Growth Mindset & the Power of “Not Yet”

Growth MindsetSo, I’ve been learning as much as I can about launching a ‘software as a service’ business. Since I also have a day job, I am doing this by listening to podcasts and audio books (see the page Stuff I Like for a list). Am I an expert?? Er, NOT YET! The amount to learn seems overwhelming. Mail Chimp, Google Analytics, Word Press, SEO, Libsyn. And so the list goes on….

However, a side benefit has been a reminder about something that I fundamentally know to be true, but which I often forget. The powers of a growth mindset. In other words, brains and talent are a good starting point, but dedication and hard work will lead to accomplishment.

A fixed mindset is the opposite to a growth mindset. That is the mindset of people who say things like “I am just no good at xxxx”, or “Oh, I could never do that”. Growth mindset is also the enemy of “all or nothing” thinking. This is when you say “Either I am really good at xxxx, or else I am a failure at it”. As a teenager, I was a master at this line of thought.

The “non-runner” who trains for a marathon is a great example of someone who has a growth mindset.  Or the person with no formal education who decides, midlife, to go back to school to get a post secondary qualification.

In my own life, it is what allowed me to go from a 30 year old smoker who couldn’t jog 1 mile, to a mountain biker who podiumed in a 24 hour, solo mountain bike race at 44.

Anything is possible. That is, if you want it badly enough and are prepared to work for it. You need to have a healthy ego, because the chances are you’ll fail along the way. Oh, and a great sense of humour.  Because, let’s face it, life is a shit show.

Also, you’ll notice that 15 years passed between my first, dreadful, running experience and the longest MTB ride of my life. Progress is about chipping away, little by little, at a goal. I learned to recognize small wins and forgive myself when you I didn’t meet my own (arbitrary) expectations. Out of pure frustration I have thrown my bike in to the bush more times than I care to remember. This didn’t do me (or my bike) much good! Forgive yourself but don’t give up. It’s easier and less damaging to personal property than throwing things.

I’d also suggest that you stay away from the FMP (fixed mindset people). You know, those negative nellies, who constantly wang on about what they can’t do, or worse, tell you what you can’t do. Enough said.

I’ve heard others describe this mind set as “believing in the process”. I have adopted this as a personal mantra for when things get a bit tough.

Recently I watched a great Ted Talk by Carol Dweck. She describes a school in the US that added the grade “not yet” to their marking process. If a child doesn’t pass a subject, they receive a “not yet” grade instead of a failing one.

In this way the message they gave to kids was that, although they hadn’t reached the required standard yet, it wasn’t a permanent situation. The door remained open for them to try a different approach, work harder and, with support, get to where they needed to be. Contrast this with the prevailing trend to give everyone a congratulatory slap on the back and a gold star, regardless of performance*.

One of the things I’ve noticed with a growth mindset is that, sometimes, I apply it to certain aspects of my life, but then not others. This happens with other people too. I know individuals who have achieved remarkable success in their careers, yet shy away from fulfilling their burning ambitions out of a fear of failure.

For me, I have always wanted to start my own online business. I am perfectly placed to do so. My husband is a top notch software developer, I have business experience, a wonderful network of smart people, and a relatively flexible life (read: no kids). But I haven’t done it until now because I didn’t know the first thing about it. I would probably still be thinking about it unless a good friend had asked me to join her. Once she did, and we took the first step, I was hooked.

Who knows where this latest venture will take us. We haven’t bet the farm (yet!), we are learning as we go along, and our progress is slow. However, even if this doesn’t turn in to a viable profit making endeavour, I will benefit in other ways. I always do. I’ll prove I can do it, and so gain self confidence. I’ll learn something new. I’ll meet new people and I’ll have a great story to tell.

So what is your burning ambition? What can you do to take small steps to move towards it? If I can, believe me, you can.

*Full disclosure here - I don’t have kids so this comment is based on my own experience working with undergraduate students for 7 years. Those kids whose parents have used the “everything you do is awesome” approach to parenting have fragile egos and don’t know how to deal with criticism.