What is a growth mindset? And how can you get one?

Do you have a growth mindset? Find out why it’s so important – and how we can all reap the benefits of it if we try. 

“If we only did things that were easy, we wouldn’t actually be learning anything. We’d just be practising things that we already knew.” – David Dockterman

Over the past few years, we’ve started to hear more about the ‘growth mindset’, especially in schools and some work environments.

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It’s an interesting concept and one that, particularly in our test heavy education system, is worth learning more about.

What is a growth mindset?

Professor Carol Dweck was one of the first people to coin the term ‘Growth Mindset’. Dweck supposes that there are two types of mindset: a fixed mindset and a growth mindset.

People with a fixed mindset struggle more with life, and are often held back by anxiety and stress. They believe that their abilities, talents and/or intelligence is fixed, so if they fail at a task then that must mean they are incapable of it. So there’s no point in trying again, or looking for creative solutions to solve it.

People with a growth mindset believe (or are educated to believe) that their talents can be developed through hard work, motivation, good learning strategies and constructive input from others.

They believe that their abilities grow through trying new things and they tend to see failure as uncomfortable, but a useful experience for growth.

In a school culture that seems to be primarily based on rigid testing and re-testing children to determine their ‘ability’, helping to educate about and build a growth mindset in young people could be all the more important.

We’re all born with a growth mindset

Personally I believe that we are all born with a growth mindset. I only have to spend the day with my pre-school age nieces and watch them repeatedly attempt the same puzzle, game or challenge of dexterity to know which mindset they are operating from.

Should I think a task might be a little out of their ability just yet, the three year-old is only more than happy to pointedly tell me “I can do it!”.

But it’s educated out of us

Yet, somewhere down the line, we start to educate this natural ability to try, try and try again out of children. Does it happen in the school environment or before this? Is it learnt through observation or installed in them by educational culture?

As we grow older it’s worth referring back to this stage of being and learning. A growth mindset is more than just having a positive outlook or generally being open minded.

You have to actively participate in having and developing this way of approaching life. You need to take part in what is sometimes referred to as ‘deliberate practice’ — the process of acknowledging a skill or talent you have/want and deliberately working to improve it, seeking feedback and ways of building that skill.

It’s about being open to new opportunities and even if you fail, using opening questioning — think ‘what’, ‘why’ and ‘how’ — to learn from the experience and help you move forward.

Why does a growth mindset matter?

Increasingly, schools and businesses are waking up to the benefits of a growth mindset. Businesses and employers are realising its benefits too. And, based on the types of attributes employers vote the most favourable in new recruits, it would seem demonstrating a growth mindset can really set you up for future success too.

Just look at the keywords, such as ‘committed’, ‘innovative’ and ‘resilient’, that rank the highest among attributes that employers want to see in new recruits. These are all traits of a growth mindset.

Being aware of a growth mindset can also help you identify businesses and employers who value this in their work environments. When companies embrace growth mindset, their employees report feeling far more empowered and committed. They also receive greater organisational support for collaboration and innovation.

Contrast this to companies who follow a fixed mindset way of thinking — who believe in attracting and retaining talent over upskilling and empowering existing employees to become better staff and colleagues.

Can you change your mindset?

You can absolutely change your mindset if you wish. Mindset is changeable, but it does take conscious thought and action to develop. As Professor Dweck herself says:

Mindsets are an important part of your personality, but you can change them. Just by knowing about the two mindsets, you can start thinking and reacting in new ways.

Elaine Mead is a passionate education and careers consultant, and is particularly interested in empowering young women to be their professional best. You can follow her on Twitter and read more of her articles on medium.