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ATD Blog

Skills for the Win: How to Cultivate a Growth Mindset

Friday, November 19, 2021

Last year millions of fans tuned in for The Last Dance, a docuseries about Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls. Some expected a one-sided basketball success story, but instead the series showcased the team’s struggles.

Years ago psychologist Carol Dweck analyzed Jordan in her bestseller Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. “He was a person who had struggled and grown, not a person who was inherently better than others. He was the hardest-working athlete, perhaps in the history of sport.”

Jordan and his teammates had what Dweck calls a growth mindset. Jordan led by example and challenged the others constantly. If you wanted to be like him, you needed to cultivate a growth mindset.

Growth Mindset vs. Fixed Mindset

With a growth mindset, we believe our skills can develop over time. If we fail at something, we learn from it and try again.

The opposite of a growth mindset, according to Dweck, is a fixed mindset. When we feel our intelligence or abilities are innate—that we cannot change what we’re capable of—then we have a fixed mindset.

With a fixed mindset, we’re worried about our performance. Failure and feedback are bad because they expose our inadequacies. When we make a mistake, it feels like proof of our permanent limitations.


Why Mindset Matters

These days, cultivating a growth mindset is essential. We may learn one way to work then new technology changes everything. Your mindset affects your creativity and resilience. Someone with a fixed mindset won’t see fresh perspectives, but with a growth mindset, you can let go and change your approach. This sparks innovation.

The Bulls went through this. In 1989, Chicago was a top team, and Jordan won the MVP award. After losing in the playoffs, the Bulls switched to an unusual offense called The Triangle. At first they struggled, falling short again in 1990. But the Bulls kept learning and the next year, they won their first championship.


Myths About Growth Mindset

Since Carol Dweck published Mindset, many have tried to follow her advice. But some are stuck with myths about mindsets. Let’s set the record straight by busting a few of these common misconceptions:

  • You have a fixed mindset or a growth mindset. None of us have the same mindset all the time. For example, I have a growth mindset when cooking, but with artwork, I usually doubt myself. Recognizing this is key because fixed mindsets can sneak up in certain situations.
  • A growth mindset is all about positivity. You could try to smile through every struggle, but that’s unrealistic. A growth mindset means recognizing problems and leaning into frustrations.
  • A growth mindset just means setting goals. Some goals reinforce a growth mindset, but others backfire. Stretch goals push us to patiently improve, but certain performance goals—like trying to make every shot—can discourage us from working on our weaknesses.
  • With a growth mindset, you can master anything. Trying new things does not guarantee mastery. A growth mindset helps you get a little better; it won’t overwhelm other factors, like luck and talent.

Cultivating a Growth Mindset

What can you do to cultivate a growth mindset? Psychologists have identified plenty of strategies you can try:

  • Deal with discomfort. Recognize your discomfort then remember that everyone feels this way sometimes. Tell yourself that it’s okay to make mistakes.
  • Put improvement before performance. Work on your weaknesses instead of always playing to your strengths. Tracking your progress helps too.
  • Make adjustments. Psychologists recommend “flexible thinking patterns,” which means looking at a problem in different ways. Try unique strategies until you figure out what works.
  • Positive self-talk. Language makes a difference. Try adding “yet” to negative thoughts. “I’m not good at this … yet.” You can even quote Jordan when he said, “I can accept failure. Everyone fails at something. But I can’t accept not trying.”

Working toward cultivating a growth mindset can transform your personal and professional life. It won’t always be easy, but the right mindset can help you look past your imagined limitations. Like Jordan said, “You must expect great things of yourself before you can do them.”

About the Author

Nick Welna is a content writer for Degreed.

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