Opportunity for Growth? Bring it On
The last year has presented most of us with plenty of challenges. There have been difficult moments, despite our resolve. But there has also been an opportunity to see the depth and breadth of our collective resilience and compassion, of our adaptability and connectedness. There are many people quietly extending the best of themselves. It helps to notice this.
We have had to dig deep, accessing strengths or skills we didn’t know we had. Adapted. Reset. Recovered. As we continue to respond to the challenges that persist, it’s a good time to orient ourselves to what is known as a growth mindset. Based on the work of Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck, author of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, a growth mindset is based on the belief that our basic qualities can be developed through our efforts. Although people may have different inherent strengths or temperaments, this is not fixed. Each of us can change and grow through effort or experience. The growth mindset sees failure as an opportunity for growth and for stretching our existing abilities. Dweck focuses on all the opportunity of yet. We haven’t figure out something yet. Developed that strength yet. Mastered that skill set yet. Our growth isn’t finite, the opportunity is still ahead of us.
Unlike a fixed mindset that assumes that our character, intelligence, and ability are predetermined and can’t be changed in any meaningful way, a growth mindset embraces challenges and sees them as a catalyst for enhancing our skills. A growth mindset suggests a person’s potential is not predetermined and honors what be accomplished with intent.
We can cultivate a growth mindset by being aware of how we think about our abilities – both the strengths and the deficits. We can:
• Recognize that effort and persistence is an essential part of the process. While there are often many things outside of our control, how hard we work at something is one of the things we can control which has a significant impact on outcome. It’s about doubling down when things get difficult.
• Seek out challenges that are engaging. Risks can have their own reward, particularly if we are focused on the process and not just the outcome. Mistakes or missteps are an opportunity to learn, expand a skill, access a strength. Experience and resilience are as critical to our development as a successful outcome. Avoidance based on the fear of failure fosters thinking that is resistant to change, slow to recover emotionally, over-reactive, and problem rather than solution based.
• Acknowledge and accept imperfection. While so many strive for perfection, it comes with a cost. Perfectionism fuels unrealistic performance expectations, a low tolerance for disappointment, a critical self-assessment that leaves no margin for error, dependence on praise from others, and increased anxiety. Each of these factors undermines resilience. Allowing for missteps or errors gives us a path to reset and recover.
• Attend to our self-talk. The way we talk to ourselves matters and the stories we have about ourselves define us. Practicing acceptance and compassion rather than judgement or criticism, and reframing negative thoughts with positive ones, is a good starting point. Avoid all-or-nothing things that leaves no room for mistakes, and scan for competencies and small successes. Growth follows energy investment, so if you are negatively focused on where you faltered, rather than how you might reset, then that is what you nourish.
• Redefine success and pursue in intentionally. Consider it in a broader context than simply performance outcome. Work ethic, taking risks that help us grow, pursuing our passion, being fully engaged, or indulging in something simply for pleasure could all contribute to a broader view of success. Honor what is inherently important to you, that reflects your values or purpose, rather than what our culture defines as success.
• Embrace the opportunity to learn. When struggling with a task, remind yourself that you just haven’t mastered it yet. If you stick with it, time and practice will lead to improvement.
• Be realistic. It takes time and practice to learn any new skill. I welcome instant gratification as much as anyone, but it helps to be patient. Start small, reflect and reassess, and notice the degrees of your success as you progress.
There is reason for cautious optimism in this new year, but we will be faced with difficulties, as we always are. And though I’ve cursed the abundance of personal growth opportunities we have stared down in recent months, acknowledging them as an opportunity does make them easier to navigate.