The Theory of the Growth Mindset
In recent decades, many of our old assumptions about how our bodies and minds work have been turned upside down. In our own industry, you don’t have to look any further than the revelations about the Endocannabinoid System that began to emerge in the 1990s. Now we know, among other things, that the cannabinoids in the cannabis plant are uniquely tailored to work with our bodies. This understanding wipes away the antiquated notion that cannabis is simply a numbing agent and opens the door to a new understanding of the symbiosis between humans and cannabis.
But nowhere is this knowledge revolution more apparent than when it comes to neuroplasticity: the understanding that our brains are far more adaptable than we once assumed. Credit for this can be attributed to the pioneering research of Dr. Carol Dweck.
Around 30 years ago, Dweck decided to study school children to try and figure out a seemingly simple question: Why did some students take even small failures poorly, while others rebounded—and even thrived—in the face of setbacks? What she learned led her to formulate the theory of the growth mindset.
An eloquent writer and thinker, Dweck put it best herself:
“For twenty years, my research has shown that the view you adopt for yourself profoundly affects the way you lead your life. It can determine whether you become the person you want to be and whether you accomplish the things you value.”
The key, she found, was that some students oriented toward a fixed mindset, in which they believed that their capabilities and talents were more or less set in stone. Unsurprisingly, they were the ones who handled failure poorly. Because they believed there was no way they could gain or improve their skills, they tended to hunger for approval and validation, always fearful of losing their place.
Then there were the other students—the ones who embraced what she called the growth mindset. Trusting that their native talents were malleable—that with hard work and open-mindedness they could improve upon them—these students handled the inevitable failures and setbacks of life with relative ease. Crucially, they embraced an orientation toward learning, practice, and their potential for self-improvement.
Hunger for approval versus passion for learning: two approaches to failure with two very different outcomes. It sounds pretty simple when you break it down that way, right?
Putting the Growth Mindset Into Action
What sets the growth mindset apart from typical self-help ideas is its rigorous underpinnings in neuroscience and behavioral studies. Most of all, it depends upon the notion that our mindset and the ways we apply ourselves depend intimately upon one another.
“As you begin to understand the fixed and growth mindsets, you will see exactly how one thing leads to another—how a belief that your qualities are carved in stone leads to a host of thoughts and actions and how a belief that your qualities can be cultivated leads to a host of different thoughts and actions, taking you down an entirely different road.”
So, how do you shift from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset?
It’s a two-way street. As individuals, it means being willing to take risks, to reach big (and sometimes fail big, too). For those of us who are resistant to the challenge of change, it means taking a hard and dispassionate look at our own tendencies and beliefs. Is there a part of us that thinks we couldn’t possibly get any better/smarter/more skilled than we already are? Numerous studies tell us this isn’t so. Now it’s time to start living that way.
For managers and supervisors, it means examining the ways we communicate with those we work with and oversee. Do we give feedback that encourages self-challenge and achievement, or do we praise innate talent and brains while unwittingly rewarding a fixed mindset?
The growth mindset has helped us fuel the many success stories we’re proud of having empowered. By devoting ourselves to constantly learning and bettering ourselves, we end up serving our clients more effectively.