I just completed a project that I would not consider a success. Not a total failure but really not good. So I have choices: I can wallow in self-pity, blame others or I can learn from it and hopefully avoid the same problems in the next project.Let’s pause to think about it another way: If everything were very easy for us all the time, would we learn anything? Carol Dweck in her excellent book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, would say “No.” Dweck, a Stanford University psychologist, has studied how children and adults deal with failure. She sees failure, with the right mindset, as essential to learning.
Dweck is a proponent of what she calls the “growth mindset.” She sees a growth mindset as “the kind of mindset that could turn failure into a gift.” Let’s explore what she means by looking briefly at its opposite: fixed mindset. Those people with a fixed mindset believe that you only have a certain amount of intelligence, a certain personality and a certain moral character. Your qualities are carved in stone.
Those people with a growth mindset, however, believe that “your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts, your strategies, and help from others.” So the “view you adopt for yourself profoundly affects the way you lead your life.”
When fixed-mindset people fail, they see what happened as a direct measure of their competence and worth. The growth-mindset people in the same failure will, of course, be upset but then will think “I need to work harder or smarter.”
We probably all have a fixed mindset about some things (“People have the IQ they are born with.”) but not about other things. What can we do to improve our mindset? Dweck gives some practical advice:
- Embrace your fixed mindset. Acknowledge the areas where your mindset needs to change.
- Become aware of your fixed-mindset triggers. When do you find your viewpoint jumping over to fixed? With a new challenge? When you come across someone better than you in something?
- Give your fixed-mindset persona a name. “When we’re in a crunch, Duane shows up. He makes me supercritical of everyone.” So it’s time for a little self-talk with Duane.
- Educate your fixed-mindset persona. “Keep talking to Duane so he can calm down and then help you cut them some slack and contribute to team process.”
So I hope this little article gives you some insight into how we view ourselves and our failures and sets you on a growth-mindset path. Now I’ve got to go make a list of what happened in my current project before my persona (Sarah) takes over. I’ve got to control her and see it as a gift.
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