If this all sounds a little high-level, that’s because it is. It’s not easy to think about how you think. And to make matters worse, Dweck is very clear that we all have a mixture of fixed and growth mindsets.
So while awareness is a good first step we also need to be constantly mindful that we’re taking a growth approach to our work.
Here’s how you can do that:
If your job is little more than jumping through hoops, it’s going to be difficult to embrace a growth mindset. Binaries (pass/fail, right/wrong) are a breeding ground for fixed mindsets and should be avoided at all costs.
One way to do this is to embrace the power of “not yet.”
In one example, Dweck explains how when a high school in Chicago replaced a failing grade with “not yet,” they saw a massive improvement from their lowest-performing students. In the context of these two mindsets, a “fail” puts you nowhere, while “not yet” puts you on a trajectory towards success and tells you that you’ve made progress and can continue to grow your abilities.
At work, it’s hard to see failures as anything over than just that. But losing sight of the progress and growth you make every day puts you in “the tyranny of now”—where you feel stuck at your current ability level and shy away from difficulties.
How you set goals can obviously influence the mindset you bring to work. As Dweck explains, the type of goal you set often reflects on whether you’re seeing the work with a growth or fixed mindset.
Research shows that people with fixed mindsets are more likely to set performance goals (like moving a metric or hitting a KPI) instead of learning goals (like bettering your skills). It might seem like not a big deal, but focusing on performance goals defers to short-term thinking and makes you feel like you either pass or fail. And when you do fail, it can be devastating.
Let’s say you’re a service rep for a company. You can either have a performance goal of 95% customer satisfaction. Or a learning goal aimed at increasing response time and improving your overall communication skills. Hitting that performance goal might be motivating in the short-term, but to advance your career you need to learn to perform better over time.
Deliberate practice is a technique where you use a systematic approach to building skills. Rather than just going through the motions, it means going into each session with a specific, challenging goal, getting constant feedback, and adapting and trying new ways to get better.
While a fixed mindset isn’t comfortable being put in a place beyond their comfort zone, a growth mindset revels in it. It promotes challenge and learning over raw talent and has been used by everyone from chess grandmaster Magnus Carlsen to award-winning sushi chef Jiro Ono to become the best at their skills.
We all love praise. But too much of it can make us fall into a fixed mindset. We fall back on the idea that we’re naturally talented and forget that the best way to get better at new skills is to learn from your mistakes.
When you finish a project, ask for feedback on what you can do to improve. Not just whether the work was good or bad. Dig deep into areas that could’ve been improved or different paths you could’ve taken.
A growth mindset requires connecting our work to a bigger purpose. And the only way to do this is to be aware of your long-term goals and have a plan in mind. To stay on track, set time aside to go over your goals and make sure they’re aligned with your work.
When a friend of Hunter S. Thompson’s asked him how to live a life with meaning, the eccentric author replied with a lesson on the power of having a growth mindset:
“When you were young, let us say that you wanted to be a fireman. I feel reasonably safe in saying that you no longer want to be a fireman. Why? Because your perspective has changed. It’s not the fireman who has changed, but you…
“So it would seem foolish, would it not, to adjust our lives to the demands of a goal we see from a different angle every day? How could we ever hope to accomplish anything other than galloping neurosis?”
Take a minute to really think about the way you approach your work and your interests. Do you really believe you can grow? Or are you stuck in a fixed mentality?
Our careers, like our lives, are always changing, evolving, and growing. And we need to keep up with them if we don’t want to be left behind.
How do you make sure you’re approaching your career with a growth mindset? Please comment.