For many of us, learning is an activity we associate with sitting in a classroom listening to an adult or expert imparting knowledge.
Yet, our brains are wired for learning and growth, no matter where we are or what we are doing. From an evolutionary perspective, our ability to learn has shaped us as a species and continues to do so.
Newborn babies learn through their developing senses and interactions with the world, and this process becomes increasingly complex as we progress through life.
As our thoughts become more layered, it can be challenging to remain open to the idea of continuous learning. Other priorities take over, and it can be difficult to take on new concepts.
In order to do this, we have to be in the right place psychologically, and this is why developing a growth mindset can be useful.
The term “growth mindset” was coined by Professor of Psychology at Stanford University, Carol Dweck.
She argues that an individual’s views of their ability can be placed on a continuum, from those with a “fixed mindset” to those with a “growth mindset”.
In an interview in 2012, she describes the difference between the two states of mind in the following way:
“In a fixed mindset students believe their basic abilities, their intelligence, their talents, are just fixed traits. They have a certain amount and that's that, and then their goal becomes to look smart all the time and never look dumb. In a growth mindset students understand that their talents and abilities can be developed through effort, good teaching and persistence. They don't necessarily think everyone's the same or anyone can be Einstein, but they believe everyone can get smarter if they work at it.”
With this research in mind, a growth mindset is a psychological state anybody can develop with the right attitude, making them all the more receptive to new ideas and concepts.
But how might you go about doing this? What changes to thought patterns or behaviours might you need to make? The tips below should help you to get started:
Admitting when you don’t understand a concept or how to solve a problem can be challenging, particularly in a professional context. You want your boss to think you’ve got everything under control and that you’re doing an amazing job 100% of the time, but this is humanly impossible! It’s much better to ask for help when you need it or to clarify with a question. This means you’ll be able to learn something new and avoid the stress of not understanding how to progress with a task.
Every conversation you have is an opportunity to learn something new. Whether you’re the CEO or an intern, our experiences are all different and we can learn a lot from what a colleague or team member has to say. You can do this by asking more questions when you talk to people and mine for new information. You might be surprised who teaches you something new.
This is a key component to having a growth mindset. When colleagues give you feedback on a piece of work, it can be hard not to take it personally, but try to remove yourself from the situation and act upon what they are saying. You can even seek out feedback. This is a great way to grow in your role and gain insights from your peers or those with more experience.
As human beings, we are susceptible to second-guessing ourselves and being afraid to put ourselves out there. While negative self-talk is useful from an evolutionary perspective to save us from sticky situations, in the relatively safe and comfortable modern world, it can be quite destructive and limiting.
If you have a fixed mindset, you might believe that it is impossible for you to grow beyond the talents and skills you already possess, but this simply isn’t true. While, as Carol Dweck explains, you might not become Einstein, the brain is plastic and capable of forming new neural pathways throughout life. The opportunity for growth and learning is always there, we just need to harness it.
When you understand where your strengths and weaknesses lie, you can identify which areas to devote your energy to, and which need more attention. You might benefit from taking a course or asking for help, particularly if a certain skill you aren’t confident in is required for your role.