturer at Baylor University. He’s earned a master of arts in higher education and student development, and he is completing a Ph.D. in higher education leadership. Jeff’s areas of interest are in students’ success, issues of culture and organization in higher education, and leadership. His dissertation research centers on how academic leaders overcome failure. Follow him on Twitter: @jeffstrietzel