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Using What You Have To Get What You Want

by Mark Guterman

Photo of businessman spinning globeThink about your intelligence, talents and personality. Are they just fixed or can you develop them?

In her recent book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck argues that it’s not intelligence or talent, but rather “mindset,” that brings the greater success. Based on decades of research, she distinguishes between a “fixed mindset,” where one believes that such qualities as “brains and talent” are “set in stone,” and a “growth mindset” where one believes that such qualities can be cultivated through dedication, hard work and effort.

With a fixed mindset, future possibilities are limited. “It is what it is.” We see things as struggles or insurmountable challenges. The glass is, indeed, half-empty, causing us to give up easily, sometimes even before we start.

But when one has a growth mindset, future possibilities are unbounded, allowing us to tap into our creativity and find solutions to the challenges that inevitably await us. The half-full glass is on its way to being fully filled.

Recently, I facilitated a job search workshop to guide people to use what they have, their strengths, experiences, assets and the like, to get what they want. During the discussions, it became apparent that about half of the participants had a fixed mindset and the remainder had a growth mindset. Each approached the process of goal setting and planning in different ways.

Most of the fixed mindset participants focused their attention on things like the state of the economy, the reality of various forms of discrimination, and other real and perceived barriers to their success. However, the growth mindset participants, most of whom recognized the same realities, were able to imagine themselves overcoming the “odds,” to envision ways around the obstacles, to imagine creative ways through the barriers, and to feel they had options.

At any given moment, we carry with us an outlook that impacts our present actions and our view of the future. When we’re in a growth mindset, we have energy, we feel hopeful, and we know how to get unstuck. But we’re less aware when we’re operating from a fixed mindset, primarily because we’re so consistently bombarded with negative news and messages that we’re conditioned to respond in pessimistic ways.

Here are three steps you can take to promote a more positive, healthy “growth mindset”:

  • Develop a practice for assessing your state of mind at specific times during your day. If you pay attention to your mindset regularly, you can more easily alter your behavior to more positively influence your actions.
  • Integrate your most deeply-held values and beliefs into your goals and plans. If your actions are guided by your values, the current economic realities and market conditions will feel less daunting — and you’ll derive the inner-strength to persevere during tough times.
  • Act on your plans in a disciplined fashion, stopping regularly to evaluate the lessons and integrate new approaches to upcoming actions. You’ll gain more confidence to overcome challenges and co-create your future.

Our mindsets frame the running account that takes place in our heads and guides the whole interpretation process. How you interpret challenges, setbacks, and criticism is your choice. You can interpret them in a fixed mindset as signs that your fixed talents or abilities are lacking. Or you can interpret them in a growth mindset as signs that you need to ramp up your strategies and effort, stretch yourself, and expand your abilities. The choice is yours.

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