10 Steps to Developing a Growth Mindset
Carol Dweck, noted Stanford psychologist and author of Mindset, tells us that the only thing standing in our way of learning is our beliefs about our ability to learn.
“In one world, effort is a bad thing. It, like failure, means you’re not smart or talented. If you were, you wouldn’t need effort. In the other world, effort is what makes you smart or talented.” – Carol Dweck, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success
Want to get smarter? Want to get better at something? The only thing standing in your way are your thoughts about yourself and your abilities. Want to become a math person? Want to get an “A” in science? Want to study at MIT? Then change your brain. It’s easier than it seems. And it starts with your own self-talk.
1. Recognize that your brain and its neural connections are elastic.
As you continue to learn, new connections are made. Those who think they know all there is to know, or even enough, risk atrophy. Brain cells are always dying. In fact, the only part of the brain that continues growing new cells after the age of 2 is the hippocampus, the center of learning and memory. You will grow new cells as you learn new things, and make excellent use of the ones you still have.
2. Acknowledge your weaknesses.
Admit to yourself what you don’t know. Now go and learn it. Learning a difficult subject is a lot easier than spending your life in fear of what you don’t know.
3. Improve your vocabulary: “Failing” is “learning.”
When you make a mistake or get a bad grade on a test, learn from it. Nothing can teach you better than your own missteps.
4. Stop seeking approval.
What others think of you and what you know or don’t know is none of your business. Your business is to be better today than you were yesterday. Treat everything as a learning opportunity. There will always be those who support you and those who deride you. Those who put you down are projecting their own of not being good enough. It has nothing to do with you.
5. Stop apologizing and/or berating yourself.
Don’t preface your questions or your fear of not knowing with an apology or worse yet, a self-deprecating comment. “I’m sorry. I know I should know this, but… “ We tend to do this so as to get the approval of those whose help we are seeking. Refer back to #4 “Stop seeking approval.”
6. Celebrate your process.
Theodore Roosevelt said it best: “Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty… I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life. I have envied a great many people who led difficult lives and led them well.”
Learning something new and all the more so difficult takes time and effort. Praise your effort, not your results. Effort consistently applied will move you in the direction you wish to go.
7. Seek out criticism.
Ask for feedback. We believe when people criticize something we do or say, they’re criticizing us. This is a direct result of having a “fixed mindset." In other words, if I believe that something is my absolute best work, then a criticism of my best work is a criticism of me. The truth is, my best work hasn’t been done yet, because I get better every day. Ask for feedback. Welcome constructive criticism. And if you agree with it, take steps — even baby steps — to improve. A "growth mindset" person might respond to constructive criticism, “Cool, now I know how to get even better.”
8. Cultivate grit.
The natural result of a “growth mindset” is the realization that learning and growth take effort. Cultivate your ability to make real and consistent effort. And, while you’re at it, be sure to celebrate your effort. After all, your effort is all you really have control over.
9. Set realistic expectations of the time and effort required.
We are notoriously bad at estimating how much time something will take, especially learning a new skill or subject. Remember Parkinson’s Law says that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion (Wikipedia).” I would add an addendum saying that, work expands to take more time than allotted. Be patient with yourself. Try to overestimate the time something will take and be pleasantly surprised.
10. Don’t compare your “bloopers” reel to others’ “highlights” reel.
Know that people’s social media status updates and those of the stars you follow are not even half of the story. When you watch only their “highlight” reel, you tend to believe that success comes easily to others. No one reaches the top of her field because it was easy. J.K. Rowling cites many rejection letters before procuring a literary agent for Harry Potter.
To one of her Twitter followers, Rowling confirmed her “Growth mindset”: “Believe me, neither @RGalbraith nor I walk around thinking we’re fab. We just shoot for ‘writing better than yesterday'."