How a growth mindset can help you get ahead at work
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It might all sound overly familiar - self-improvement is nothing new, after all. But understanding the difference between a ‘growth’ and ‘fixed’ mindset could be the key to your success in the workplace.
What is a ‘growth mindset’?
Stanford university psychologist Carol Dweck coined the term ‘growth mindset’ to describe people who believe their skills and abilities can always improve.
They enjoy learning, look out for new challenges and see failure as a chance to learn from mistakes rather than a disaster.
Compare this to those who display a fixed mindset. This type of outlook tends to believe that we’re all born with a specific set of talents - and it’s these, rather than effort, that lead to success.
Typically, it means a greater tendency to avoid challenging situations, ignore constructive feedback and feel threatened by others’ success.
While a growth mindset is definitely not a shortcut to success, the belief that you have the potential to keep learning and developing can help you adapt to today’s fast-changing workplace.
Here are seven tips to help you try and cultivate a fresh and forward-thinking frame of mind.
- Think you already have one? You probably don’t
Many who first hear about the concept of a growth mindset assume that - since they’re already open to new ideas and activities – they’ve nothing more to do.
But this thought goes against its very notion.
Carol Dweck says a growth mindset is a continual work in progress as – in the work place – an individual will habitually switch between a growth and a fixed mindset.
To develop a growth mindset, you’ll need to approach everyday work tasks and projects with an attitude of readiness to learn, balance and understanding. Take a look at this Mental health fitness course to help you modify and strengthen your brain mindset.
- Learn to live with discomfort
Most employees have comfort zones at work where it’s easy to switch off and do your job easily without too much effort.
But a growth mindset requires you to force yourself out of these and be comfortable with a certain amount of risk.
Crucially, this means you’ll need to prepare for some failure. When a risky project doesn’t work out, be ready to accept responsibility - this allows you to learn from your mistakes.
And being able to accept blame also prevents groupthink, a dangerous situation when people feel there’s no place for an alternative view.
If you think groupthink is a problem where you work, try and seek ways to introduce different opinions.
For example, you can ask to assign the role of playing deliberate devil’s advocate to someone in meetings, or introduce an anonymous suggestions box.
- Set yourself a growth goal
A ‘growth goal’ is very different from a short-term, performance-related goal such as a sales target or profit margin.
Instead, this type of goal targets your longer-term personal development such as learning a new work skill or addressing a weakness – improving your ability to present to a public audience, for example.
Talk to your manager about ways you can make a growth goal part of your annual performance review, and look to agree on the kinds of improvements you need.
If you’re self-employed, finding spare time for this from working to earn money can be tough.
So try to put aside dedicated time to set yourself these as goals.
It may be ambitious but, if possible, it could even be worth considering a five-year ‘growth’ plan.
This can help keep you focused on a growth mindset as it’s vital to keep on learning if you want to reach it.
Make sure this plan is personalised so you feel in control of your development - and set aside time each month to go over it and see what you need to do to get there.
Need inspiration? Recruitment specialist Reed has a personal development plan template you can use.
Don’t be afraid to tweak these long-term goals – or even change them completely.
We’re all constantly adapting to changing conditions in the workplace so it’s important your goals can change too.
- Turn ‘not good enough’ to ‘not yet’
The practice of branding work projects as either a success or failure can keep you stuck in a fixed mindset.
When your results are classed in such a black-and-white manner, you’ve little room to learn or develop.
But having a third ‘not yet’ option can help you break away from this.
Carol Dweck cites the example of a school in Chicago that replaced a ‘fail’ mark on students’ exam papers with ‘not yet’ instead.
It subsequently saw a huge boost to its struggling students’ performance because ‘not yet’ didn’t suggest their work was a failure.
Instead, the comment helped them to see that, with time and effort, a better grade could be achieved.
The same motivation can apply at work.
Using ‘Not yet’ as a verdict on tasks and projects can encourage you to think again about problems and challenges, rather than write them off as failures.
- Use your boss to help you grow
Your manager could be a valuable tool to help develop a growth mindset.
Explain why it’s a priority for you and that you’d value as much constructive criticism on your work as possible. At the same time, ask to be put into challenging situations wherever feasible.
A growth mindset suggests it’s possible to pick up as many skills as possible, so if your manager has one you admire, think of ways for you to acquire it in your daily routine.
Don’t be shy about asking – a good manager should take every opportunity to encourage you to develop.
And when looking for new roles or projects, think about what kind of manager you want to work for.
If you can, it’ll be worth seeking one out who displays a growth mindset.
Self-employed or don’t have a decent boss? You can still benefit from this approach by picking a trusted role model.
If you work for yourself, you could ask either a trusted contact or client for help; inside a company, a senior or highly-respected colleague could be just as advantageous.
- Beware hollow praise – ask for constructive criticism instead
Praise for work success is never unwelcome - but too much of it could cause you to slip into a fixed mindset.
If approval and acclaim start raining down on you, it can be easy to believe you’re naturally talented and no longer need to improve.
While – of course – taking the warm words on board, try asking for feedback too.
For a well-received work project, ask your colleagues specific questions on what you could have done differently and what you can work on for next time.
In a public-facing role? Ask happy customers (who are willing to talk to you) if there is anything else they would have liked to have seen in your service or from your product. If you own your business, try doing the same with satisfied clients – after all, they stand to benefit from any improvements as much as you do. When you do receive useful feedback, don’t just file it away in the back of your mind – put time aside to think about how you can act on it.
- Build up your resilience
A growth mindset usually means you’ll work more frequently outside your comfort zone.
In turn, you’ll likely find yourself under more pressure than usual.
To avoid burning out, take steps to ensure you feel both mentally and physically strong.
Your resilience – the ability to recover quickly when things go wrong and find a way forward when the going gets tough – will play a key part in your growth mindset.
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