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Developing a Growth Mindset To Thrive in Challenging Situations

By DeVry University

April 1, 2020
8 min read

Developing a growth mindset can help us maintain a balance in our personal and professional lives. This workshop dives into the idea of Growth and Fixed Mindsets, where that idea came from and how they vary from one another. By developing a growth mindset, we can move forward and help each other to be the best version we can of ourselves.

Video Transcription

Imagine what the world would be like if we all had the sense of wonder of the world as children do, or if we approach things that are new with curiosity and playfulness. Having a growth mindset allows our minds to be in this state more often. Today, we'll explore how having a growth mindset can help us thrive even in the most difficult of situations.

Meet the Presenter

My name is Jennifer Macadlo and I am a director of human resources with DeVry University. My career spans just over 20 years and I've had the pleasure of participating with leaders and colleagues as they've gone through their own growth and development journey. I've had the chance to be a part of financial services and banking, data science and marketing, and now higher education. And I'm so excited to be with you today as I join you from my home in Illinois where I share my home with my husband Paul and our two very rambunctious boys. Having a growth mindset has certainly helped me maintain my balance and my professional and my personal life. So, thanks so much for joining me.

Where Did the Idea of Growth or Fixed Mindsets Come From?

Where does this idea of growth mindset or fixed mindset come from? About 25 or 30 years ago, Dr. Carol Dweck, a Stanford University psychologist, and her colleagues started to become interested in students' attitudes about achievement and failure. And their research uncovered that when students believe they can get smarter, they understand that effort makes them stronger. And so, as it turns out, if you believe that you can grow, you tend to behave differently in life. And according to Carol, we can differentiate between fixed and growth mindsets across a number of dimensions.

Mindset Characteristics

So, let's take a look at a general example of some of the differences between a growth and a fixed mindset. We'll start with the fixed mindset first. And there are beliefs and specific focuses that those with a fixed and a growth mindset possess.

So, on the left, if you have a fixed mindset, generally speaking, you believe that your skills that you possess today are the ones that you're born with; that you can't change them, that you can't grow. And that those with a growth mindset, they're different because they do believe that you can learn and grow; that I'm more than what I was born with. The focus of someone with a fixed mindset is that they don't want to look bad or not smart about a specific topic, whereas those with a growth mindset believe that we should learn from others, that the diverse thought that others bring to the table is important.

Now, someone with a fixed mindset looks at the world as unchangeable — that things are not going to change. This is the way it is. And when they start to look at risk, they see it as the enemy because they have to be 100% right. And so, oftentimes there'll be this "analysis paralysis" that takes over where a person has to review something over and over again in order to ensure, once again, that it's 100% right because they don't want to take that risk. And those with a fixed mindset, when approached with challenges or run into difficulties, oftentimes feel badly. They don't want to appear as not talented. So therefore, they may avoid something that's outside of their comfort zone or avoid challenges altogether.

And then lastly, when they're offered help or support, they tend to think that it's weakness to be given help or to ask for help. And so, they may even turn it down altogether. Now, alternatively, those with a growth mindset see the world, and those that are in it, as capable of unlimited growth. And they see risk as something that they can learn from. And so therefore they're not afraid to place small bets quickly because it's about the journey, not necessarily the destination.

So again, people with a growth mindset will stretch themselves, think bigger, take more risks, and try new things. With challenges or difficulties or something they're faced with, they'll tend to first embrace what's happening, and they know they can persevere. And so, they'll get through it. They'll say to themselves, “We can get through this. We might fail. It might be difficult along the way, but you know what? We're going to learn as we do and are going to seek out our network. We're going to use that network because once again, we know there's strength in numbers and strength in diverse thought.”

Thriving in Challenging Environments

So, a shift in thinking can help us overcome or even thrive in tough situations. Author Martin Seligman wrote a book called "Learned Optimism" and Martin's central point is that those with a fixed mindset think of setbacks as permanent, universal, internal, whereas those with a growth mindset see setbacks as temporary, specific, or external. So again, during and difficult times, it's important certainly to recognize where we are and to also show ourselves care. We need to take a deep breath and allow ourselves time to recognize where we are, to be patient. In some cases, allow ourselves time to heal and then certainly refocus on just that very next step that we need to take to regain our footing back onto the growth mindset path. And we have to also recognize triggers that can derail us. They can get us off track. So, let's take a look at that next.

What Do You Do When Your Fixed Mindset Is Triggered?

So when your mindset all of a sudden starts to shift into a fixed stance, you have to take a step back and say, “All right, what's happening? Why am I reacting this way? I have to stop, and I've got to work out which trigger, if you will, is firing. Is it because I'm afraid of something new? Is it because this is a challenge that I haven't seen before? Is it because feedback that's been given to me is something I've never heard before and I'm just not sure about it?”

So, we also have to accept how we're feeling. Your feelings are real, your feelings are valid, so we have to acknowledge and accept them. And then of course, seeking out assistance when needed from others. The growth mindset is similar to a muscle. And so, the more that we practice it, the more that we use it, the easier it becomes to carry that thinking through all that we do.

How Do We Change Our Mindsets?

The central concept of Dweck's research is that the view that we take of ourselves and of the world around us will greatly impact the way that we lead our lives.

She provides us some suggestions. First, to cultivate a sense of purpose. People with a growth mindset have this sense of purpose and it's important to keep the big picture in mind, but certainly not be so fixed that we can't change our course should an opportunity present itself. We need to acknowledge our personal imperfections and we also need to see challenges as opportunities. So, what I mean by acknowledging imperfections is that we have to acknowledge that we're going to grow, that we're not there yet.

So, if we acknowledge those imperfections and recognize that it's okay to be imperfect, it gives us permission to take that next step. And seeing challenges as opportunities is critical for growth. So, each time we try something new, we're going to learn and we're going to grow from it. We need to learn to hear and name those triggers, name that fixed mindset voice. So, if your inner head, your inner voice, tells you, “Oh, what if I fail? I'm going to be a failure. People aren't going to trust me again.” Stop yourself and replace it with a growth mindset statement such as, “I'm learning. Most people have failed at some point in their life. At least I know I'm trying something new.”

You also need to think about feedback from others, and accepting help and feedback from others. Take feedback that you're given and look at it carefully. What can you learn from it? Being able to give yourself constructive criticism and hearing constructive criticism from others is critical for our personal growth. And then of course, celebrate that growth. Acknowledge your progress, celebrate your growth with others, your growth of self. And doing this will encourage you to keep going when it gets tough.


All right. I'd like to ensure that you have two additional resources that can help you further explore growth mindset. And those two books I'd like to recommend are "Mindset" by Carol Dweck, a fantastic book about the motivation and perspective that comes from having a growth mindset, and Martin Seligman's "Learned Optimism," which is about the fact that we have control over how we react to the world.

We all get to decide on the person that we want to be and how we'll react to life around us.

It truly has been my pleasure to spend this brief time with you today, introducing you to the idea of the growth and fixed mindsets. And as I end this session, I invite you to think about ways in which you can begin this growth mindset journey.

Thank you.

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