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Meeting point: Growth Mindset

People shift from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset when they have the abilities to do so, not because they logically believe the shift is good for them.

What are we hoping to achieve?

A growth mindset is defined as a frame of mind or belief that talents and abilities are not set, that learning is a lifelong journey, and that we all can develop and learn continuously. People with a growth mindset treat disappointments and mistakes as learning opportunities, looking for what they can do to improve next time to get better results. But it's a lot more than that: it's an emotional capacity to deal effectively with discomfort, it's an ability to see shades of gray and be comfortable with ambiguity and uncertainty, to feel the knot in your stomach when you've made a mistake or when you received improvement-oriented feedback, recognize it, and quickly move past it and shift to feeling curious and excited about learning and the opportunity to improve.

What makes change in this specific context difficult?

  • Imagine someone standing on the solid platform of a pier, being asked to leap onto a wiggly boat a couple of feet away. Shifting from a fixed mindset means letting go of a perceived sense of safety...

  • People with a fixed mindset believe that skills and abilities are set and won't change over time. They see challenges as threats, they tend to think in extremes, and often are change-averse because of a reduced sense of ability to influence things around them.

  • Our starting point is in supporting people with a fixed mindset. These individuals have deep beliefs and deeply reinforced emotional response patterns that don't align with growth. Logically explaining to them why a growth mindset is good for them and what it takes to have growth mindset is not enough. We need to know how to manage their transition, starting with where they are.

Are there other things that make this shift difficult, in your experience?

Which Neuroscience-based principles and techniques can help in this context?

  1. Trying to harness understanding, acceptance, or buy-in to adopt a growth mindset because "it's better for you" will most likely not go down well. You're much more likely to get people with a fixed mindset to adopt a growth mindset if you identify what they care about (which not having a growth mindset is blocking them from achieving) and focusing on that in the way you communicate every aspect of the process.

  2. Create very specific goals, both around desired outcomes (what you hope to achieve) and about what needs to be unlearned (what you need to let go of to achieve desired outcomes).

  3. Manage perception of change (this is critical for sustainability) and measure progress.

  4. Focus both on providing people with new skills and abilities AND on managing the Unlearning process (the letting go) of preexisting response patterns and thinking habits.

  5. Create an effective accountability structure. People with a fixed mindset tend to be very resistant to change, and adopting a growth mindset is a change too.

  6. You are likely to meet very high levels of both internal and external resistance. Create predictability around resistance and create simple, short practice opportunities to help people overcome resistance as a well thought-out part of the process.

  7. Identify which specific skills individuals and teams (or an entire organization in the case of cultural change) need in order for them to respond more effectively to discomfort in general. People are different. One may respond to discomfort by thinking in extremes and seeing everything in black and white while another may adopt self-imposed negative self-talk when they feel they disappoint others. Both may lead to a fixed mindset, but for very different reasons and you'll need to provide them with different skills in each situation.

  8. The skills people need to shift from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset need to fit the unique profile of the individual or the team.

  9. Early on, practice new ways of thinking and responding by using situations and events that people care about but are not "emotionally triggering" (a situation that people are too sensitive about will block change acquisition).

  10. Create new experiences and address the "invisible" (subconscious) meaning people assign experiences. Establish strong new links between new/pre-existing experiences and a subconsciously assigned meaning that reinforces a growth-mindset.

When you suggest to those standing on the solid platform of the pier, those who believe that if they try anything else it won't succeed, that moving onto the boat is good for them, you might as well be suggesting that they should try to fly. It goes against everything their experiences have taught them over the years. Shifting from one mindset to another will require creating new experiences and assigning new meaning to those experiences in practice. It will take creating a foundation that offers all the support needed to make that happen.

We'd love to hear any insights or questions you may have! Otherwise, please ask us about additional free KCI materials, training, and certification programs that will allow you to make a huge difference when it comes to successfully supporting people through difficult change.

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