The power of yet – how to develop a growth mind-set and why this is important

Have you ever faced a really difficult task? Or encountered a challenge that seemed too hard for you, such as a problem that you could not solve no matter how hard you tried?

How did you react?

Whilst we would probably all agree that these situations are somewhat frustrating, most of us tend to react in either of two ways: some people find them really, REALLY frustrating and almost tragic, but then there are others who for some mysterious reason say “Actually, this is quite fun! I love a challenge”. Of course your thinking may not fully fit into either of these extremes, but it is worth exploring which one you might lean towards. 

Psychologist and researcher Carol Dweck describes these two thought tendencies as fixed versus growth mind-sets. Individuals that have more of a fixed mind-set, she argues, are more likely to give up on difficult challenges as their ability to reach a solution is impeded by their preoccupation with the possibility of failing. Such individuals tend to have an underlying assumption that our personality, intelligence and creative abilities are somewhat static. People with a grow mind-set, on the other hand, approach difficulties much more positively. They realise that they may be unable to overcome a problem right now, but they understand that abilities can be developed. Dweck calls this “the power of yet” – the belief that anything we cannot do yet, we can learn; and that we can cultivate our abilities and qualities through our efforts.

So what are the implications of that? Admittedly, the problem at hand may not necessarily be solved more easily in either of the two thinking approaches, however, our future performance is very much influenced by our mind-sets.

Imagine having failed a test. Research has shown that individuals with a fixed mind-set, not believing that they are able to improve, are less likely to study for the next test and instead are more prone to cheating on it. But that is not all: a fixed mind-set has been associated with blaming others for failure, along with a general tendency to run from difficulty. In contrast, if you held the genuine believe that you could do better next time through learning and practice, what would you do? Exactly: learn and practice. This shows how our mind-sets can cause us to act differently, and in this case it is fairly obvious which approach is likely to lead to more success on the test.

Interestingly, our thinking style does not only affect our behaviour, it also impacts the way in which we process information. Brain scans reveal that when dealing with a difficult task, subjects with a fixed mind-set show less brain activity than their colleagues with a growth mind-set, which led researchers to conclude that they are less engaged in the task. Equally, this showed that a growth mind-set could also lead to deeper engagement with a difficult task, and thereby trigger processing and learning. 

Now – is this bad news for anyone with the so-called fixed mind-set? Will these individuals forever be victims of their own inflexible minds? No, because there are ways to do something about it – we can all develop a growth mind-set!

Embrace Imperfections
People with a fixed mind-set often consider success to be a manifestation of their intelligence, but correspondingly also interpret failure as evidence for non-intelligence. Given their underlying assumption that intelligence is static, the stakes of succeeding on a task are therefore quite high, which is why ‘failure’ is so tragic for them.

If we, however, make ourselves aware that we are able to progress, change and adapt our abilities, a failure is simply a moment that our existing abilities had not mastered yet.
In order to grow and develop we need to acknowledge and embrace our ‘failures’ and imperfections, and use them as an incentive to build on our existing abilities.

Look at the bigger picture
It is important to not only look at how challenges impact on us in the here-and-now. Considering the bigger picture, including the past and future, can make us realise how challenges have helped us develop in the past, and how they will continue to do so in the future. Also – there are so many challenges that you have succeeded at previously, does one failure really mean that you are inadequate? Exactly! Of course not!

Place effort before talent
Being a ‘genius’ does not just mean being very talented – instead, it requires hard work. Try to undermine the sole role of talent in achieving goals and start to appreciate that reaching a target always involves effort.

Re-define ‘failure’ as ‘learning’
Without failure we would hardly develop. So failing can be good, we only have to take it as an opportunity for learning and growth. Remember that you can choose how you would like to interpret a challenge – you can choose to consider it to be daunting, but equally you can choose to regard it as an opportunity.

We believe that these strategies can help us whether we have a tendency towards a fixed or a growth mind-set or not. It is also quite common to not have one of the two thinking approaches all the time, but instead experience triggers – such as stress – that then lead to us fall into a more fixed mind-set. It is therefore important to take moments to reflect on how our inner voice is speaking to us: is it being harsh with us, or more positive and telling us to take on challenges? And if it is harsh, you now know what to do…!

If you are struggling to turn off the harsh fixed mind-set voice, you can always come to us for help, too. Contact us about our coaching or leadership development programmes to find out how we can support you.

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