How a “Growth Mindset” Can Help You Unlock Your Potential

growth mindset

A fixed mindset is the belief that our skills — intelligence, talents, etc. — are stagnant. Someone with a fixed mindset believes no matter what they do, their capabilities won’t significantly improve.  

A growth mindset, on the other hand, means you believe you can progress through hard work and dedication. Even if you’re incapable of doing something now, this can change.  

On the surface, a growth mindset is more optimistic. It motivates people to keep trying, even if their initial attempts are unsuccessful. Organizations have embraced the idea, and “growth mindset” has become something of a buzzword. But putting the philosophy into practice is more complicated than asserting an idea. 

A Growth Mindset Doesn’t Always Equate to Success

Carol Dweck, Professor of Psychology at Stanford University, pioneers work in motivation and achievement. Her 2006 book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, proposes people exist on a continuum with implicit views of their abilities. Every individual has a mix of fixed and growth mindsets — and no one only has 100% of either outlook.  

According to Dweck’s theory, it’s also possible to have a false growth mindset, which has as many pitfalls as a fixed mindset. For example, a business leader with a false growth mindset might praise efforts, even when they’re unproductive. Dweck says people can confuse open-mindedness with real self-improvement because they lack critical evaluation. Having the “right attitude” doesn’t always lead to success, and it’s important to recognize when strategies don’t work. 

A growth mindset isn’t a “cult of positivity.” How we handle criticism and defeat is just as important as staying motivated, upbeat, and empowered to make changes. It’s easy to feel like you’re “just not good enough” when you’re unsuccessful. But if you accept failure and then adapt the philosophy that you can produce better results in the future, you can maximize your abilities and refine your approach.  

“In the fixed mindset, everything is about the outcome. If you fail — or if you’re not the best — it’s all been wasted. The growth mindset allows people to value what they’re doing regardless of the outcome. They’re tackling problems, charting new courses, working on important issues. Maybe they haven’t found the cure for cancer, but the search was deeply meaningful,” Dweck writes in Mindset

The key objective is to learn from the process, and that involves hard work, perseverance, and emotional resilience. A leader with a growth mindset values the process as a reward unto itself. 

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Looking at the Long-Range Value

Stephen Curry is a terrific 3-point shooter and a basketball MVP. But from an outside perspective, it’s easy to overlook the labor and mental fortitude that’s required to reach Curry’s level.  

Even if his free throw seem effortless, Curry spent decades building muscle memory and focus. Over time, his coach praised his work until eventually, he caught the attention of a recruiter.  

As a society, we focus on the outcome — a professional athlete’s career, for example — but skip over the journey that led to a person’s success.  

A fixed mindset can be an easy way out. If we say we can’t do something because we are “bad” at it, we let ourselves off the hook. It’s a way to avoid responsibility — we convince ourselves there’s nothing we can do to change.  

In this sense, it’s crucial to stay attuned to who you are as a person. Be vigilant against negative self-talk and a fixed mindset. Internalize the idea that you have agency and the power to reinvent yourself and your circumstances.  

Deciding to have a growth mindset is not enough. You have to make it part of who you are. Accept when things go wrong, and find out why you failed. Self-evaluation begets knowledge that you can apply to future challenges. 

If you embrace failure as an opportunity to learn and improve, you’ll tap into the power of a productive growth mindset.   

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What’s Your Career Outlook?

Here are a few questions to help you evaluate your outlook and identify opportunities for professional growth: 

  1. What are my recent professional shortcomings?  
  2. What caused my strategy to fail, and what could I have done differently? Keep in mind that sometimes the best course of action is to reallocate resources to counterbalance loss. 
  3. What projects have I abandoned? Which of these still hold promise?  
  4. What are my biggest weaknesses? What am I doing to develop those skills? (Note: This is also a common interview question—if you’re applying to jobs, learn how to frame your response to an employer.) 
  5. What more can I do to advance my career and professional objectives? 
  6. Is there anything in my professional arena that I’m incapable of doing? What can I do to change that? 
  7. What skills do my colleagues have that I don’t yet possess? Research your competitors to identify the gaps in your qualifications. 
  8. What would reinvigorate your interest in the field—a class, subscription to a trade publication, national conference, mentorship opportunity, nonprofit work, or networking event? Find ways to engage with your profession outside of office hours. 
  9. How have I grown in the last year?  
  10. What’s the next step in my career, and how do I work toward that goal?  

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