Growth = Mindset + Action

"Sometimes people overcomplicate things”

It was this line in a Growth Mindset video that made me stop and take notice. It has a truth to it that we can easily miss. It directs our thinking in a new way, towards what lies at the heart of the matter. In this case it shines a light on what we do if we have a growth mindset and what we should be doing when we have a fixed mindset. 

The uncomplicated version of the story goes like this: Belief leads to Action, and Action leads to Growth. If I believe I can do something I am more likely to take action to achieve my goal. I am more likely to practise, more likely to persist with a challenge, more likely to listen to feedback and more likely to incorporate feedback into my actions. If I am taking actions that are likely to result in growth, then I am more likely to see growth than if I don’t take action. My mindset or the beliefs which underpin it, when backed by action make growth possible. The opposite is also true, if I believe I can’t grow or learn, I am less likely to take action, less likely to persist and less likely to listen to feedback. I will fail to take action if I believe that my innate talent means I don’t have to try and without action I will fail to grow. 

Henry Ford was right, "Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t, either way you are right.” 

Having the right mindset is alone not sufficient for growth. I might talk the talk about a growth mindset and believe I can learn a new skill but unless I back that belief with action, it is just talk. Indeed, I probably need to look at why I am not taking action to achieve new learning, maybe I have a false growth-mindset. If I am not willing to take the risk involved in trying something new, if I am unwilling to begin a learning journey, if I talk about potential but avoid demonstrating it, I am using the language of a growth mindset to protect or hide my fixed mindset. 

Taking action alone is also not enough to ensure growth. There are many ways I can practise at achieving the perfect golf swing but there is a very good chance that my unguided efforts will go to waste. Practising a flawed method ten thousand times can only result in failure and build habits which will be hard to unlearn. If action is to result in growth and success it needs to be the right type of action and my chances of achieving this increase if I seek support in my learning from an expert. But hours spent in the company of an expert is also never going to result in growth. At some point I need to do the work, take the action, practise and practise some more. If I do this and take on board feedback that will refine my actions than I have a chance of achieving my goal. 

If I am a school interested in student growth through the adoption of a growth mindset programme, but I only target a part of this process I am likely to achieve little success. Many schools have adopted strong beliefs about the value of a growth mindset. Their beliefs are evident in the posters and slogans adorning their walls. “F.A.I.L = First Attempt in Learning”, “The Power of YET”, “Everything is hard, before it is easy”

All of this can be good but advocating for a growth mindset alone is not going to result in a change. Unless the belief that we can all grow is coupled with action that is designed to achieve that growth we will remain where we are.

What can be remarkably powerful is to apply the behaviours we adopt in our growth mindset contexts to those that trigger a fixed mindset. If I can recognise a context where my thinking is fixed but then apply the behaviours I bring to my growth mindset contexts I open the door to growth. Maybe I believe I can learn a new piece of software, but I can’t learn to play the piano. Instead of giving up on the piano, I apply the actions I would take to learn a new piece of software. I seek expertise, I give time to the task, I persist when it gets hard, I adjust what I am doing, I practise and practise some more. I know these actions work for learning software so I shouldn’t be surprised when they work with the piano. I also remind myself that one of the biggest obstacles is my mindset. Instead of trying to change that and then take action, I begin by taking the action I would take if my mindset was different. Actions are much easier to change than mindsets. 

So, by keeping things simple and focusing on beliefs, actions and growth I can achieve my goals and tackle new challenges and I have an approach to apply where my mindset lets me down by believing in the power of taking action towards a goal. 

By Nigel Coutts

Watch the video that inspired this.