Cultivating a Growth Mindset: Shifting from Good to Great

Cultivating a Growth Mindset: Shifting from Good to Great

“Mum, stop trying to turn everything I do into a life lesson. I just can’t do math!” groaned my teenage daughter. “You just can’t do it yet I wanted to reply but held back waiting for a less heated moment to deliver this particularly poignant “life-lesson”. While still mostly in the dark about parenting teens, I’ve managed to glean a few tidbits, and the art of selectively keeping my mouth shut is right up there. Although I don’t do it enough (yet).

Regrettably my daughter’s sentiment about her math ability displays the common characteristics found in a fixed mindset: she believes her talent in math is predetermined and permanent, and she doesn’t feel there’s any benefit in working at it. Contrast this to those with a growth mindset who believe that basic talents and abilities can be developed and increased over time, with effort, education and learning from mistakes.

This concept of mindset became popular through the research of Carol Dweck who identified that many of us have either a fixed or growth mindset. In her updated 2016 book, Mindset: The new psychology of success, she opens our eyes to how our mindset can influence our outcome. Her conclusion is that people with a growth mindset will generally prosper over those with a fixed mindset.

General characteristics

Fixed Mindset Growth Mindset

Intelligence is innate
Focus on outcome
Failure is personal
Prefers to stay in comfort zone

Intelligence can be developed
Focus on process
Failure is opportunity to learn
Open to taking risks

Fused with Dweck’s conclusion, recent brain research supports the idea that our brains can change over time and grow stronger as we learn new things. So, you can teach an old dog new tricks. And they will be better for it. What this translates to in the workplace, is that gone are the days of hiring for talent. Companies, like NASA, for example, now hire for growth mindset. Conversely, a fixed mindset might show up as “bad attitude” and reduce opportunities for advancement.

Fixed or Growth …or Both?

One critical aspect of this is that while we may have a predominance toward fixed or growth mindset overall, when it comes down to difference contexts, we are often a combination of both. Paradoxically, it’s in situations we know best, that we tend to have a more fixed mindset. Being an expert assumes that we have learned all there is to know about a subject and might close us off to growing and developing in that area.

Now that we’ve made the case for cultivating a growth mindset, here are a few ideas to get you growing your mindset.

Tips to Nurture a Growth Mindset

1. Cultivate self-awareness

Tasha Eurich notes in her book, Insight, that the ability to understand ourselves, an ability that’s uniquely human, is at the core of our very existence and advancement. She goes so far as to claim self-awareness as the meta-skill of the twenty-first century. Self-awareness was also brought up at the UBC Leadership kick-off event as crucial to effective leadership. To increase self-awareness, Eurich makes the case for practicing mindfulness: simply notice what you’re thinking, feeling and doing at any given time, without the need to judge or react. Easier said than done, but with a little practice, it can and does work.

  • Where can I practice even one minute of mindfulness in your day?
  • Where do I feel in the flow?
  • Where do I feel internal friction, even the slightest bit?


2. Perform a mindset "audit"

Further to the concept of increasing your self-awareness, consider all aspects of your personal, professional lives and relationships. Start with the more noticeable and familiar examples in your situation.

  • Where do I tend to feel a strong sense of right and wrong?
  • Where do I dig in your heels?
  • In what situations do I tend to ask lots of questions?
  • Where might I increase your goals?
  • Where can I, even slightly, extend the limits of what I think is possible?


3. Embrace the power of "yet"

This little word packs a powerful mindset shift.

  • Who might I yet become?


4. Redefine failure as "opportunity"

Look back on a situation you recall as being an epic fail and make a list of all the things you learned from it.

  • What does my disappointment teach me about my values?
  • What does it teach me about my process?

Recognize that changing your mindset, even slightly, is change. And for many of us, change can be scary and challenging. In the meantime, applaud yourself for taking the leap.


Sheri Eastman, BA'89, MEd'01, has worked in the field of adult education for over twenty-five years. She is a trained life coach, yoga teacher and works as an educational consultant and instructional designer. Her passion is helping individuals shift mindset, build capacity and create impact.