I’m not sure if you’ve been noticing this, but what I’ve been seeing is that… ‘growth mindset’ is being used by some people to really mean “tell me how to fix that other person. Give me a ‘trick’ to use so I can change their attitude”.
It’s almost becoming another way to judge people. You either ‘have a growth mindset’ or you don’t.
This is a problem because people often don’t feel inspired to change when we feel like someone is judging us, or trying to convince or change us.
We need to be more discerning about how we preach and teach growth mindset.
If we don’t, there’s a good chance the people who need to hear it most will stop listening (that’s what I am seeing in many, many circles I work in).
To help with that, here are five things we can commit to in order to help the ideas of growth mindset make more of an impact in our work environments and relationships.
1. Ask not what to do differently, but how to see differently
ALL human behavior starts with how we ‘see’ (perceive) a person or situation. If we want to do something in a new way, we have to see ourselves, others and the world in a new way.
Follow the “see-be-do-have” model: when you “see” something in a new way, it creates a new internal, physiological state within you (“be”). This new internal state then leads you to project different ‘micro-signals’ and actions as you interact with that person (“do”)… this can lead to having a new result in your interaction with that person.
How does our brain-body system ‘see’ in a new way? By getting more information. As soon as our brain-body system gets more ‘data’, it opens up its awareness. We notice more. The more we notice, the more accurately we perceive. The less information we have, the more our system narrows its awareness onto things it expects.
This also means that we need to be more inclusive of our awareness and less ‘either-or’. Instead of trying to convince yourself that a person has no ‘bad behavior’ or things you don’t like, let them have all degrees on a spectrum. Notice that they have negative qualities you don’t like, AND something you admire.
If there’s someone you want to influence or inspire to change the choices they’re making, you don’t need to give them more things to do in order to change. You need to help them see something new when they look in the mirror. You can be a mirror enough times to reflect a more complete image of them until they can see themselves more clearly on their own.
That will require you to look for what is beautiful and powerful and strong about them: one way to do this is to figure out how they can use a wound, or a source of shame or frustration – as something they can tap into to help someone else’s life feel a bit better (aka., ‘self-transcendent purpose’)
[p.s. – We therefore rarely ever actually ’see’ things as they really are! we even ‘see’ objects as solid because our system ‘expects’ it …even though no object in the universe is ‘solid’ – it’s all just particles and waves vibrating!) (learn more about all the tricks our brain-body system plays on us in Episode 11: This is what happens to your brain when you add diversity to your life)]
2. Experiment. Experiment. Experiment.
People can smell authenticity a mile away (by ‘smell’, I mean, their trillions of cells and sensory receptors can detect the biofeedback you emit due to your internal state – which changes depending on how truthful and confident you are about what you are saying).
If you are asking people to be more brave and make mistakes and push themselves to learn, are you?
Become a beginner again – in anything – and feel what it feels like to be self-conscious, fumble and be awkward and vulnerable. Notice how it feels, and what you need to say to yourself to get through it. Then when you talk to people about growth mindset, they’ll feel your sincerity. Your words will be more natural. . And you likely won’t need to rely on someone else’s catchphrases or research to talk about what its like to build a new ‘muscle’ and push through the dip.
Humans (many mammals too, including dogs, dolphins and primates) must be willing to do something in order to change their behavior. To be willing to do something that someone is asking us to do (like try a new strategy or behavior), there must be TRUST.
To trust someone, we need to know they’re authentic.
To show someone you trust that making mistakes and being awkward is something manageable, that we can survive, you need to show you’re willing to go there.
How do you do this?
By being a beginner again – in anything – and feeling what it feels like to be self-conscious, fumbling and awkward, and noticing how it feels, what you need to say to yourself to get through it. When you do this, you have REAL examples from your life right now to pull from, and you likely won’t need to rely on someone else’s catchphrases.
Research shows that the more we get people to think about what makes them unique and different, the more we protect them from stereotypes and labels that can hurt their performance. The more we think about people’s individual traits and what is so unique about them, the more our brain interprets their skills and results as being caused by things they do, rather than who they are inherently.
This helps us inspire others to try new behaviors, because it moves US away from the thought pattern of ‘that’s just who they are’, and helps them see beyond the idea that ‘there’s no point because I‘m just not capable of change’.
(see Dweck’s original research on using nongeneric language and incremental versus entity mindsets)
4. Teach the science.
Stop being intimidated or ‘judgmental’ about science.
Recent studies are showing that when people learn the science of how the brain learns and how it develops and grows through the challenges and demands we ask of it, it helps cultivate a growth mindset approach and improved learning outcomes
If you feel resistant about it, it’s because you are confusing a scientific mindset with ‘reductionism’ or ‘authoritative wisdom’. These are narrow-minded ideas about science that some people have bought into (for example, ‘only trust things you can measure’ – which ignores the question, ’what if we haven’t invented an instrument to measure it yet?) That is not science. Science is a way of looking at the world with a hunger for newer, wider views of reality, rather than just accepting an explanation that’s been passed onto us, or not allowing ourselves to be curious and surprised, or to have our minds changed.
You’ll touch more hearts and minds when you acknowledge that most of us have learned really messed up ideas about intelligence, learning, ‘goodness’. There’s been a lot of misinformation about how brains get built, that we’re born a certain way and there’s nothing that can be done about it.
Acknowledge that we all have different types of built-up ‘programming’ that may or may not serve us now. We can then experiment with to see if a new belief help us see ourselves or a situation differently (see commitment #1), to get us into an optimized state for growth. (for example, trying on the more accurate understanding that the brain is malleable and changeable and grows according to how much we challenge it, rather than the inaccurate understanding that the brain is static and intelligence and potential are things that we’re born with in fixed amounts and can never change.)
We have to acknowledge that the negative stuff is there so we can bring it into our awareness. We don’t need to get into all the details, but at least acknowledge they’re there and that we weren’t born with them: babies don’t have self-doubt when they’re learning to crawl and talk and walk. Negative opinions and ideas come from us absorbing what’s around us. Explicitly talking about this helps us understand that the negative voice we hear isn’t ‘innate’… it was learned. Which means we can ‘unlearn’ it.