This blog is about self-awareness and growth. The premise here is that by understanding ourselves and our world, we can grow to be more satisfied, content and fulfilled. Or can we?
In her book Mindset, Carol Dweck, professor at Stanford, explores this question. According to Dweck, our sense of our ability to grow and improve falls on a spectrum from fixed (can’t make changes) to growth (can improve and learn). People don’t tend to be either/or but rather somewhere on the spectrum depending on the context. For example, I may have a growth mindset when it comes to my skills, talents and relationships but fixed when it comes to my athletic ability or intelligence. I may believe in your ability to improve your analytical skills but not in my ability to paint.
Being aware of where we’re fixed or growth-oriented is important. Imagine that I have a fixed mindset about my ability to communicate with others. Perhaps I’ve always been told that I’m a natural communicator, brilliant, and that I should go into a communication-oriented profession like mass communication or journalism. I will rely on that talent to get me to the goal. However, when my talent starts to fall short of what I need to do to be a star, if I have a fixed mindset then I am going to feel inadequate and my sense of identity as a fantastic communicator will be threatened. Either I’ll become anxious and depressed or I’ll blame others who are threatening my sense of my genius instead of blaming my own inadequacy. Perhaps the target will be my boss, or talented colleagues or subordinates who question my talent directly or implicitly. Any type of criticism will be devastating and so I’ll react defensively to less than positive feedback. I won’t work hard at improving because that is evidence that I’m not the genius I thought I was. In addition, my brilliant ideas are sufficient, so don’t expect me to follow through with any action.
In contrast, if I have a growth mindset, my talent is just a foundation for development. I will look for ways to improve and work hard to do so. Feedback and input from others tend to be more welcomed since it’s viewed as a way to grow and learn. I am also not threatened by or jealous of others who are talented because I don’t need others to be low to feel good about myself. I have a sense of humility since I know I’m not ‘there’, that I’m a work in progress but getting better all the time.
As you can imagine, the growth mindset tends to create success over the long run since it fosters improvement over time. Growth oriented people are also more resilient and tend to be more successful in relationships as well.
Note that I have been careful to use the word ‘growth’ instead of ‘change’ because growth implies that you still are who you are. You’re not trying to become someone else, just an improved version of yourself; you with upgrades. However, if you’re reading this blog, you probably are of a growth-mindset when it comes to your psychological and emotional self, unless you’re just looking for resources for others who ‘need to change’.
Being growth-oriented in this domain may not mean this is true across all areas of your life. Perhaps take a few minutes to reflect on where in your life you are growth vs fixed in mindset. Challenge your beliefs about whether you can change or grow in your fixed areas, and think of your effort as a positive, constructive approach. Make a plan to learn and improve in those areas. Find role models who have done so successfully as your inspiration.
One of my projects this spring has been to challenge what I’ve called my self-limiting beliefs, which are really fixed mindset views of myself. In my next blog I’ll share with you some of my efforts to improve my mindset and the effect that has had on my self-concept.