The Google definition for the word mindset is “the established set of attitudes held by someone”. In order to grow as a person, we first need to make sure we grow from our already “established” attitudes. Attitudes that depend upon our mindset.
Until not too long ago, it was believed that our brain is static. It does not change much. But in the late 1940s, Polish neuroscientist Jerzy Konorski used the term Neuroplasticity to describe the neuronal changes. The theory of Neuroplasticity became widely used in the 1960s and 70s. What it means is that our brain is plastic. It is malleable. And if you expose yourself to the right training, practice, environment and techniques, you can alter parts of your brain and thus your behavior.
It is also believed that one is born with a certain amount of talent, intelligence and character. If you are a musician, you must have been born with the talent to hum an exquisite harmony while you are taking a walk by the lake. If you are not born talented, do what you can do but you will never become world class. This myth also has been broken where today we see many examples of individuals working hard and achieving their dreams. What differentiates the people who achieve what they set their minds to?
Maybe, it’s the mindsets.
Now, with the context of this article in mind, there are two types of mindsets. The Growth Mindset and The Fixed Mindset.
The term Growth Mindset was first coined by Professor Carol Dweck (Professor of Psychology at Stanford University) where she pointed out the importance of the underlying beliefs that one has about their level of learning and intelligence. She did extensive research on school and college students to observe and record the response individuals gave to learning, testing their abilities, feedback and other aspects of their growth.
How are these mindsets formed?
“Neurons that fire together, wire together.” You might have already heard this phrase. This is known as the Hebbian learning rule and it states that if interconnected neurons become active very close in time during a particular event, their connection strengthens and “a memory” of this event is formed. This is what leads to the formation of our mindsets. For instance, driving, swimming, typing away on the keyboard, and sometimes… scrolling through your Instagram feed. These behaviors as they get repeated become fixed in our brain.
Research on brain plasticity shows how connectivity between neurons changes with experiences. These neural networks work on growing new connections, strengthening the existing ones, and building insulation that helps speed transmission of impulses. Neuroscientists have shown us that we can increase our neural growth by the actions we take such as constructive criticisms, practicing, good strategies, good health, and sleep cycle.
Carol Dweck mentions two primary sources influencing the formations of our mindset - praising and labelling. Our mindsets are created since early childhood and are changing as and when we grow influenced by our surroundings. Dweck’s experiment focused on the school kids’ behaviour however, this theory is proven on adults as well. Mindsets are out-comings of pre-established notions. External factors play a huge role in the formation of our mindsets. Validations provided by eminent people in our life changes the course of our structural minds. As a plant requires the help of the sun and the water to grow, so do we. However, our growth is not fixed but is ever changing.
Why are mindsets so powerful?
Our mindset is our identification. Our mind is the only invisible “organ” of our body that determines who we are and how we perceive the world around us. Our minds make us more vigilant about ourselves and our surroundings. It helps us react to different situations in different ways.
“Praise” makes everyone behave differently depending on whether it is personal or professional. “Labelling” someone on their achievements or emotional or professional stabilities promotes a fixed mindset in them. It confers that they either possess that stability or they do not and how there is nothing that they can do to change it.
There is NO ULTIMATE GOAL. There is no one who has a final goal. At every point, after every milestone achieved it is a human tendency to hope for more or get better at it. Hence, processing the change and building mindset at every process is important. Fixating a mindset to this or that is what ties us to the know not allowing us to grow. We need to untie that and know the difference between “this or that” and “this and that” and learn to acquire the latter into our lives.
Process is important. The process to reach a target, to complete a single task, to complete the first milestone, is all a part of the process or in other words steps to succeed. Praising the process focuses on the effort put in by the person trying to accomplish a task. It focuses on the efforts carried out to plan, strategies, and apply knowledge which can be controlled and improved each time. Let us imagine a situation, a sales employee was given a task to close the deal at a 30% profit margin. In the first few attempts, he is able to close them at 35% and the reward is praise. He gets labelled as the ‘best closer!’. Fast forward a few months and if the sales cycle has shifted and he is unable to perform at the same level, labelling is bound to happen. This is what contributes to someone becoming a Fixed Mindset. Instead of labeling them as this or that, we need to complement the process. Learn from the process. And maybe identify best practices that can make the whole team ‘the best closers, ever!’.
Difference between fixed and growth mindset
The Fixed Mindset follows a “reactive” approach while the Growth Mindset follows the “creative” approach. The reactive approach demands an instant solution to the problem while the creative approach considers all possibilities before acting. The former acts like a “victim” while the latter accommodates itself as an “agent”. Fixed mindset victimises its growth by limiting itself where the growth mindset acts like an agent, a catalyst of new learnings and growth.
The Fixed Mindset believes in playing it “safe” while the Growth Mindset believes in taking “risks”. The former saves itself from anything to happen at all whether it is good or bad, while the latter takes the risk by believing in great things to occur along the way. The former has a mediocre or an “apathetic” behaviour whereas the latter has a “curious” behaviour. The former limits its growth and wants to be the best at what it knows. The latter always wants to know more and is curious to learn and grow.
The Fixed Mindset is a “rigid” mindset. The Growth Mindset is a “flexible” mindset. The former is certain about its goals and plans and has a no-change policy. The latter believes in exploring and is flexible to changes along the way while on its journey of achieving its goals.
How to focus on the GROWTH mindset?
We are just a mindset away from being closer to our purpose. We need to make our mindset shift from “I can’t do this.” to “How do I learn this?”, from “I don’t know.” to “I will find out.”, from “It is too tough.” to “This seems like a challenge to overcome.”, and lastly from the most used phrase “I am too old” to “It is never too late”. Our mindset needs to shift from being worried about the future to face the future all armed. To stop worrying about the failure to instead be curious about what will happen. We need to learn how to do the “tough” thing first. Our affirmations and positive outlook towards life will help us in our desired Manifestations.
And, it all starts with a simple question. Do you want to change?
And if the answer is yes, maybe coaching has a role to play. That is a conversation for another day!
This article was first published in People Matters on December 27, 2021.