The Power of Believing That You Can Improve

How do you face up to challenges or difficult tasks at work? Do you avoid them because you worry that if you fail others will think you don’t have the ability, intelligence or talent to do your job? Or do enthusiastically take them on, hoping that any mistakes you make will be an opportunity to learn and improve?

Professor Carol Dweck from Stanford University suggests when it comes to achieving success, more important than believing in your abilities is the belief that you can improve upon your abilities.  Developing a growth mindset helps you regard failures and setbacks as just part of a learning process, and gives you the motivation and persistence to master new skills. She has found that it helps to make you smarter, more successful and can also improve your relationships with others.

But let’s be honest for most of us embracing failure is easier said than done when it comes to our professional reputations and livelihoods. In this TED Talk by Carol find out how two simple words shifted mindsets in children, and how they might help you at work.

What Will You Learn?

 [0:14] When students are given challenging tasks that are slightly too hard for them some of them react in a positive way by saying things like “I love a challenge”. These types of students have a growth mindset – they understand that their abilities can be developed. But other students feel being given challenging tasks is catastrophic, their intelligence is being judged and they fear failing. These students have a fixed mindset.

[1:58]  Students with a fixed mindset often avoid or disengage from difficult activities. Sometimes they look for someone who does worse than they do, so they can feel better about themselves. But students with the growth mindset engage deeply with their difficulties, learn from their errors and find ways to correct them.

[3:12]  So how do you raise children to develop growth mindsets?

[4:08]  Praise wisely. Rather than praising their intelligence or talent, praise the process that children engage in – their effort, their strategies, their focus, their perseverance, and their improvement. This encourages more effort, more engagement over longer periods of time, and more resilience.

[5:24] Just the words “yet” or “not yet,”  give students greater confidence and persistence. It can change their mindsets from fixed to growth. The neurons in their brain can form new, stronger connections, and over time they can get smarter. Improvements can be seen, especially with struggling students.

What Can You Try?

  •  Practice “not yet” –  next time you’re facing a challenge or find yourself in the middle of failure, try to pause for a moment and notice what that voice inside your head is saying.  Is it telling you that you’re not enough, and now everyone will know that you’re not as smart or capable as they once thought? If yes, show yourself some self-compassion and acknowledge that you’re still learning – just like every other person on this planet. Instead of “I can’t”, “I’m no good”, or “I failed” try telling yourself the story of “not yet”.
  • Reinterpret criticism – by seeing it as an opportunity to learn from others. Ask for some extra guidance or mentoring. If you see someone who is doing better than you, ask them for some tips and see if you can learn from them.
  • Set growth mindset goals – do one thing each day that stretches you outside your comfort zone simply for the joy of learning. Don’t be attached to any result, other than the chance to give something new your very best effort, to learn from what unfolds, and to be willing to own any failures or negative feedback. Celebrate your courage so your brain starts to associate growth mindset actions as rewarding, rather than painful.

Want More?

  • Check out Carol’s website Mindset.
  • Test your mindset with this short quiz.
  • Grab a copy of her book Mindset:The New Psychology of Success.
  • Read my article here to see if your mindset may be undermining your success at work.
  • Read my article here to discover how to create a growth mindset culture in your organization.

How can you use a growth mindset to overcome the fear of failure and master new skills?

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