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The Growth Mindset as a Career Strategy

Image via Shutterstock

By Lisa Larkowski

Life-long learning is more than a slogan.

Apparently even the brightest amongst us are limited if we do not continue to grow and evolve. This is commonly talked about as mindsets. A fixed mindset is a belief that intelligence and ability are set and unchangeable, while a growth mindset believes that intelligence and ability can be improved through your efforts, strategies, and help from others. Mindset researcher and expert Carol Dweck herself has tried to set the record straight and debunk the popular misconception that there are “pure” mindsets. Dweck in a 2016 Harvard Business Review article states “Everyone is actually a mixture of fixed and growth mindsets, and that mixture continually evolves with experience.”

What is the “Bright Woman effect”

The “Bright woman effect” sprang out of a phenomenon called “bright girl effect” in research which showed that girls had more fixed mindsets than boys, and in particular, the more intelligent the girl, the more likely she was to have a fixed mindset as opposed to a growth mindset. This helped explain why highly intelligent girls tended to give up faster than others when faced with new or difficult challenges. The line of reasoning followed, then, that if you were a bright girl with a fixed mindset, then your fixed mindset would follow you throughout your life. tle :

New research from Case Western Reserve University shows that the so-called “bright girl effect” does not persist into a “bright woman effect.” The research smashes two misconceptions, the first being that highly intelligent women have fixed mindsets. And secondly, that each of us has either a fixed or growth mindset that endures through our lives. It turns out that we have both fixed and growth mindsets. That they are changeable. And as Carol Dweck has indicated, that with effort, we can tip the scales in favor of growth mindset. The “bright woman effect” is a long-held assumption that the more intelligent a woman is, the more likely she is to have a fixed mindset as opposed to a growth mindset. But until now, no studies focused on the connection between intelligence and mindsets in adults.

Case Western’s examination of three separate studies shows that the “bright girl effect” does not endure into adulthood. The studies revealed fixed and growth mindsets in both men and women, but they were not consistent with gender or intelligence. As the researchers concluded, “There is limited evidence for a “bright woman effect” which is good news contrary to what it sounds like because the study’s results suggest that fixed and growth mindsets can shift over time and with circumstances.

Gimme Growth

It goes without saying that growth mindsets are more productive than fixed mindsets.

Growth mindsets are associated with greater success confronting challenges, taking risks, persisting in the face of adversity, and succeeding by learning from mistakes and setbacks. Fixed mindsets lead to lack of persistence, inaction, and harsh self-judging and “create an urgency to prove yourself over and over again.” Who wouldn’t want to get rid of fixed mindsets and bring more growth mindsets into their lives? Ironically, the key to getting more growth mindset lies with our fixed mindsets.

In her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Carol Dweck suggests practices for working with fixed mindset triggers as the first step in journey towards what she calls a “true growth mindset.” Here are two things to consider.

Embrace your fixed mindsets. Notice when they are present, observe them, and most important, try not to judge them. Fixed mindsets can show up in situations where we feel challenged, stressed, overwhelmed, criticized, when setbacks occur, or when we see colleagues succeed. Become curious about your reactions. Ask yourself: How do I feel and react in challenging situations? Am I reacting with anxiety, anger, incompetence, or defeat, or instead with curiosity to learn more? Accept your thoughts and feelings and work with and through them, as much as you need to. You can even give your fixed mindset a name or a persona to help you call them out when you notice them.

Intentionally shift to growth mindset. When you notice your fixed mindsets showing up, actively shift yourself into growth mindset by asking yourself questions like: What can I learn from this? How can I improve? What steps can I take to help myself? This begins to loosen the grip of your fixed mindset and open you up to learning, possibility, and forward movement.

Make Friends with Your Fixed Mindsets

Shifting from a fixed to growth mindset is possible, but it takes work. It requires recognizing the situations or events that trigger us into a fixed mindset in the first place. It means looking at our feelings and reactions and then working with those with self-kindness and non-judgment.

Our mindsets are not written in stone. The more we can recognize and work with our fixed mindset triggers in the areas that challenge us, the more we can take charge of our reactions and bring more growth mindset and its benefits into our lives.

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