Growth Mindset: A tool for failure AND success.

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In my recent podcast interview with psychologist and performance expert Dr. Jo Mitchell from The Mind Room, I asked her how top performers differ from you and I? What drives and motivates people to become the very best?   

Her response?

“The people who really excel often have an amazing growth mindset. They are incredibly able to deal with the discomfort and pain of failure; to look at it as a learning opportunity and to see how they can grow and thrive and learn from that.”

This was such an important reminder. Often we equate a ‘growth mindset’ with performance and motivational phrases exhorting us to believe in ourselves or to keep pushing. In parenting circles it’s linked to praise and the words that we use to encourage or reward our kids; ‘You tried so hard’ as a replacement for ‘You’re so clever’

But a growth mindset is not about success (despite the sub-title of expert Carol Dweck’s book). It’s not about hard work, or effort or believing in yourself. It’s not about intelligence and the malleability of the brain, although Dweck covers all of these topics in her work. A growth mindset is much deeper than the words we use to praise, encourage or motivate.

Jo’s reflection that our highest achievers, ‘Deal with the discomfort and pain of failure.. [and] look at it as a learning opportunity’ reminded me that a true growth mindset is a fundamental belief that no matter how difficult things get, we can emerge from the experience stronger, wiser and more capable. It’s a reminder to ourselves that every experience is an opportunity to learn and grow; that pushing ourselves beyond what is comfortable might put us at risk of failure but it puts us at even greater risk of development, improvement, growth and resilience.

‘Will anybody die?’ is the phrase I use to put challenges into perspective, for myself, my kids and my clients. My husband was great at this too when the kids were little and climbing to the top of the playground equipment. ‘If they fall, will it kill them?’ he’d asked, as my anxiety rose with their clambering limbs.

No, they won’t. There’s risk, sure, but there’s also an opportunity to grow and learn. There’s an opportunity for pride and self belief and a discovery of just what their bodies and minds can do. That, for us, outweighs the risk of a broken bone.

‘Will anybody die?’ I ask myself, when I’m nervous about an impending presentation to a large group.

No. I might mess it up, feel awkward, embarrassed, disappointed in myself, but no-one will die. Meanwhile, opportunities to develop my skills and confidence, share the wisdom of my profession and help others stretch before me.

On the back cover of Carol Dweck’s book, Mindset:The New Psychology of Success it says, ‘Dweck...shows how a simple idea about the brain can create a love of learning and a resilience that is the basis of great accomplishment in every area.’

High performers, those who push themselves not just to succeed or to win but to become better in whatever they do, embrace risk and failure because what you learn from failure makes you grow. They will sit with discomfort. They will learn. They will persevere, they will grow and they will succeed, not just in their chosen arena, but as human beings.


Tips for developing a Growth Mindset

  1. Look for opportunities to learn and grow at every age.
  2. Listen to what you tell yourself (and others) when things don’t work out. Ask, ‘What can I learn from this?’

  3. Take chances. If big ones terrify you, then start small. Celebrate your growth no matter how things turn out.

  4. Worry less about using the ‘right’ words with your kids. Encourage them to try, to persevere and ask them what they’ve learnt from the experience.

  5. Be patient. Changing thinking habits developed over a lifetime will take time and perseverance but you can do it with awareness and practice.

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