3 Life Areas Where a Growth Mindset Can Help Smart Women Reach Higher Potential

Many females have a problem…with other people’s opinions… They trust them too much. This vulnerability afflicts many of the most able, high-achieving females.

Carol Dweck

I am a huge fan of many wonderful social scientists. As a parent and as a life coach, I use the research Carol Dweck nearly every day. She is the Lewis and Virginia Eaton Professor of Psychology at Stanford University. Her book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success (available on my Bookshop and Amazon*) summarizes much of her research.

Her groundbreaking work on achievement and success can profoundly improve anyone’s life. She and her colleagues shed light on how to…

  • Motivate people (e.g. employees, children, athletes, and ourselves) so they can live to their full potential,
  • Thrive despite mistakes and failures and even during some of the most challenging times of our lives, and
  • Improve how we manage problems in our relationships (e.g. disputes, rejection, stereotypes, and bullying.)

Definitions of fixed and growth mindsets

In a nutshell, Dr. Dweck found that people tend to adopt one of two mindsets:

The fixed mindset is the belief that one’s qualities or capabilities are carved in stone. Those with this mindset continually make judgements about themselves and others, compare themselves to others, and feel judged. This belief therefore “creates the urgency to prove yourself over and over.” People with fixed mindsets will often avoid situations where their capabilities are challenged and are less likely to take risks. They work hard, but usually to get validation. When they make mistakes, they are more likely to falter and become deflated.

The growth mindset is the belief that one can cultivate basic qualities (e.g. Intelligence, personality, moral character, etc.) through effort. Challenges or mistakes are opportunities to grow. And, thus, “the passion for stretching yourself and sticking to it, even (or especially) when it’s not going well is the hallmark of the growth mindset. This is the mindset that allows people to thrive in some of the most challenging times of their lives.”

The book describes many ways in which we can have “fixed mindset” beliefs. We believe artistic or athletic talent is a “gift” or something you are born with and tend to downplay or ignore the hours and hours of practice.

Growth mindset in parenting

If you are a parent, it is likely that you’ve read about Dr. Dweck’s research as it relates to how one should praise children (Another example.) In an experiment where children were given a fairly easy puzzle, simply praising a child’s ability “You did really well, you must be smart at this” versus praising his/her effort “You did really well, you must have worked really hard” made a difference in whether or not the child wanted to try a more challenging puzzle. Those who were given growth mindset praise were more likely to choose a difficult puzzle. Later, those who were given the fixed mindset praise were more likely to inflate and lie about their scores later.

This was only a short experiment with only one sentence of praise. Imagine what messages you send your children with your words and actions!

But, rather than feel discouraged thinking you’ve done some major damage, take a growth mindset approach! You can put in some effort and change now. Perhaps the best way to start to help our children is to first be aware of our own thoughts.

[People with a fixed mindset] put a very strong evaluation on each and every peace of information. Something good led to a very strong positive label and something bad led to a very strong negative label. People with a growth mindset are also constantly monitoring what’s going on but their internal monologue is not about judging themselves and others in this way. Certainly they’re sensitive to positive and negative information but they’re attuned to its implications for learning and constructive action: What can I learn from this? How can I improve? How can I help my partner [or child] do this better?

Growth mindset at work

Dr. Dweck believes that the fixed mindset in business can lead to “CEOs with big egos,” “brutal bosses,” and groupthink (what occurs when employees stop thinking critically).

Moreover, her research found that having a growth-mindset can help with creativity at work. In fact, business students in a negotiations class were more likely than their fixed-mindset peers to come up with creative solutions that not only benefited themselves but was also beneficial to the other party as well.

Our best bet is not to hire the most talented managers we can find and turn them loose, but to look for mangers who also embody a growth mindset: a zest for teaching and learning, an openness to giving and receiving feedback and an ability to confront and surmount obstacles.

Growth mindset in relationships:

In relationships, a fixed mindset leads you to beliefs like…

  • “If you have to work at it, it wasn’t meant to be”
  • “We are like one. My partner should know what I think, feel, and need and I should know what my partner thinks, feels and needs.”

“When people with a fixed mindset talk about their conflicts, they assign blame. sometimes they blame themselves, but often they blame their partner. And they assign blame to a trait–a character flaw….So once people with the fixed mindset see flaws in their partners and they become contemptuous of them and dissatisfied with the whole relationship. People with a growth mindset, on the other hand can see their partners’ imperfections and still think they have a fine relationship.

What do you believe about your own capabilities? How do you feel about your talents? And, what kind of mindset do you tend to have when you think of these?

Knitting notes

I finished the mini herringbone scarf.

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*Some of the links on this page are “affiliate links” where I receive a small commission from any purchases at no cost to you. Some of these funds will be donated to organizations supporting women and girls.

An older version of this book note was published in September 2014.