Harnessing the Growth Mindset: what can we learn from pushing ourselves?

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about thinking. Especially when it comes to developmental psychology and trying to mend my own relationship between the growth mindset and creative achievement, which makes me an excellent person to have at dinner parties.

But in all seriousness, since starting at Embryo I’ve had plenty of learning experiences that have caused me to completely reevaluate how I operate on a daily basis; especially when it comes to dealing with challenges and considering how I can grow from them. Our team puts a great deal of emphasis on mindset health and self-development, which helps us grow our basic abilities and areas of expertise into something truly amazing.

One way we encourage this learning process is by reading. It sounds simple, but in addition to improving cognitive skills and destressing after a packed day of crafting killer content, it’s a deliberate practice that can help us figure out how we can improve our brains both in and out of work. You only get one brain, after all.

I was introduced to the Mindset Concept by reading the aptly named, ‘Mindset: Changing The Way You Think To Fulfil Your Potential by Dr Carol Dweck. As well as helping me cut through brain fog on my morning commute, it gave me some proper motivation as to how deeply ingrained negative thinking – which often happens without us realising – can hold us back, shrinking our appetite for learning and ruining our potential.

What is the Growth Mindset?

Excellent question. Since their research was first published in Psychological Science (after almost 30 years in the making) the ‘Growth Mindset’ has become a buzzword phenomenon in the ‘better-yourself’ circle. But Mindset Researchers found that when discussing passions and what gives people proper motivation, there are “implicit theories of interest” which are either fixed (fixed theory) or developed (growth theory).

The basic qualities of each theory found that those with a fixed mindset believed that their interests are awakened, usually through natural talents, and often expected to have heaps of motivation without considering possible challenges. When they went to tackle interests outside of their own little field of intellectual abilities, enthusiasm waned – which also happened when they received constructive critiques – likely because no one likes to feel that they aren’t ‘good’ at something.

In the words of Dr Dweck herself: “Urging people to find their passion may lead them to put all their eggs in one basket, but then to drop that basket when it becomes difficult to carry.”

We can infer from this research that a fixed mindset is unsustainable in a world that rapidly requires knowledge across several sectors. We are living in some of the most challenging times where we must double down on growth mindset efforts – which, if you’re anything like me, feels like a steep ask. But then again, I operate with a very fixed brain. It’s a work in progress.

You see, the growth mindset comes with a healthy dose of commitment. One of our most human qualities is to be discouraged when we find things difficult, especially when we are taught to process praise on immediate achievements and results. But with a growth mindset of interest, humans can learn that their initial talents can be built upon and nurtured – seen within one of their numerous studies with young students.

It is easier for pupils to understand the value of effort when they believe they can become smarter. So they give it their all – without fear of failure – and that results in higher accomplishments. We see this in teams and companies that utilise this in spades, helping their employees go above and beyond for clients with skills they’ve developed while on the job. 

What are some of the common misconceptions about the Growth Mindset?

It’s easy to think that the growth mindset can be boiled down to a matter of moral character – something that Dweck says is happening more and more frequently. One of the biggest, and most erroneous, takeaways is that a positive attitude will do most of the heavy lifting while a fixed mindset spells a completely closed-door on brain development. Not all growth-minded people are successful people, and the nature of our abilities only goes as far as their applications.

In reality, our brains are ridiculous bits of jelly that occasionally fire a neuron or two and can easily recall any part of Taylor Swift’s lofty music catalog. But they are also incredibly versatile. Research into brain plasticity revealed that connectivity can change with time, strengthening achievement cognitions and building insulation that puts certain impulses on rocket fuel.

The brains of people can be changed by even the smallest things, which encourages neural growth where we need them most. From simply using salient strategies, asking more questions, practicing new skills, and improving your sleep hygiene, your mind can optimise its attitudes toward learning – while improving brain functions.

Where can we see this in practice?

When I first read some of Dr Dweck’s research, her notes taken from when her team gave a group of children puzzles have stuck with me. Regardless of the nature of abilities or level of intelligence within the class, many kids were keen to get stuck in and tackle all sorts of challenges through learning. When they solved a jigsaw, they were asked if they would like to redo the same one or move on to a trickier puzzle: the majority were giddy to get their teeth into a bigger problem.

One child actually rubbed their hands together with glee and said something along the lines of, ‘Oh! I was hoping this would be tough!’ – which to my overly anxious mind, was absolutely bananas. But upon reflection, it is an excellent foundation as to how we can implement the growth mindset into our own lives and apply it across the sectors we work in.

No one goes through life hoping that things will be hard, but it’s rather the fear of making mistakes – or being ‘bad’ at something – that dissuades us from taking the plunge. Many of us get stuck in the same old rut because it’s comfortable, which denotes that we must be doing something right. But to fully lean into our full potential, we have to take risks and try new things, even if we turn out to be truly awful at it.

Dweck exemplifies Steve Job’s initial vision for Apple as the integration of science and art together, both enhancing and complementing each other. In order to achieve innovation, in our personal relationships, and in a professional capacity, it’s key to strive for the things that feel just a little beyond our reach.

After all, the Big Brains have it on good authority that it might be closer than we think.


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