Many of us start the year with resolutions. Many of us also know these resolutions will not amount to much; they are part of a game we play and by February they will be forgotten. So, how do we make them more meaningful and enduring?
One of the best pieces of advice is to concentrate on our achievements and forget about our lapses. So rather than dwell on the fact that we didn’t go to the gym last week, we should focus on the fact that over the past few weeks we have been going more often and we can build on this.
This advice is based on a theory from education called the ‘growth mindset’. It argues that achievement is not simply a result of innate ability but in large part is driven by a person’s attitude and commitment to their self-development. The idea is attractive because those with a growth mindset believe that obstacles can be overcome if they keep trying and they want to learn from their experiences and mistakes, so are keen to test themselves in new ways.
The opposite of this is the fixed mindset, where people don’t want to risk challenges if they think these are beyond or beneath their ability. Some want to avoid the embarrassment of failure. Others, fixed in their belief that they are too good for a situation, are focused not on learning and experimentation, but on competitive behaviour, trying to prove themselves at the expense of others, and then consequently feel threatened by others’ success.
These ideas have been brought into the workplace recently (see Daniel Pink’s writings referenced below) and people I have worked with find the idea of the growth mindset motivating because just knowing it is a ‘thing’, a proven concept, encourages them to try and be more adaptable and resolute when things do not work out. Pursuing a growth mindset is empowering as people realise they can make breakthroughs if they keep going. I also believe this is an important concept for leaders to use as they engage their teams, continuously seeking better interactions and outcomes and sticking to important goals.
There remain times when people’s thinking will lapse into a fixed state. It helps if they try to be aware of these situations and then aim to keep them in check. As part of their efforts to grow, it is important for them to think carefully about how they are approaching a challenge and to gradually build the mental muscle memory to ingrain ‘growth thinking’ and become more settled in this approach.
We know that new year resolutions can be difficult to see through, but if they are set in the context of a growth mindset then this is a powerful combination – so why not make ‘think differently – think growth’ a goal for 2020?
A great read on the concept of the growth mindset is found in: ‘Drive: the surprising truth about what motivates us’ by Daniel Pink. He also has some useful videos on his website. ‘Drive’ references the original work on the growth mindset by the educationalist Carol Dweck.