Have you had friends who when you disagree with them, will say “You need to change your mindset!”
And it’s always you that has to change your mindset, not them.
Anyway, what is a mindset? Are there different types of mindsets? And more importantly, can you really change your mindset and be more successful?
What is a Mindset?
According to psychologist Carol Dweck, a mindset is a way of thinking about something.
There are many types of mindsets depending on what you focus on:
- In sports, there is a winner vs. loser mindset.
- In finance, there is the rich mindset, the poor mindset, the loser’s mindset, and the trader’s mindset.
- In education, there is the high achiever’s mindset, and
- In management, there is the leader’s mindset and more.
The fixed vs. growth mindset is probably the most useful if you are a manager.
If you have a fixed mindset, you believe that intelligence and competency are rigid and unchangeable. If you have a growth mindset, you believe that intelligence and competency can be developed over time as the brain grows (Dweck).
Here’s what psychologist Carol Dweck says:
“In the fixed mindset, everything is about the outcome. If you fail or if you’re not the best, it’s all been wasted. The growth mindset allows people to value what they’re doing regardless of the outcome. They’re tackling problems, charting new courses, and working on important issues. Maybe they haven’t found the cure for cancer, but the search was deeply meaningful.”
To learn more about Dweck’s fixed and growth mindset, watch this YouTube video from John Spencer.
Mindsets can be defined in many areas, like in relationships: If you have a fixed mindset (stuck in place), you might leave a difficult relationship. If you have a growth mindset (capable of changing), you might agree to make some changes to foster a better relationship.
Where do mindsets come from?
Where do mindsets come from and how do they “reside” in the brain?
Mindsets can originate from different sources. Here are just a few of them.
Life experience. Your life experiences can evoke strong emotions and events that can often alter your course in life (e.g. trauma). This can create in you a mindset that can be either supportive or destructive.
Culture: You have a pervasive culture that consistently shapes your actions, and these actions can create a mindset. You can see this happening in families, companies, societies, and in places where everyone follows the norm.
Learning: Your education and how you learn when you are growing up have an impact on your mindset. This includes how you handle your discovery, self-talk, reading and writing, and what you experienced during your school days.
Stories: All through life, you are constantly hearing stories about “how things are” and these form your mindset. These stories can come from music, theatre, sports, interest groups, and newspapers, as well as in schools and communities.
Peer groups: The people you mix within your social or peer group will tend to mold your mindset.
Can you change your mindset?
There are studies in neuroscience that tells us that activating mindsets (perspectives) alters two areas: “value” and “choice”.
The first of these activates the medial orbitofrontal cortex (MOC) and left lateral prefrontal cortex (LLPC) areas of the brain. When you are making a “choice” it activates the left amygdala and left putamen.
Unless your actions alter your values and choices, they are unlikely to succeed in influencing another person’s mindset. In other words, a mindset is (1) what you value and (2) the corresponding choices you make.
How to build a growth mindset
Now that you know you don’t want a fixed mindset, how do you change your mindset to a growth mindset?
Here are some applications that you can try out:
Improve the work culture
At school or at your workplace, create teams, rituals, routines, and activities that emphasize the values, beliefs, and actions that everyone will take. As more students or employees work on these continuously, they will influence each other’s thinking, and start developing growth mindsets (Gruenert & Whitaker).
We know that learning can change our lives. So get everyone to do more writing, reading, thinking, and reflection.
Research has shown that the brain “grows” by forming new connections when you practice and learn new things. The more you challenge your brain to learn, the more brain cells grow.
So, allow your students or your employees to learn new skills, or take part in events that will enhance their knowledge.
Ask your kids or your staff to answer questions that reflect on their work daily. Create dissonance between the current and “new” staff by engaging in this daily contemplation process. Daily triggers should be used to reinforce the affirming new behaviors.
For example, ask your students three questions to answer each day: “Can you tell me how you helped people today?” How did you improve your learning skills today? What are you thankful for, as well as what are you looking forward to?”
Set higher and higher goals
We know that hearing and repeating stories about “the way things are” can become the dominant and reinforcing storyline.
Assist your students or employees in collaborating to set new, higher goals, provide a cause for others to believe in them, establish micro-goals, and share achievement incentives.
Affirm the positives. This should be done in meetings, casual discussions, and at school or office functions. Discuss the accomplishments of your previous students and colleagues. As a memory exercise, have them retell the stories. In actuality, the repetition will affect their attitudes.
Check out Carol Dweck’s book on Mindset where they are lots of examples of how you change your mindset.
Changing from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset can be a frightening experience. It is like moving from a “safe and known” place to a “dangerous and uncertain” place But those who did it will tell you it was worth it.
- Dweck, C. S. Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. Ballantine Books, 2007.
- Hyatt, C., Gottlieb, L. When Smart People Fail. New York, Penguin Books, 1993.
- Jensen, E. “The Science of Mindsets.” Adapted with permission.
- Gruenert, S., Whitaker, T. School Culture Rewired: How to Define, Assess and Transform It. ASCD Books, 2015.
- Goldsmith, M. “Triggers: Creating Behaviour That Lasts – Becoming the Person You Want to Be.” Currency, May 2015.
- Seligman, M. Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life. New York, Knopf, 1991.
- Wilson, T. D. “Redirect: Changing the Stories We Live By.” Little, Brown Spark. Jan 2015.