About 6 years ago a client recommended a book to me by Carol Dweck, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. I was instantly hooked throughout the read and have referred to the book many times as well as recommending it to a bunch of people. So I thought I would share my experience with growth mindset and fixed thinking working together.
In the book she shares multiple studies and stories with mind-set divided into two categories:
1. People with a growth mindset – believing that regardless of your natural makeup, anyone can be successful with the willingness to learn or develop as long as it is backed up by hard work. So with growth mindset anyone can be successful.
2. People with a closed or fixed mindset – believing that no matter what, your natural abilities determine how successful or clever you can be which either allows for or limits success.
As a coach and business owner, I have been banging the drum of the growth mindset to all. In fact I am still banging the drum today but doing so with a slightly more objective view than originally. The reason I am a little bit reserved in how I share it now, is that I am seeing more and more that what we have naturally (what we are born with), can’t be ignored when planning for success. If we just ignore our natural attributes and believe anything is possible we could be disappointed. Now I can hear all my fellow growth mind-set drum beaters sighing collectively. To not disappoint you for too long let me just spit it out:
“I believe that anything is possible with the right mind-set, bag loads of hard work and the alignment of natural attributes!”
There I said it, I believe there is more to success than just mind-set and hard work. We should never be limited by what we have naturally, just acutely self-aware of what we have to start with and set our expectations of success accordingly. I have plenty of examples of this in work and with clients relating to business but will respect their confidentiality and share something about me.
So let’s move away from mental/psychological attributes and talk purely about physiology to make a point. When I was a professional sportsman for a short while many moons ago, I was well suited to short to medium timeframe bursts of speed and then resting before the next burst. I am 6ft 2inches tall and had an athletic build with a fair amount of muscle mass which allowed me to take knocks in physical contact and get back up again. I built the muscle mass predominantly through hard work but there wasn’t much I could do about my frame; I am just built like that. I played rugby and in the position, I achieved the most, the combination of my physical attributes worked relatively well.
Since retiring from rugby over 10 years ago, keeping fit and healthy has become more of a priority. As I travel a fair bit with work, facilities can be hit or miss so I have been doing more road running and bodyweight exercises lately. I must be honest, with my frame and weight, running more than 3 miles was never fun. The problem is I am competitive; I have a growth mind-set and I am not scared of hard work. So, I have been setting myself new goals and increasing both my endurance fitness and the distance I actually run. I have now overcome my initial dread for running middle to longer distances and have even signed up for a half marathon later this year. All fantastic and again I can feel all my fellow growth mindset crew collectively patting me on my back. Thank you, I am proud but here’s the problem – there is a relative limit to just how quickly I can run over middle to longer distances. I have been improving but relative to an endurance athlete, I am nowhere and the truth is I have no chance of getting close. No matter how hard I would be willing to work, my body type just isn’t going to allow me to run like Mo Farah. I have accepted that and so my goals are still high but relative to what I have to start with. This won’t limit how successful I feel when I hit and exceed my goals, I just won’t be keeping Mo up at night any time soon!
So why the story about my running and natural body type? Well this correlates exactly through to our psychological mind-set and natural attributes. If you are born with an analytical mind, enjoy research and have a heavily left brain bias, without being a dream crusher, I don’t believe you will excel and become the most successful creative mind the world has ever seen. I do believe that you could learn how to approach things in a less structured way (so still demonstrate growth mindset) but I don’t believe that the end result would be you becoming highly creative. It’s just not in your nature.
I would love to hear what you think about this as I am the last person who wants to appear negative or limiting but I do want to be viewed as honest and realistic. I sometimes think that being too ambitious with expectations can actually turn people off as they see things from their own perspectives. The very perspective that is shaped by their natural attributes.
My conclusion, believe in yourself rather than absolutely anything being possible for anyone, know that hard work pays off and become more self-aware of what you have to start with. Apply your self-belief and hard work in alignment with your natural attributes and you will achieve great things.