A Research Paper By Mariam Alloush, Growth Mindset Coach, CANADA
A Growth Mindset
In the personal development world there is a saying that goes: “if you’re not growing, you’re dying”. As humans, we are naturally built to grow physically and evolve, intellectually, mentally, and emotionally. As we get older many of us to begin to lose sight of the various aspects of our own personal growth leaving us feeling stuck, unfulfilled, and uncertain of our purpose and life’s path.
What Is a Growth Mindset?
The concept of the Growth Mindset was introduced in 2007 by a Stanford University psychologist (Carol Dweck) who spent decades researching and observing how mindset affects the behaviors of children. In her book titled Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, she defines a growth mindset as:
Essentially, the growth mindset is a belief in one’s ability to learn, develop and grow is a direct result of one’s intentional efforts.
Fixed Mindset vs. Growth Mindset
Carol Dweck created an effective illustration identifying the differences between a fixed and growth mindset in order to help people understand the differences between them and also build self-awareness on if they are exhibiting thoughts of a fixed or growth mindset.
A fixed mindset would identify things that one cannot do, a growth mindset would position the thinking that one cannot do this “yet”. Although one does not currently possess the knowledge/skills/experience in the current moment (i.e. “yet”), one firmly believes that through knowledge, effort, and persistence, one can and will eventually get there.
In a fixed mindset mentality, one believes that intelligence is fixed and thus is more likely to not deploy effort towards the obstacles and challenges of life because one’s capacity is essentially limited. The same fixed mindset mentality is also not open to constructive criticism from others and feels personally threatened when others succeed. This mentality would rather exert energy towards proving that they are right (even when they know they are not) rather than learning from the failures or successes of others in order to grow, develop and evolve as human beings.
Alternatively with a growth mindset mentality, one believes that the brain is malleable and that intelligence can be developed through learning, trial and error, and persistence in the face of challenges and obstacles. These individuals thrive on challenges and leverage failures as lessons that can be applied to trying again in the next iteration of effort. They view criticism from others as useful information because it gives them insights/feedback into the areas that need further attention, reflection, and refinement.
The truth of the matter is that we all embody both fixed and growth mindsets when it comes to our thoughts and beliefs. The trick is to recognize which of our fixed thoughts are becoming impediments and getting in the way of us achieving our desired goals and outcomes.
Why Is Growth Mindset in Coaching Important?
In the coaching arena, coaches are trained to help their clients gain self-awareness and challenge the client’s thinking through the use of thought-provoking questions in order to facilitate the shifting of the client’s perspectives. Essentially coaches help the client rewire their brain by having the client recognize the thoughts, feelings, emotions, and actions that are not serving them and come up with solutions to changing them in a manner that is more empowering and conducive to their desired state of being.
A growth mindset will empower the client to understand that they have the ability to change their thoughts and beliefs about themselves which gives them a greater sense of control over their life circumstances. A growth mindset would position the clients to change the meaning that they assign around their issues/challenges by way of seeing them as an opportunity to learn and grow instead of allowing their thoughts/challenges to box them into a victim of their circumstances mentality. It would allow the client to focus on and attach praise to the process as they make progress instead of focusing on the gap that exists between their current and desired state/outcome.
Our Personality Becomes Our Personal Reality
Have you ever wondered what makes us who we are? Dr. Joe Dispenza, an international lecturer, researcher, author, and educator in the areas of neuroscience and brain function teaches that our personality is made up of how we think, feel and act. If we want to change our personal reality, we will need to change our personality. This would mean that we would need to change the way we think, feel and act in order to attain a different state of being or outcome in our life. This statement is backed by the logical relationship between our inner and our outer world. Dr. Dispenza explains that our thoughts generate feelings and those feelings will motivate us towards specific actions and behaviors which will ultimately result in us having the same experiences and thus generating the same thoughts and feelings. Dr. Dispenza explains that if we were to have new thoughts, we would create new feelings which in turn would produce new choices, actions, and behaviors. These would result in new experiences which create new feelings and as a result, we would create a new state of being.
This concept supports the notion of a growth mindset as we cannot learn, develop and grow if we are not willing to change how we think, feel and act. In order for a client to move from their current to their desired state, they need to be willing to leave their “old selves” behind. This is essential in order to grow into a new person that can produce new thoughts and feelings that will lead them to new actions, new behaviors, and new experiences.
Why Is It Difficult to Grow?
The reality is that growth is not second nature to most of us, by default humans are creatures of habit, we love to seek out the familiar, and we are most comfortable within the parameters of our comfort zone. Growth is a disruptor, it challenges our thoughts, feelings, behaviors, and beliefs which makes us uncomfortable. This disruption creates uncertainty around ourselves and/or our environment. If we were to embody a growth mindset, it would force us to sit with our discomfort as well as push through adversity with curiosity, open-mindedness, and fearlessness. We must learn to let go of control and allow ourselves to navigate uncertainty while embracing the concept that in order to evolve we must be willing to find comfort in the discomfort in order to learn, grow and evolve as human beings.
To grow is to change, and to change is to accept that the current version of ourselves is not the ultimate version of ourselves and our capabilities. We must mind our ego and maximize our humility, our curiosity, and our belief in our capacity to figure things out and utilize our lessons for our betterment. Growth requires commitment and accountability, a willingness to take full responsibility for our thoughts, emotions, actions, goals, relationships, challenges, obstacles, failures, and successes. It requires us to take full responsibility for every aspect of our life by finding the lessons in everything and using those lessons to evolve and propel us forward. One’s degree of evolution and growth depends on one’s ability to overcome uncertainty and forge forward anyway because there is an inherent belief that one’s ability to learn, develop and grow is a result of one’s persistent efforts and actions.
How to Help Clients Develop a Growth Mindset
As we coach our clients into a growth mindset, it is important to recognize that the coach must first embody the characteristics, attitudes, and actions of a growth mindset. The brain is like a muscle, if we want it to strengthen and grow, we must arm it with the right habits, beliefs, and strategies.
In an article titled “25 Ways to Develop a Growth Mindset”, Sara Briggs provides the following effective strategies/practices:
- Acknowledge and embrace imperfections.
- View Challenges as opportunities.
- Try different learning tactics.
- Follow the research on brain plasticity.
- Replace the word “failing” with “learning”.
- Stop seeking approval.
- Value the process over the end result.
- Cultivate a sense of purpose.
- Celebrate growth with others.
- Emphasize growth over speed.
- Reward actions, not traits.
- Redefine “genius”.
- Portray criticism as positive.
- Disassociate improvement from failure.
- Provide regular opportunities for reflection.
- Place effort before talent.
- Highlight the relationship between learning and “brain training”.
- Cultivate grit.
- Abandon the image.
- Use the word “yet”
- Learn from other people’s mistakes.
- Make a new goal for every goal accomplished.
- Take risks in the company of others.
- Think realistically about time and effort.
- Take ownership of your attitude.
The above list of practices can serve as great reminders for how we perceive our issues and challenges as well as productive strategies to overcome them and thrive. The truth is that nobody can change overnight and the concepts and teachings of coaching a client through a growth mindset allow the client to not fixate their thoughts, beliefs, emotions, and actions on their desired outcome but rather focus on the process and journey of change and attach their gratification to the incremental progress that they will make throughout their coaching journey.
Empowering Growth Mindset Coaching Questions
In order to promote a client’s growth mindset, it is imperative for a coach to position their questions in a thought-provoking fashion that empowers the client to not only challenge their own thoughts but also find the ability to extract the lessons that they can use to move them forward.
Powerful growth-oriented coaching questions could include:
- What can you learn from this circumstance/experience?
- In knowing what you know now, what can you do differently next time?
- Can you find a positive lesson or an opportunity from this experience?
- What did this experience teach you about yourself?
- How would you approach this issue differently if you had your growth mindset hat on?
- Can you identify some fixed thoughts or beliefs about yourself that are holding you back?
- How can you challenge yourself to overcome this obstacle?
- What did you learn from the failure or setback?
- How can you build self-confidence today despite not being where you want to be YET?
- If you believed that you can’t fail, in what aspect of your life do you think that you would want to be more courageous?
- What is one thing that you can do today that can move you towards action/progress?
- Can you identify some key milestones that will signal progress toward your goals?
- What would you need in order to feel supported in your growth?
- What can you do to acknowledge and reward yourself as you move closer to your goals?
How Does a Growth Mindset Add Value to the Coaching Relationship
What stands between a client and their desired outcome is their mindset. A coach’s ultimate goal is to facilitate the movement of a client’s current state to their desired state and the vehicle that will support them in getting there is their relationship with their mindset. A coach must recognize that shifting a client’s perspective towards progress requires a fundamental mindset shift from the client. Understanding where a client demonstrates fixed and growth mindset traits will provide the coach with insights into what has been holding them back and where further exploration, attention, and action are needed in order to move them closer to their desired state. As a coach, we much challenge our clients to think about what they think about or challenge their thoughts, emotions, values, and beliefs. Oftentimes it is within those unconscious patterns of thinking that our clients can possibly hold fixed beliefs that are creating roadblocks in their path toward their desired state. As coaches, we can help a client break down those fixed beliefs and empower them with better beliefs through self-awareness, accountability, and a willingness to learn from what is not going well in order to identify opportunities for growth and evolution.
Growth is a process, not a destination, we must continue to move the yardstick forward and be in constant reach and in relentless pursuit of the best version of ourselves all while knowing that we will never get to the destination but we will always remain in pursuit of the journey.
Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Carol Dweck 2007