Mindset Matters: Developing a Growth Mindset to Boost Confidence

by Susan Mullin

Adopting a growth mindset to optimize your potential

“Either you got it or you don’t” is probably one of the most misleading phrases you can hear, in any context. We use it often when talking about people in sports, professional careers, school – you name it. For years, there has been an emphasis on what we are versus what we can become. We see this in the hiring world quite a lot actually.

How many times have you heard a hiring manager go for the candidate who seems to “have” the experience desired instead of taking a chance on the person who has the potential to do even more? Although in some cases it makes sense to go for the candidate who ticks all the boxes, hiring managers could be missing out on so many talented candidates just because of being too focused on what they know and not what they could learn, with our help.

Even outside of hiring – in your career and in your personal life – you are limiting yourself if you truly believe that your abilities and skills are fixed and unchangeable. It’s time to ditch the fixed mindset and adopt the growth mindset – and here’s how.

What is growth vs fixed mindset?

First, let’s get a little bit of background. When it comes to intelligence, science has two theories: incremental versus entity theory. Entity theory (fixed mindset) considers that the essential characteristics of intelligence are fixed, non-malleable and pre-determined. Incremental theorists (growth mindset), on the other hand, view intelligence characteristics as those that can be improved upon through learning and behavior training. In other words, the former represents an “either you got it or you don’t” view and the “you get what you get and you don’t get upset” mindset. Meanwhile, the incremental view sees it more as “you get out of it what you put into it” and that skills can be acquired and developed with effort. 

Entity theory (aka fixed mindset) folks have an “I can only work with what I’ve got” kind of mentality, where the tools in their toolbox as helpful and valuable as they may be, are the only tools that they have. Incremental theory (aka growth mindset) folks acknowledge that we can acquire NEW tools for our toolbox! You’re not just stuck with the ones you have. If you really want a new tool or skill, you can get your hands on it.

It’s outdated and limiting to maintain the belief that skills are non-malleable when neuroscience research now more than ever shows us just how unbelievably malleable the brain is! Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to adapt and change by forming new connections between neurons. We can always form new connections in our brains – we don’t have a set amount to work with.

Why would you want to switch to a growth mindset?

The American psychologist Carol Dweck focuses on work related to motivation and mindset. She’s conducted several provoking studies on the fixed vs. growth mindset. In one of these studies, her team analyzed students’ brain activity as they reviewed their test mistakes. Individuals with a fixed mindset displayed no observable brain activity during the review, whereas those with a growth mindset exhibited active cognitive processing while going over their errors.

Now let’s think about how this can impact our professional careers. Consider the imposter syndrome, the belief that we are a failure and we are fooling those around us. How does this tie all together? Given the prevalence of imposter syndrome in our society, particularly in women, it would be of disservice for professionals to hold a fixed mindset. If we believe that we only have a set amount of abilities and a cap on our skills, then it’s only going to add to the false belief that we are inadequate and incompetent at our jobs.

The good news is, that you can literally always change your mind!  If you think that you’ve been basing most of your attitudes and views on the fixed mindset your whole life, don’t beat yourself up – it’s what many of us can default to. It’s also something we hear often, for example when someone says “I’m not very creative. I’m just more of a numbers guy” or “I just don’t have a brain for languages.” These are all limiting beliefs that create excuses to not try things that we are too scared to do because we think we might fail. 

Taking control of your mindset

There are small changes you can make in your daily life to adopt a growth mindset which will help you be more flexible and become the best version of yourself. For starters, you could change the way you view feedback. A fixed mindset response to feedback is to shut down and feel defensive because of the view that constructive feedback = criticism. A growth mindset views feedback as an opportunity to improve and grow, not as a reflection of who you are and your value. The same goes for dealing with failure. Failure can be viewed as a learning opportunity to fix your mistakes for the next attempt at it. It does not mean you are not capable. 

Think about taking control of how you view this in terms of the workplace. Many times we will shy away from challenges because we think we don’t have it in us –  we’re not “the creative type” or we’re “simply not cut out for numbers.” This is bogus. If you have the will for it then you will find a way. Don’t shoot yourself down before you’ve even had a chance to attempt something. The same goes for your employees, new hires, or potential candidates – don’t rule someone out because they don’t have the exact past experience to show for it. The eagerness to learn and the willingness to grow will often surprise you. If someone has the determination and the effort then they’re halfway there and with training and hands-on experience, they can grow to be the best they can be. 

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Posted in , Professional Development