We often hear people tell us to "stay positive" or "Work hard, and good things will come." While you may wave it off as general advice when it comes to success, those perennially chipper people in your life may have a point: studies have shown that positive reinforcement and a healthy mindset have real performance benefits. This phenomenon can be attributed to the "growth mindset," a framework and theory developed by Dr. Carol Dweck and her research into how mindsets can impact the world around you.
Dr. Dweck defines a growth mindset as "people believ[ing] that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment."
To clear the air, a growth mindset is not just a positive attitude or optimistic outlook. It's a way of thinking that promotes constant learning and skills development. People with a growth mindset are constantly learning, refining their successes, and improving on their failures. They believe in continually challenging themselves: reaching further, and performing better each time. For them, the process is more important than the outcome because processes can always be improved.
Additionally, those with a growth mindset are not focused on looking intelligent to their peers. Quite the contrary, they are inspired by the people around them and will take lessons from others' experiences. Lastly, they love to exchange ideas and take risks, regardless of the outcome. This mindset doesn't just apply to the workplace either; those willing to learn often adopt this mindset for any activity, whether it be for school, athletics, a hobby, or even relationships.
One of the most important -- if uncomfortable -- aspects of having a growth mindset is having a healthy relationship with the concept of failure. You might sometimes hear it expressed as being able to embrace failure. I think that's a wonderful expression. Instead of running from failure, a person with a growth mindset dusts their shoulders off and quickly gets their arms around what happened. They learn from these experiences and move forward. Thanks to our fragile little egos that is quite often easier said than done!
As the multitudes of clichés go, "you can't achieve success without failure," or "once you hit rock bottom, the only way is up." This is precisely what the growth mindset does best; providing a framework for turning failures into opportunities. Rather than disparaging yourself for a mishap or using broad reflections like "what happened?" reframing the situation into a question like, "what can I do better next time?" will allow you to reflect on your controllable actions rather than the relative merits of your abilities.
Going a step further, you can break down and analyze the entire situation to figure out what exactly went wrong to gain even more in-depth insights. While being aware of your mistakes is extremely important, creating actionable steps to improve is crucial for hiring managers to look for. After all, you can't improve if you don't take steps to do so. As you move on from the situation, consider developing an action plan to enhance your skills further.
Another actionable step of having a growth mindset is practicing gratitude and celebrating your successes. Constantly pushing yourself to keep improving without reflection or mindfulness may burn you out very quickly. Nobody likes burnout.
As Dweck puts it best, the growth mindset develops a "love for learning." This isn't a grind culture: rushing forward without reflection can steal that joy away from the learning process, and eventually, you may fall back into having a fixed mindset.
Take time to look back on your journey and see how far you have come. Practice gratitude and give credit where credit is due: this may apply to those that have supported you along your journey, but most importantly, for yourself. As the person who got you to where you are now, make
sure to thank yourself and your effort for your progress. Lastly, celebrate
your accomplishments, big or small, with others or just by yourself. Doing so will help you recenter yourself and keep you in that mindset of positivity and growth.
In truth, being able to have a growth mindset goes much further than just yourself. As Dweck discusses in her Harvard Business Review article, your peers and organization also heavily influence developing a growth mindset and can be significant catalysts on your path to career success. Without the support from the environment around you, maintaining a growth mindset can feel extremely exhausting or even be discouraged in the worst cases.
For example, work in an organization that only focuses on outcomes rather than improving processes. You may find that may deter workers from the risk-taking essential to the growth mindset. Additionally, being punished for results beyond your control can easily discourage you from adopting an attitude to grow in the first place. No organization is perfect, but some may be more equipped to support you than others. This may be your first step on your career journey—putting yourself in an environment where you are allowed to succeed.
Growth mindsets can indeed be the "it factor" that allows you to succeed in your career. It may not come quickly, but basing your work on actions and processes rather than inherent abilities and outcomes, you may find that you unlock a whole new side of yourself. It won't be an easy journey. Lots of work and challenges will come your way, but as long as you can put yourself in an environment that promotes growth, you will indeed find success along your path.
About The Author
Lomit Patel is the Senior Vice President of Growth at Together Labs (formerly IMVU). Before Together labs, Lomit managed growth at early-stage startups, including Roku (IPO), TrustedID (acquired by Equifax), Texture (acquired. by Apple), and EarthLink. Lomit is a public speaker, author, advisor, and recognized as a Mobile Hero by Liftoff. Lomit’s book Lean AI, part of Eric Ries’ best-selling “The Lean Startup” series, is now available at Amazon.