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What is a Growth Mindset and How Can You Develop One?

In 2006, psychologist and Stanford professor Carol Dweck published Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. In this book, Dweck made a single argument—that our failures and successes have nothing to do with how “naturally talented” we are. Instead, everything we accomplish (or fail to accomplish) has one root cause: whether or not we have a growth mindset.

Mindset took the world by storm, and nowadays, most people have at least heard of fixed or growth mindsets. But what is a growth mindset? More importantly, how can you develop one?

What is a growth mindset?

Before we dwell into growth mindsets, it is important to understand what we mean by mindset.

Mindset is a way of thinking. It is a collection of thoughts and beliefs that shape your thought habits. And, your thought habits affect how you think, what you feel, and what you do.  In short, mindset impacts how you make sense of the world, and how you make sense of yourself.

What is a growth mindset? A growth mindset, like its name implies, is the belief that you are capable of growth. Dweck defines a growth mindset like this: 

“In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point.”

In other words, people who have a growth mindset understand that the world is full of opportunities to learn and improve. Just as importantly, they understand that making an effort to improve will have a larger impact on their success than any sort of natural talent. 

Growth versus fixed mindsets

People with a fixed mindset always want to appear intelligent because they believe that they were born with a fixed level of intelligence that cannot be modified. These people have a fear of looking dumb to people because they do not believe that they can redeem themselves once other people look at them as being unintelligent.

In a growth mindset, people believe that their abilities and intelligence can be developed with effort, learning, and persistence. Their basic abilities are simply a starting point for their potential. And, they don’t believe everyone is the same, but they hold onto the idea that everyone can become smarter if they try.

Here’s an example: some people are naturally good at picking up new professional skills. But most of us struggle with learning new skills or technologies and can sometimes feel tempted to compare ourselves to peers who learn more quickly.

When someone with a fixed mindset starts struggling with a new tool, they’ll say, “Well, what’s the point in trying anymore? I’m just not good with technology.” They’ll view their difficulty as a reason to stop; after all, why should they waste time on something they’re never going to understand? Someone with a growth mindset, however, will say “I don’t understand how to use this tool right now. But if I keep trying, I’m going to get better.” 

Carol Dweck: A Summary of The Two Mindsets

For a great example of someone with a growth mindset, take Jack Ma, the founder of e-commerce giant Alibaba. He failed his college entrance exam three times, was rejected by everyone from Harvard to his local KFC, and then created a company that didn’t turn a profit for three years. But every day he kept learning. Last year, Alibaba’s revenue amounted to $75 billion.

People with growth mindsets understand that natural talent is the smallest aspect of success: the larger aspect is a desire to keep improving.

How to develop a growth mindset

Developing a growth mindset is easier said than done, but there are tools and exercises you can use to promote a growth mindset in yourself or a business.

First, focus on your progress just as much as you focus on your goal. If you focus only on goals, you risk becoming overwhelmed. Instead, remind yourself of how far you’ve already come. Tools like Trello can help you visually track your progress: use Trello’s drag-and-drop kanban boards to divide a goal into milestones, and then drag each milestone into the “Done” column once completed.

Second, embrace challenges and mistakes. Every struggle is a learning opportunity; don’t be ashamed of sharing those mistakes and learnings with your team.

Finally, keep learning! There are several fantastic free resources available to help you learn more about growth mindsets—take a look at Mindset Kit for a great compilation of some.

Your mindset affects every part of your life, from the personal to the professional. A growth mindset has the potential to affect your life for the better. Try it; sooner or later, you will see the results.

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