The Growth Mindset

Smash through performance anxiety

There are two clear pathways most people take when approaching the challenges life throws our way – those from a fixed mindset and those from a growth mindset.

I draw on a huge number of experts in my coaching practice, given my work in higher education and teacher training. One author I’ve long taken to is Carol Dweck (thanks to a colleague and coaching expert Deborah Stevenson who I’ve invited to run two CPD events on the coaching approach) who in her book Mindset explores these two distinct pathways.

For Dweck, there are those who believe talent, like our physical characteristics, are essentially unchangeable. These people with ‘fixed mindsets’ believe our fate is carved into our DNA from birth, the indelible ink of which will determine whether our fate is to be one of glorious success or humiliating failure.

In contrast to these, Dweck posits those with a ‘growth mindset’, for whom everything is still up for grabs, everything in play. It is this second group, those with a perspective of growth, that she claims we need to learn from.

To do this the author traces the two differing points of view back to infancy, where they are already being set. Babies as young as three already display these opposing traits, Dweck points out, and for her the difference is all about role models. Parents who encourage a talent-based, good-versus-bad attitude regarding capability are likely to produce children who see success in over-simplistic terms. In contrast, by providing role models that highlight the importance of development, children approach learning as an act of self-fulfillment rather than one of winning, losing, or even comparison to others. These are the kids for whom learning, even when it is difficult, is a constant state of improvement rather than a confirmation of whether they are ‘good’ or ‘bad’. With that attitude, life is a game we can never lose.

These role models don’t stop in the family home. Dweck highlights a variety of other wider evidence of these opposing ways in thinking, from Sergio Garcia throwing his golfing shoes in a rage at his own mistakes, to Michael Jordan’s unstoppable desire for improvement leaving him practicing on the court well beyond his fellow players.

It is a story she shows from the failed corporate culture of Chrysler compared to the success of IBM, right up to the never-say-die attitude of Christopher Reeve achieving the impossible in attaining movement he’d been told he’d never have again.

It is how we approach our failures that determines our results. Those with fixed mindsets avoid challenges, seeing them as risks, while those with growth mindsets see a challenge and even failure as an opportunity to develop.

Thankfully, Dweck points out this is something we can all attain with a little effort over time. In your coaching with Tony Corballis, you may experience this, depending on your needs and objectives. Dweck’s advice is something we could all take a moment to learn, and keep learning from, in everything we do. That with the right mindset, nothing is over until we give up.


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