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"There are no failures or mistakes, only consequences" - Anon
Positive psychology is not about being or thinking ‘positive’ but about growth and flourishing. Growth mindset is the topic of psychology researcher Carol Dweck as summarised in her book “Mindset”. It all comes down to two fundamentally different mindsets – Growth mindset and Fixed mindset. See a colorful summary of the book HERE.
Self-esteem or learning?
When our self esteem is at the centre of our attention we will be seeking feedback to confirm our theory about ourselves: “I am genius / stupid… I am inadequate/competent”. Psychology researcher Prof Carol Dweck calls it the Fixed mindset. When your focus is the fixed story about yourself then any feedback that contradicts it – whether positive or negative – will be hard to digest.
As opposed to the fixed mindset, the Growth mindset is all about learning and growing from feedback we receive from life. When this is the center of your attention you will be treat feedback and consequences as opportunities to learn from. But when it comes to our personal life we find ourselves anxious to give and receive ‘positive’ feedback. After all we don’t want to ‘hurt’ someone’s feelings. Nice words do make us feel good about ourselves. Yet, the very act of avoiding honest feedback can often be cruel, even if we do that in the name of protecting self esteem. Parents say to kids sweet words so they feel good about themselves. Teachers don’t give students a proper feedback on their weak areas so they can learn from. They try to keep them and their parents happy. Bosses and managers do the same with workers only to sack them later without a proper feedback they could learn from. Friends don’t share observations that could benefit growth. Indeed, denial and avoidance are good strategies if your focus is self-esteem.
The self esteem movement has created a very bad reputation about mistakes, failures, problems etc. These ‘negatives’ implied something bad about the self. After all if your achievements are a proof of your great talent why not perceiving your failures as evidence of your inadequacy?! The Growth mindset treats success / failure very differently. They are neither good nor bad. They are an essential part of learning that makes the development in life. The growth mindset will act on the belief that “there is no such a thing as success or failure, only consequences”.
The subtitle of her book is “The new psychology of success”. Dweck gives many examples to demonstrate how great achievements were the result of efforts, hard work and constant learning from mistakes and failures. Many successful companies apply this mindset because they realise that learning from feedback is essential for their growth. If you are a parent, a teacher or an employer you want to focus on the efforts people make and help them see the connection between their efforts and outcomes.
The message of the book is this: move from focusing too much on self-esteem and achievements towards focusing on the process: hard work, efforts and continuous learning from unsuccessful attempts . The first is about feeling good and the second about creating good. It won’t be easy to move. After all, improving skills through hard work and learning from mistakes is far more demanding than shaping a page in Facebook.
The Growth mindset is about the ever changing context and the ever flowing feedback from life towards us. We can judge the feedback or judge ourselves to be good or bad, positive or negative, but life doesn’t really care about it. Life will care about how we respond when things don’t go our way. This is how a Growth mindset makes resilient people.
We are all inherently like seeds. The potential is always there to tap into. Yet, it often takes a hard work for getting us to what we want in life.
You can WATCH Prof Dweck talking about her theory. (4 min).
About the author:
Guy (Hagai) Avisar is a psychologist with more than 30 years of experience helping people with relationship issues