A Growth Mindset is Your Passport to New Adventure

Photo by Wojciech Then on Unsplash.

“If you want to transform your landscape, start by changing your mindscape.”

Wise words indeed by Charles Massy in Call of the Reed Warbler, and what’s more, he’s correct. Regardless of the outcome we want to achieve the place to start is with our mindset.

More precisely a growth mindset is what we want. An open-mind or mindset committed to growth. The opposite is a fixed mindset or a closed-mind replete with pre-determined notions: this is how it is, and how it always will be. While there is plenty of room to work with people with a growth mindset, a fixed mindset offers little opportunity to be contributed to or to implement change. Whilst you might hear comments like “I know” or “I know this already” from a person with a fixed mindset, you are more likely to hear “tell me more” from someone with a growth mindset. How then do we develop a growth mindset?

Start with willingness (and commitment)

Whether it is transitioning to a new role, making some new purchase, transforming a relationship or simply planning for the year ahead, the place to start is with willingness. We need to be willing to spend time doing our due diligence about the company we’re considering joining or doing key research to make the best purchase that we can. Fail to plan and we plan to fail. Planning is therefore necessary, and we need to be willing to put time aside to do the planning to ensure we succeed in our endeavour. Willingness is essential and it’s a choice based on what we’re committed to. I’m committed to having the best possible relationship with my wife and business partner. I choose this freely and with I am willing to do whatever is necessary to achieve this.

As I’ve touched on already commitment and willingness go together like a hand in a glove. From a coaching perspective the “what are you committed to?” is a great question to begin to develop a growth mindset. Alternatively ask, “what is the holistic context for your life, now and into the future? What do you want your life to look like?” If our capability and behaviour, including our ontological Ways of Being, aren’t a match for where we want to be, we have no choice but to grow and develop as long as our commitment to get there is strong enough.

Be willing to be humble

I used to have a very fixed mindset in many situations. If someone suggested I try something I hadn’t considered myself I would often reply with a simple “thanks, but no thanks.” I could not be contributed to. I wasn’t open to listening. Regrettably, my many failures over the years could largely boil down to my fixed mindset and “I know.” My coach once said to me “Bernard, it isn’t you that knows, it’s your identity.” And he was right. My identity, my ego, whatever you want to call it, was afraid to admit “it didn’t know.” Looking back now I struggle to believe how self-limiting and short-sighted I was.

Transitioning to a growth mindset has been a journey and really taken something. It took my marriage breakdown to give me the mind-cracking moment I needed to take stock of my life and get clear on what I wanted. I soon realised I needed to make changes, including developing a growth mindset. I had to give up thoughts of “I know” and re-frame them with “perhaps I don’t know.” I needed to develop humility.

One thing that really supported me to develop a growth mindset is the model shown in Figure 1. First, there is what I know I know e.g., how to cook risotto, mow the lawn, drive a car is self-evident and shown in orange in the figure below. There are things I know I don’t know e.g., like flying a helicopter, doing brain surgery, and these are things that I can learn to do. The vast majority of all knowledge perhaps 85-90% is in the realm of I don’t know. What’s more is that I don’t know I don’t know it. A similar concept is established using the Johari Window in psychology to help people better understand their relationship with themselves and others. When put this way it is very humbling and made the biggest difference to me. Now when someone contributes to me, even though my instincts tell me there might be something wrong here, now I can accept that perhaps I just don’t know enough to understand this and remain open to the possibility there is something new for me to learn here.

Be willing to be vulnerable

Being vulnerable and open is key here. Give up being right about everything and remain open to new ideas and possibilities. Learn to say “maybe” and “tell me more” because these types of responses encourage conversation not shut it down and leads to better relationships. The more knowledgeable we are about something the harder it is to give up being “right” about that subject, however, I’ve found with practice this gets easier. Yoda was right when he said “you must unlearn what you have learned.”

Resistance causes persistence

A wise person once said “insanity is doing the same thing over and over expecting a different outcome.” How true? If we want a different outcome, we need to do things differently. This is something we choose to do and being open and committed to what we want in life helps us achieve a different outcome. Each time we consciously choose to do something differently rather than our default, we are reinforcing a growth mindset.

Have you ever noticed that things we resist in life persist? Whenever someone suggested a something to me that I didn’t want to do, naturally, I resisted. The result however, was that the situation never changed, rather it persisted. Resentment persisted as resentment; anger persisted as anger; unforgiveness persisted as unforgiveness. I love paraphrasing this quote from my wife, Barb, “if I feel resistance rising inside me then that is my cue to step towards it, not away from it. The work to do is disappear the resistance.” Each time we choose this we reinforce a growth mindset.

Mind you, growth is uncomfortable and necessary. We cannot want comfort and growth to happen simultaneously. Indeed, as depicted in Figure 2, the more time we spend experiencing discomfort, the more we will grow. Therefore, we need courage if we want to stay the course. Like the willingness and humility, we need to choose to be courageous. Courage is not about being fearless, rather it is about taking action despite the presence of fear. We find our courage looking within. The root word of courage is cor – the Latin word for heart, and the original meaning of courage is to speak one’s mind by telling one’s heart. In other words, courage is about doing what your heart wants. This is an important reason why your holistic context is so crucial for your life. Each time we do something courageous we build our courage and reinforce a growth mindset.

By embracing a growth mindset, we choose for ourself a new and different outcome. Better relationships, an improved career, easier ways of doing things, more productivity and higher performance are possible with a growth mindset. If we’re not expanding, we’re contracting. A growth mindset really is your passport to new adventures. Courage, humility and willingness to expand are keys to a growth mindset. Ultimately, you will experience more positive outcomes, more often.

I’ll finish with this wonderful quote from regenerative farmer, Charlie Arnott about mindset:

“it’s all about changing the paddock between our ears.”