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Shift Disturbing Part Five: Adopting A Growth Mindset

Let’s do a quick recap of the entrepreneurial overhaul I have laid out for you. To date, we have suggested:

  1. A new way to approach your work, moving urgency to the start of the process.
  2. That there is a benefit to making errors and that you get more comfortable screwing up.
  3. That you quit trying to make everyone happy; they don’t deserve you.
  4. That your failures, past and present, be in perspective, you loser. I’m kidding, come on.

Today’s serious shift has to do with your mindset and the importance of believing you can learn. Believing that you can learn new things is the mother of all serious shifts that you need to make if you want to be a more successful and happier person. Personal income rarely, if ever, exceeds personal development.

Most of us think we are incapable of learning new things.

Carol Dweck, a professor at Stanford, has been studying mindset for decades, and what she has concluded is that this one crucial belief we have about ourselves – that we can learn something new and get better at it – guides us and permeates nearly every aspect of our lives.

This belief limits our potential or enables our success. It often marks the difference between excellence and mediocrity. It influences our self-awareness, our self-esteem, our creativity, our ability to face challenges, our resilience to setbacks, our levels of depression and our tendency to stereotype, among other things.

First, she found that arguably the most important factor in achieving success, in any endeavor, is our capacity to grow and adapt.

Second, she determined that the key to becoming a great learner is our mindset and our attitude towards learning. Her research shows that there are really two mindsets that we can adopt: a fixed mindset or a growth mindset.

A fixed mindset is a belief that skills are something that you’re born with, that you either have them or you don’t – that you can’t (or don’t have to) learn and grow. Who you are is who you are, end of story.

A growth mindset is a belief that skills are built, that you can grow and develop them, that you can learn and develop and change through application and experience.

It’s quite likely that you are somewhere in the middle, and you likely switch from these different mindsets depending on what area of your life you are dealing with. Whatever mindset you have in a particular area will guide you in that area.

How does your mindset affect your behavior?

Having a fixed mindset creates an urgency to prove yourself over and over – criticism is seen as an attack on your character and to be avoided. Having a growth mindset encourages learning and effort. Criticism is received as valuable feedback and openly embraced. The hallmark of the growth mindset is the passion for sticking with it, especially when things are not going well. If you truly believe you can make a serious shift, you will be that much more driven to learn and execute.

Surely such a simple belief can’t have such a profound impact on your life?

“Smart people succeed,” says the fixed mindset. Therefore, if you succeed, you’re a smart person. Therefore, pick the easier problem so success is more likely, stick to the status quo, get better at the basics and validate how smart you are. Pick a new path, get human, take some risks, embrace the serious shift, drink the pink goo and you may fail and reveal your stupidity.

“You can figure it out,” says the growth mindset, “and you will figure it out by effort and trying over and over again.” So who cares, pick the challenge, who cares if you fail!

Your mindset is the view you adopt for yourself. According to Dweck, these beliefs can be seen as early as four years of age.

“We offered four-year-olds a choice: They could redo an easy jigsaw puzzle or they could try a harder one. Even at this tender age, children with the fixed mindset – the ones who believed in fixed traits – stuck with the safe one. Kids who are born smart ‘don’t make mistakes’.” (Dweck, Mindset, 2006, pg. 16.)

The growth-oriented kids welcomed the harder puzzle, finding the safer puzzle to be too boring. As a father of a 9 year old and 5 year old, I know this is true, and it is one of the reasons that I believe that if you really want to do a kid a favor, you have to let them do dangerous things.

Is your four-year-old mindset influencing your important life decisions now?

Without a doubt. When was the last time you invested in your own personal or professional development? Recently? You have a growth mindset. Can’t remember? Years ago? Fixed. You don’t necessarily believe that you can learn anything new. You are stuck in the status quo, avoiding the serious shift that will lead you to a better life.

The fixed mindset is the lizard, resistance, the sofa. The growth mindset is the starting point for change, the springboard.

If you’re stuck in a fixed mindset, there is good news – you can be saved. I know a couple of nice guys in Canada who would love to help you out. You just have to ask.

Here are some questions to consider:

Do I embrace or avoid challenges?

Do I give up or persist in the face of obstacles or setbacks?

Do I see effort as fruitless or as the path to mastery?

Do I ignore useful criticism or do I learn from it?

Am I threatened by others’ success or do I drawn inspiration from others?

This powerful truth isn’t new, my friends. Shoshin is a concept in Zen Buddhism that Tom Frisby turned me on to, the concept of Beginner’s Mind. Be open and eager even when studying at an advanced level, just as a beginner in any subject would.



Comments (2)

I liked this post. The idea of Shoshin reminds me of something pretty damn profound (if I may say so myself) that sort of fell accidentally from my mouth once. I don’t even know if I came up with it all on my own – probably not; more likely I heard it somewhere and buried it in my memory for who knows how long before a comment from my nephew spontaneously stirred it up from the bottom.

My then-little nephew and I were fishing together one day about ten summers ago. He was getting bites but hadn’t managed to get anything in the net yet. After I’d bagged three or four bass on as many casts (the bass were a bit on the small side, I’ll admit), he declared, “wow, you’re really good at this, aren’t you?”

I replied without thinking, “sure, and after doing it for thirty years, you’ll be a pretty good beginner, too.”

I’ve remembered it ever since, and have even found opportunity to regurgitate it a few times in different situations, but never in quite as perfect a moment as the first time it sprang from my lips. More important, I hope he remembers, and it sticks with him for however long it takes for him to drop it on his own kids one day in a similarly perfect moment.

I will remind you of something else you said to me once that was pretty profound. We were fishing, and you pointed out how appropriate fishing is as an analogy for business. You are looking for fish and they are rarely looking for you, you have to understand them in order to attract them, it’s not their fault when they don’t buy/bite it’s always your fault, you are using the wrong bait (sharing the wrong message.) You have to see the experience from their perspective. I’m always listening Eric. Delighted that you read the blog and took a moment to write in.
For those of you who are interested, Eric works for a very cool company called http://www.leevalley.com with a great story.

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