Growth Mindset: An Essential Ingredient for Greatness

IT'S ALL ABOUT MINDSET

At the start of 2016, I made a commitment to personal development. I didn't have any quantifiable goals or deadlines, just a bunch of books I wanted to read to find a way out of the rut I began the year in.

One of the five books that changed my life and inspired The Renaissance Dad is Carol Dueck's Mindset. At a time when I seemed totally focused on my failures and shortcomings, this book completely upended the way I think about my own talents, strengths, and accomplishments.

FIXED VS. GROWTH MINDSET

Mindset proposes two outlooks on talents: fixed and growth. The fixed mindset says that talents and abilities are inherent in us. Some people are born with more ability and some are born with less. The growth mindset says that talents and abilities, as well as personal traits, are in constant development during our lifetimes. 

With a fixed mindset, greatness is an absolute scale with two extremes: total failure or perfection. For most of us, that seems hopelessly binary. You are either great, or you're a loser.

In light of the growth mindset, on the other hand, greatness is something personally defined by and attainable for each individual. And once we define what success looks like for ourselves, we can grow toward it through continuous learning and adaptation, even embracing failure along the way.

UN-FIXING MY OUTLOOK

I had a really hard time accepting this idea at first because, as my self-assessment showed, I shared many beliefs of the fixed mindset before reading the book. I think there were three main reasons for this. 

For one thing, as a technology consultant I was surrounded by people younger and seemingly smarter than myself. Many were only a year or two out of college and were already accomplished app developers or product designers. Seeing these up and coming innovators in action made me question whether I was too late to the party, having spent several years in the military. Part of me believed that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.

Secondly, my fixed mindset may have resulted from many years of academic training in which greatness is defined as a percentile or on a four-point scale. For me, greatness meant getting a A+ and being higher ranked than the competition, regardless of whether I had done my best work or learned anything substantive. 

Lastly, I think my fixed mindset was a result of a lifetime of self-imposed perfectionism. One problem with perfectionism is that it gives us the false sense that our work is complete. When we think our work is done, we may forget it or take pride in it, but we don’t improve upon it. 

LESSONS LEARNED

Reading Mindset led me to three crucial realizations:

  1. I don’t know much about dog training, but human greatness is our ability to learn new tricks every day.

  2. My life’s achievement is not graded on how I stack up against the competition, but on the measures of greatness that I define for myself.

  3. Greatness means daily growth, accepting and learning from our failures. Perfectionism does not help in that pursuit.

My personal development plan for 2016 still has very few tangible goals or milestones, outside of launching The Renaissance Dad. My most important objectives this year are to turn these into habits, adopt a growth mindset, and lay the foundation for the pursuit of lifelong greatness.

What are your goals this year? Do you think they reflect a growth mindset?