Decision making frameworks are founded upon belief systems. The less open minded you are, the more restricted your available options appear to be. And with fewer options to capitalise on, the opportunity for success starts becoming a very tall order. But it doesn’t have to be this way, and it all starts with shifting how you see things and moving beyond a fixed approach to life and its many challenges.

Belief systems act as a guiding light for our attitudes and actions. As Henry Ford once stated, “Whether you believe you can, or you can’t, you are right”. So why not optimise your belief system for success by adopt a winning attitude?

Whilst the exact phrasing of the quote is debatable, the message is clear; self-belief is a limiting factor to one’s success. Ford was able to revolutionise the industrial process, propagate higher wages for staff and radically transform our means of transportation. All of those developments were founded on the basis of belief, of questioning the status quo and refusing to accept the norms of the age. In modern times we would label Ford’s psychology as a ‘growth mindset’. But what exactly does that mean?

What’s The Difference Between Growth vs Fixed Mindsets?

You may have heard the term before – it is a common phrase that increasingly populates the Tweets and tutorials of self-help experts and new wave business influencers. However, it is much more than just a catchy sound bite. Dr Carol Dweck, a renowned social and developmental psychologist and current professor of psychology at Stanford, literally wrote the book on the topic after 30 years of clinical research and client experience. The theoretical framework was born from Dweck’s observation of children and young adult’s approaches to failure, with responses broadly categorised into two groups. The first would not bounce back after a failure, whilst others seemed to thrive in challenging situations, even if they initially failed or came up short.

Curious as to if there was a common factor that could explain these differences in response to failure, Dweck explored further, with a focus on understanding the attitudes that were being employed, and the belief systems that powered them. It became apparent that those who did not recover from failure attributed their losses to ‘fixed’ characteristics – “this is who I am, this is how it is, there is no point in even trying“. For these people, key factors such as talent, ability and intelligence were believed to be static and unable to be developed. Conversely, those that believed their given attributes were only a starting point that could be further cultivated went on to achieve better outcomes. The two belief systems became known as the ‘fixed’ and ‘growth’ mindsets.

Here’s a breakdown of how these mindsets typically manifest:

Factor Fixed Mindset 🚀 Growth Mindset
Skills/Talents/IQBelieves these are fixed and a probable reason for shortcomings.Sees these attributes as something that can be developed over time.
ChallengesAvoids challenge and responsibility, fears failure.Welcomes challenges as an opportunity to gain valuable experience.
EffortSees talent as inherent, so effort is not required.Belief that effort, practice and repetition are required for mastery.
FeedbackTakes feedback as a personal attack, actively ignores constructive criticism.Invites feedback as an opportunity to grow, learns from constructive criticism.

The Power Of A Growth Mindset

Mindsets aren’t simply wishful thinking, there is hard data backing up these mental models. From a neuroscience perspective, a growth mindset results in increased activity within specific pre-frontal cortex structures of the brain – specifically those related to learning, control, monitoring errors and behavioural adaptation. There is also evidence that adopting a growth mindset overtime correlates with higher motivation, an increase in error correction and lower activation in relation to negative feedback.

We know that encouragement and positive reinforcement have a powerful effect on people’s self-belief and intended outcomes, and this is only amplified when combined with a growth mindset. Conversely, recipients with a fixed mindset demonstrated more sensitivity to feedback on performance, and these findings suggest that a growth mindset also means adopting a focus on the process, rather than the outcome itself.

These effects are not limited to the individual level. Companies too have cottoned on to the power of mindsets, and now employ organisational psychologists to coach talent on how to think differently. Where this has been instituted, employees have reported a greater sense of empowerment, collaboration and organisational support, along with a culture of heightened innovation as people become uplifted and develop their talents. Educators are also embracing programs centred on growth-mindset interventions to help improve study outcomes for students, with replicated studies demonstrating an increase in grade scores for those in the program.

This article began by referencing one of the most famous entrepreneurs of all time, Henry Ford, and how his divergence from the norm powered his decision making and ultimate business success. It should come as no surprise then that the benefits of a growth mindset are now being taught at prestigious business schools as essential training for entrepreneurs. The school of thought pioneered by Dweck decades ago is just as relevant today. For example, a growth mindset fosters resilience, enabling startups to weather market downturns or rejections, it invites feedback to help iterate on products and services and it encourages learning through failure, leading to the opportunity to change paths and enter new fields. These skills are crucial in today’s market and will carry forward as we continue our march toward digital-everything.

How To Cultivate The Right Mindset

The good news is that mindset is a choice, meaning you could start implementing the principles of a growth approach right now. Here are a few ways to begin making the shift or even further developing the right mindset:

  1. Accept Failure: Acknowledging and embracing the possibility that you may fail in your endeavours is a powerful step to take, as it reduces one of the biggest barriers to motivation: the fear of failure. Instead, see failure as an opportunity to learn, refine and re-strategise, with each miss taking you ever closer to your intended goal.
  2. Listen When You Speak: Pay attention to the words that you speak, as they are an indication of your mindset and will reinforce your efforts and actions. Both external dialogue and self-talk are strong indicators of future success, so set yourself up for a win by choosing language that is supportive and aligned with actuality. Be kind, but reasonable.
  3. Invite Constructive Criticism: Be it from a mentor or a team member, know the difference between personal attacks and words of wisdom. Chances are the criticism is coming from a different perspective and choosing to seek feedback from industry or subject matter experts will yield invaluable insights.

For more information, pick up a copy of Carol’s book (Mindset: Changing the way you think to fulfil your potential), or look into any of her speeches available online. These are a great starting point on how you too can shift your thought patterns and unlock new ways to think about (and achieve) success.