Why we should be spending more time to adopt a ‘growth mindset’

By Grace Kouvelis

I’m sure most of you by now have heard of the concepts of a ‘growth’ and a ‘fixed’ mindset. And I’m sure many of you may think it is all just hype. But the ‘growth’ vs ‘fixed’ mindset theory is much more evidence-based than you may think and developing a ‘growth mindset’ is not merely as easy as telling yourself you are great and can do anything.

What does the research say?

Recent neuroscience research has demonstrated that the brain is far more malleable than we previously thought. Brain plasticity research has shown how connectivity between neurons can change with experience. With practice, neural networks grow new connections, strengthen existing ones, and build insulation that speeds transmission of impulses. This challenges the belief that skills, virtues and behaviours (e.g. intelligence, talents) are solely innate, or in other words ‘fixed’. Research indicates that through the actions we make, we can strengthen our neural growth. We can do this by using good strategies, asking questions, practicing and by maintaining a good wellbeing – such as following good nutrition and engaging in good sleep habits.

If I haven’t lost you already with summarising neuro findings, I’ll explain what I mean in more basic English. It refers to the fact that our mindsets are not ‘fixed’ and we can in fact change how our brains respond to certain situations. This is evidently backed up by research and what it means is that if we automatically respond to a certain stimulus, e.g. pressure of too much work, with a poor response, such as retreating and walking away from it, we can train ourselves, through time and practice, to respond in a different way, such as breaking the tasks into smaller steps, breathing slowly etc. This process falls under the premise of what a ‘growth’ mindset is. Your actions, responses and behaviours are not all set in stone. But by understanding, acknowledging and acting on processes of change, you can learn to enhance your performance. It is not about being “smart” or “dumb”. But it’s about how much effort you put in or how you approach a given task.

Why adopt a growth mindset?

Adopting a growth mindset has many benefits such as increased motivation and achievement. Research suggests that praising children for instance for their hard work and effort facilitates a growth mindset, rather than simply telling them that they are smart. Growth mindsets allow individuals to continually improve, to build new skills and enables you to maximise your potential. It equips you to be able to tackle a challenge, to learn from criticism and to find inspiration in situations.

We want to move away from having a ‘fixed’ mindset. The way of thinking that someone either has ‘it’ or doesn’t is very black and white and limiting. Thinking in that way prohibits growth, learning and development. So it’s no wonder that it is discouraged to think this way for our children. But what does it mean for adults in the workplace?

What does it mean in a workplace setting?

Mindsets have been linked to considerable differences in employee performance. In the workplace, leaders who embody a growth mindset have been linked to feedback seeking behaviour, improvements in leadership capability and more supportive and developmental approaches to leading others. They are more likely to coach employees and provide them with support and guidance than leaders with a fixed mindset. When entire organisations encourage a growth mindset, employees indicate feeling more empowered and committed and they experience more support for collaboration.

What is also of significance is the degree to which these mindsets seem to impact on performance. For instance, basic strategies like educating others about the concept neuroplasticity and growth mindsets, telling real life stories of the results that follow, by praising effort rather than ability, can all foster a growth mindset in itself and lead to performance enhancement.

Of course it is not as simple as just saying ‘adopt a growth mindset’. But it is clear that there are numerous benefits for this type of thinking. So broaden your horizons, be open to change and remember nothing is ‘fixed’.

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