“I am a loser”.
I always thought that comment was a very American reaction to a mistake; and as such, from my perspective as an Italian, very interesting and kind of cute.
Not so anymore.
According to Carol Dweck, that comment is a sign of a fixed mindset. And a fixed mindset can lead to a lot of unnecessary suffering.
In her book, Mindset – the New Psychology of Success, Carol Dweck divides people in 2 groups: those who have a “fixed” mindset and those who have a “growth” mindset.
But what is a mindset?
A mindset is a belief people have about their abilities and their qualities.
Of course people have different traits and abilities and qualities that they are born with.
People with a fixed mindset consider those qualities to be carved in stone – and that means that every situation calls for a confirmation.
People with a growth mindset consider those qualities as a starting point – there is no telling what you can achieve if you apply yourself.
Having a mindset or the other has several consequences: even 4-year olds with a fixed mindset tend to stick to easy tasks to prove they are smart vs. stretching themselves by tackling more difficult tasks; people with a growth mindset can take feedback and use it to their advantage, while people with a fixed mindset transform the feedback about an action into a judgement about their identity (from “I failed” to “I am a failure”).
The belief that talents can be developed gives people with a growth mindset a motivation to work hard and to practice deliberately, which is the secret to excellence; by contrast, people with a fixed mindset see effort as a sign of not being good enough: it’s hard for them to become, they have to be, right away.
They forget the yet. Facing a mistake, a person with a fixed mindset might think: I am not good at this. A person with a growth mindset, facing the same mistake, might think: I am not good at this… yet!
The good news is that a growth mindset can be taught.
And I now believe that teaching clients a growth mindset is the most important task a coach or a trainer can carry out.
A coach can implicitly teach a growth mindset to clients by using a language of possibility (see Mark McKergow and Paul Jackson’s SIMPLE model), by praising clients’ efforts (vs. outcomes), by helping clients to see obstacles as challenges, by focusing clients on learning rather than judging, by bringing the attention of clients to actions and feedback rather than to labels.
Switching from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset can open up a whole range of possibilities and opportunities – and isn’t that our mission as coaches and as change facilitators?