Should I Stay or Should I Grow: Which Mindset Do You Have?
Failure is something we all face in our lives. Whether it’s not quite hitting a target in work, not getting the promotion we tried really hard for or not winning the sprint event on sports day – failing is the bad guy we come up against time and time again. Although we cannot always control when a situation doesn’t go our way, what we can control is how we react. We can choose to let a single event define who we are or we can take lessons from our experience and action these to propel us forwards. This choice comes down to mindset. Mindset is the way you perceive and react to situations, and many case studies have concluded mindset can be a make-or-break deal when it comes to success. Thankfully, an individuals mindset is not set in stone and can be worked on in order to move from seeing failure as a villain to an opportunity to learn.
Now you may be very familiar with what a mindset is and which one you have, or you may be approaching this topic for the very first time. If so, there are a few simple ways to see how you are currently aligning. Psychologists have classified mindset into 2 categories: fixed and growth.
A fixed mindset represents beliefs that an individual’s abilities are set and not much can be done to alter them. An example of this is a person is either good or bad at maths. If you are born with the natural ‘gift’ of being a number wiz, you will excel in algebra and calculus, but if digits ain’t your deal, you will never be good at it. This restrictive thinking based around ‘natural’ talent can give individuals with the fixed mindset the idea that there is no point in trying things they are not born good at and their natural ability means they are exempt from new learning. There is no doubt some people are naturally gifted and can be extremely good at what they do without much effort, but a big problem with thinking in this way is any type of failure – big or small – becomes a huge hurdle. A failure becomes a stamp of ‘you are not good enough’ because your natural ability could not prove successful in that situation. A fixed mindset normally reacts to failure with either excuses (‘it wasn’t my fault, the temperature was too low that day’) or retraction (‘I am not good enough so I won’t try again’). Either way, failure is a dead end; with little option but to stay exactly where you are.
A growth mindset sees an individual’s abilities in a much more malleable different way. These skills and ‘gifts’ are not set items we are born with but processes which are to be continually worked on and nurtured as they are improvable. A growth mindset individual would take the idea of a person’s mathematical ability as a skill to constantly improve and up-level in. If number’s ain’t your thing, a growth mindset would be pushing you to take as many pop quizzes as possible – with each score card representing new lessons to action and do better in next time. ‘Natural’ talent is nothing but a starting point and not striving to improve those skills is a waste of what ‘gifts’ you have been given. In the growth mindset, failure is welcomed as this gives the individual more opportunity to grow. Instead of letting this type of situation get to them and brand them not worthy, a growth mindset allows the individual to ask the questions ‘what can I learn from this experience that I can work on for next time’ and ‘how can I action my mistakes to ensure I improve my chances’. These reflections enable success further down the line as not only are lessons learnt, but future opportunities are still goals to strive for. Here, failure is a slightly steeper part of the path up the mountain; with knowing that added effort at this point will lead to great views up ahead.
The neuroscience of growth mindset vs fixed mindset is still under investigation but some initial investigations into how the brain differs in growth mindset individuals have be carried out. These results have shown attributes such as the brains of growth mindset individuals having a heightened attention to mistake they make – shown by higher error positivity waveforms in the brain following constructive feedback. Also, activity in a brain region called the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), which is important for learning and decision making based on past errors, has been reported to have higher connectivity and suggests that individuals with growth mindset could be more efficient at learning from mistakes. Although these studies represent correlations rather than biological mechanisms, their results do imply that the brain of a growth mindset individual reacts differently to that of a fixed mindset individual. As our brains are plastic and can reorganise based on experience, the idea mindset could also alter these connections is very probable. Further studies aiming to pin down the science behind how a growth mindset leads to success as reported in many studies will hopefully give us more of an idea of the power of our minds.
All of this information came from the amazing book Mindset by Dr Carol Dweck – I highly recommend reading if like me, you are on a journey from a fixed to growth mindset.
Julia xoxox (@julia.ravey.science)
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