Fighting a Fixed Mindset

Let’s be honest: 2020 has been a challenging year. That’s not to say there haven’t been moments of triumph and opportunity, but for many of us our mindsets and perspective have been tested like never before. We’ve been forced to re-think our rhythms, routines, priorities and schedules, all while dealing with a tsunami of change including a global pandemic, racial injustice, economic uncertainty, political divisiveness and everything in between.

With this wide range of issues and pressures, how we show up, behave and react to those around us has become more important than ever. For many of us, our mindset runs in the background, guiding our thoughts, feelings and beliefs much like the operating systems on our computers. Too often we don’t take time to stop, assess and adjust our mindset until we run into a problem or challenge, usually tied to a moment of regret or remorse: snapping at a co-worker, unsuccessfully managing stress, falling behind on priorities or projects—or simply finding ourselves drifting through our days and lives.

Even areas once considered strengths can find themselves under attack and in need of refinement and improvement—maybe even some re-programming. One area we’ve seen leaders and teams struggling with during this season is a shift backward to fixed mindset beliefs rather than a growth mindset.

In her book and research, Dr. Carol Dweck has pioneered this concept of a fixed mindset versus a growth mindset. People with fixed mindsets believe that ability is a fixed trait and cannot be changed. In other words, we are the way we are. On the other hand, people with growth mindsets believe that ability is malleable and can be developed.

It’s important to note that none of us can permanently embrace one mindset over another (growth vs. fixed). We are all a mixture of both mindsets, and that mixture evolves, grows and shifts over time with experience. And during seasons of uncertainty, pressure and challenge, our mindset can be prone to shift more to the “fixed” side if we let it run unchallenged on auto-pilot in the background.

Here are three areas where that shift can negatively affect our leadership, relationships and results if we aren’t aware and mindful of them.

Effort: With a fixed mindset, we see effort as bad. We shouldn’t have to work hard at the things we’re good and gifted at. With a growth mindset, we see effort as a positive thing. After all, that’s how we get better and improve.

During this season of change, many of us have had to re-think and re-work how we do things. Many of us have had to learn new ways of engaging with our teammates and customers. We’ve had to streamline our processes and businesses to handle new opportunities and challenges—and often it’s taken a new level of effort and focus to be successful.

Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to work with a group of high-performing salespeople. These teams were some of the best in their industry. But much of their process was built on face-to-face interactions with customers and decision-makers—which was suddenly impossible with new health and safety protocols in place.

People who were used to being very successful in what they did were suddenly forced to learn a whole new way of interacting and developing relationships in a virtual environment. And gaining new skill and competence in this area required new muscles and a new level of effort. Many of the people on the team embraced the challenge with a growth mindset; but some found themselves slipping back into a fixed mindset and struggled with the stress and pressure that accompanied this new level of effort. This difference in mindsets is important for leaders to acknowledge when coaching and developing their people to be successful during this new season.

Motivation: With a fixed mindset, motivation is often about proving your ability, showing others and yourself how good you are at something. With a growth mindset, motivation is about improving your ability, each opportunity a chance to get better.

I’ve found myself struggling with this one recently. As a way to stay active and fuel my competitive spirit a bit, I enjoy playing pickleball in my free time. There was a season this summer, when I would show up with more of a fixed mindset. My competitiveness would go into overdrive, and I focused only on winning and playing up to a certain level or expectation (which never usually ended well).

Once I became aware of this, I intentionally tried to shift my focus to more of a growth mindset—every chance to play was an opportunity to learn, grow and improve my ability. Winning and losing became less important as I re-focused on getting better and learning every time I hit the court. This new framing also allowed me to feel more gratitude about the experience rather than the outcome.

Not coincidentally, when I embraced more of a growth mindset, I enjoyed my time more—and would show up back at home in a better position and with a better attitude to interact and serve my family.

Failure: With a fixed mindset, we see failure as the end of the story, time to give up. With a growth mindset, failure is just part of the story and journey and means it’s time to try again (differently).

I don’t know about you, but many of our clients (myself included) have experienced moments of failure this year (both at work and at home). This definitely hasn’t been a year where everything has gone as planned—and many of us have experienced more challenges, obstacles and failures than in recent memory.

If you find the people you lead (or yourself), shifting toward a fixed mindset around failure, here’s a key phrase to keep in mind: not yet. I haven’t figured it out, not yet anyway. You haven’t been successful, not yet, but I believe you will. This is a great phrase to embrace as a coaching leader to help your people focus on what is possible. Welcoming failure with a growth mindset can propel you and your team forward.

Every couple of months, my iPhone lets me know it has to upgrade its operating system. Whether it’s to fix bugs or add new features and functions, these regular upgrades are required to keep it performing well. Our mindset is similar—we need to step back and perform any necessary upgrades to keep it (and us) running properly. This is especially true during seasons of change and uncertainty—like 2020.

So if you’re looking for ways to keep your mindset operating system up-to-date, focusing on your current balance between a fixed and growth mindset is a great opportunity. If that doesn’t work, you can always try turning it on and off again. (Seriously, don’t underestimate that suggestion.)




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