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How a Growth Mindset Helps You Make the Most of Every Learning Opportunity

By Jody Bruner

March 21, 2024

Personal Brand

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How a Growth Mindset Helps You Make the Most of Every Learning Opportunity - wave-lime-green-1260x540-1

I had a great conversation with a good friend and colleague, Marla Warner, who has been helping her clients achieve well-being and a healthy mindset for over 20 years in both organizational and clinical settings. Marla leverages recent findings in neuroscience, positive psychology, and coaching research, so I asked her how our learners can adopt a mindset that helps them maximize the benefits of learning. Here are some highlights of our conversation.

A mindset is a set of beliefs and attitudes. It’s a frame of mind or a way of thinking that determines our behaviors and often our outcomes. Mindset is the lens through which we organize and perceive the information around us.

Mindset affects almost everything we do: our motivation, how we set goals, what we choose to do, and what we pay attention to. Mindset affects how we learn. Having a growth mindset means we believe our talents, skills, abilities and capabilities are fluid and improve with effort, time, and practice. The opposite is a fixed mindset, which means we believe our talents and abilities are set. With a fixed mindset, I believe I’m as good as I’ll ever be and won’t get any better.

We aren’t completely one or the other. We’re all somewhere in the gray zone. Ideally, we want to adopt a growth mindset as much as possible, especially if we want to learn and grow.

Here are some strategies Marla shared for developing a growth mindset. They’re especially helpful when you’re learning or teaching new skills.

Remember it’s hard to learn new things

Be patient with yourself! As adults, it’s hard to learn new things and it takes time.

When you’re good at something it’s because you’ve spent time doing it. I can ski because I spent thousands of hours making turns. I know how to write because I’ve been teaching people how to do it for 30 years. For me these skills are easy. But I can’t do the accounting, project management or auditing you do. Let this thought help you relax, and remember that learning takes focus, practice, and repetition.

Talk back to your fixed mindset voice

Learn to hear your mindset voices. Are you saying things to yourself like “I can’t do that,” “I’ll never be able to make that presentation,” or “I’ve never been a good writer”? ‘Nevers’ and ‘I can’ts,’ signal fixed mindset voices.

If you hear your fixed mindset voice, take a few mindful breaths. Recognize you have a choice—no one is forcing you down this path. Then talk back to it with your growth mindset voice instead: “Well I haven’t yet made a presentation to the board, but I can present at team meetings and I can write a decent report, which will help me with the presentation.” That word yet is small but mighty, and as soon as we say to ourselves: “I haven’t accomplished this yet,” there’s opportunity and hope. Another great expression is yes, and. “Yes I made a mistake and I had a setback, and the next step I’m going to take is x and y.”

Be curious about your mistakes

Instead of being upset with yourself for a failure, be curious about what happened and what you can do differently going forward. After a setback, ask yourself “What happened there? What got in the way? What else is possible?”

Did your report fail to land? Ask yourself why. Perhaps you need to better understand your audience and purpose, or you included too much information.

Share concrete feedback

How are mistakes processed in your organization? What about successes?

Teams with a growth mindset are more innovative, trusting and risk taking. A growth mindset allows them to take constructive negative feedback as valuable information and integrate it, which builds confidence so they can continue to improve with each iteration or setback.

Positive feedback also needs to be specific to reinforce a growth mindset. Avoid saying simply, “Great Job,” “You nailed it,” “Fantastic!” That’s too vague. All we’re hearing is “I’m great! I did a great job!” But I don’t know exactly why. I’m not going to do anything different the next time because I just want to be that Great Job person again.

Instead, praise the effort and the process. Say, “I can see how much time you spent understanding the prospect’s needs so you could find the best solution.” Or “I could see how much time you spent understanding the needs of the client because that came through as you were speaking.”

The next time you face a new challenge, approach it with a growth mindset. Be patient with yourself as you persevere in learning new skills, change your fixed mindset with small but mighty words like yet and yes, and, learn from your mistakes and help others grow by sharing concrete feedback. If you believe you can improve, then–with effort, time, and practice–you will.

Learn more about Marla Warner and For Health Organizational and Personal Wellbeing.

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