Our childhood training from preschool onward teaches us to prize quick results. Our teachers grade tests and papers. They mark our mistakes in red; our successes get smiley faces. In sports, the all important statistic is the number of wins we’ve accrued. Our parents enroll us in music lessons and put our skills on display in high pressure recitals.
Your are probably accustomed to being rewarded for what you produce. Producing is essential for success. However, an exclusive focus on your talents and output can stall your personal growth much like a business consumed by its bottom line is doomed to fail.
I mention in an earlier post that focusing on money can cause your business to forget the humanity of your customers. This results in loss of empathy and bad decisions. Similarly, when you focus only on output and begin to determine your worth by what you produce you devalue yourself and undermine your creative efforts. Connecting with others and creating meaningful work is a uniquely human undertaking that involves your whole being – not only your talents and skills. Your emotions must be in sync with your work in order to produce at your peak.
Stanford professor Carol Dweck discusses this issue on the HBR IdeaCast with Sarah Green. According to Dr. Dweck, the person destined long-term success has a growth mindset rather than a fixed mindset. Those with a fixed mindset believe that their talents and accomplishments are uniquely theirs. They may feel these things have happened to them rather than being achieved by them. Much as fire is hot, water is wet, and concrete is hard they are what they are. This fixed mindset does not allow them to grow because they believe their essential properties cannot be changed.
In contrast, someone with a growth mindset sees herself in process. She can acknowledge talents and gifts but refuses to be defined by them. She can also freely admit shortcomings and seek ways to overcome them. She is in process – always becoming. With this mindset, we are free to redefine ourselves and adapt to changing circumstances. This adaptability is key to success in a changing world.
When I adopt the fixed mindset I see myself as a product, and with the growth mindset I view myself as a person in process. This may be the key to producing at a high level. If I value process, I can take pleasure simply because I engage in work that has the potential to become significant. I don’t accept the idea that it must be successful. If my first attempt(s) do not meet my expectations, I can tweak my approach and try again. If I am ultimately unsuccessful in a pursuit, I can quit and move on to something more promising. My self perception allows that freedom.
When I feel that I must know all the answers, I switch my focus from what I produce to the process of working toward a goal. Do you find yourself slipping into a fixed mindset? What do you do in response? Please leave a comment to share your advice!