Cultivating A Growth Mindset

April Showers Bring May Flowers: Cultivating A Growth Mindset

Cultivating A Growth Mindset

Cultivating A Growth Mindset

Cultivating A Growth Mindset

As a New Englander, we cherish April showers, as it indicates we’ve gotten through winter; and flowers, sunshine, and warm weather may be on the way. While pessimists among us, call this time of year, ‘mud season’, many of us are already in our gardens with scarfs on, weeding, and getting it ready for our favorite, short season – summer!  Thinking that blossoms will grow from what was once snow, salt, and sand reminds me of the growth mindset research by  Carol Dweck, Ph.D. Stanford.  Carol Dweck Ted Talk on Growth Mindset

Earlier this month, Princy Quadros Mennella, Princy Quadros Mennella Neuroscience Program Director and Associate Professor of Biology at Bay Path University, and I spoke at the New England Area Regional  ATD Conference on “Cultivating A Growth Mindset” ” New England Area ATD Conference

It was our first time working together, which we linked to exercising our “growth” mindset. We were excited and a little nervous about bridging our two fields, learning and development with neuroscience, to help others recognize the biology and opportunity we all have to enhance our lives.  Princy’s background in the science and structure of our brain, coupled with my 20+ years of experience in learning and development in the workplace offered our workshop participants a glimpse into the benefits of cultivating a growth mindset for themselves as well as their learners. A few highlights from our presentation:

Three Differences between a Fixed and Growth Mindset

Fixed Mindset: Believes ability, talent and intelligence are innate

With this mindset, you believe you are born with these qualities and you either have them or you don’t.  You often here individuals with a fixed mindset say: “You’re an athlete” “I’m no good at math.” “You’re so smart.”

The fixed mindset individual tends to seek out opportunities that only support that image and avoid experiences that would change that mindset. In other words, if I say I’m not a cook, I don’t experiment with new recipes, and prefer ready-made foods from the grocery store or a night out at a restaurant. (Nothing wrong with that, just using that as an example!)

Growth Mindset:  Believes you can develop ability, talent, intelligence

People who have or who have cultivated a growth mindset, recognize that they might have been born with certain qualities, but they aren’t limited by them.  So with this mindset, I can say: “I may not be a good cook, yet!”

According to Princy, “Our abilities result from our brain’s function. The brain is capable of change at massive scales. It is constantly changing in structure and forming new connections as we learn a new skill or understand a new concept. Everyone’s brain has the ability to “grow” and change. Therefore, everyone has the potential to develop their abilities and talents.”

Princy gives us a useful example when she says, “ no one was born with knowing how to use touch screen technology, and it’s not very intuitive, yet, most everyone in the workplace (and unfortunately in restaurants, cars, and workshops) seems to have mastered this skills. “

Fixed:  Mistakes, failures, setbacks are unacceptable and effort makes you look weak

With a fixed mindset, individuals often think if they are really good at something, it should come easy. If something takes effort or if they try something and make a mistake, it means they are inadequate and a failure and shouldn’t do that again!  Mistakes turn into permanent character flaws or an action, I made a typo, turns into a noun, and I’m a horrible speller.  If I lose, I must be a loser. Setbacks for people with a fixed mindset can prevent them from engaging in similar activities in the future.

Growth: Learn from mistakes, failures and setbacks, and apply effort to improve

Most of the people we admire or call “naturals” or “stars” have put in countless hours of practice and effort.   As Michael Jordan, one, if not the best basketball player ever, has reportedly missed  more than 9000 shots in his career, lost about 300 games and  26 times was trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. Michael Jordan on Effort   His success was built on consistent practice and  recovering from setbacks.

Dweck and other researchers agreed that perseverance and resiliency found with a growth mindset is essential for creative achievement. Maybe the Einstein’s of the world are individuals who keep trying in the face of failure and mistakes?

Every time I make a mistake, I try to ask myself what did I learn and where can I apply more effort. I even sometimes sing poorly one of my favorite theme songs “I Get Knocked Down But I Get Up again” by TubThumping. Don’t worry; I’ll spare you the recording!

Fixed: Success of Others Threatens You

If you believe the pie is limited, you’ll be threatened by those who succeed, as taking your share.  (Yes, I use a lot of food metaphors) With a fixed mindset, we often acknowledge  others’ success as “luck” or unfair or they had it easy.

Growth: Find Inspiration in the Success of Others

Seeing other’s success whether it’s a new promotion, kudos from the boss, or in a personal relationship, inspires those with a growth mindset to be interested in ‘how’ the other succeeded and what strategies can they adopt to grow as well.

Princy recognized that when a co-worker receives an award for her research or her teaching, rather than being envious of her successes, she pays attention to the approach that led to her success. “If she adopted a new pedagogical technique to improve her teaching or if she initiated a collaboration that led to more research data, I recognize that those are strategies that I can adopt as well to be more successful in those areas.”

This is an area that people often struggle with because of inherent competitive nature of our jobs and careers. Competition often motivates but it doesn’t necessarily lead to growth mindset.

If as you read this, you recognize like Princy and I did, that you’re no stranger to a “fixed mindset”, there are things you can do about it.

3 Ways to Cultivate a Growth Mindset for Yourself

  1. Listen to how you talk to yourself. Talk to yourself like your best friend would talk to you. Giving yourself support and encouragement.
  1. As Dweck advises, add “yet” or “now” to your statements, “I’m not good at financial planning yet.”
  1. Put something on your calendar that stretches you. Intereted in cultivating hera growth mindset about being a runner, Princy has put a 10k race on her calendar. My interest in changing my mindset of “not being a good cook, yet” has inspired me to add a new recipe each week.  We hope you’ll think of an area you want to stretch, and put an action and deadline to help you get motivated

3 Ways to Cultivate a Growth Mindset for others (learners/employees)

  1. Model a growth mindset (see above list). Admit mistakes. And if you’re successful at something, share what effort you took to get there.
  1. Allow time for mistakes and rework.  Reflecting on unsuccessful strategies can help others and you learn.  If the presentation didn’t go well, figure out why? And develop strategies for improving next time?
  1. Teach others the difference between a fixed and growth mindset. Help them explore what they think and say to themselves, how they look at mistakes and challenges, and was they can do to cultivate a growth mindset.

Princy and I will continue to explore in our lives how to have more of a growth mindset, as we also deliver keynotes and workshops on this important topic.  We recognize that having a growth mindset is like cultivating a garden, and those setbacks will happen. (We’ve had snow in April in Maine!), and yet every day is a new day to practice, and build those highways in our brain to lifelong learning and development.

For more information on bringing a keynote or workshop on this topic to your organization, contact us at



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5 Responses to April Showers Bring May Flowers: Cultivating A Growth Mindset

  1. WilliamLib May 10, 2016 at 3:52 pm #

    Very good forum post. Really Great. Chittam

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