What is a growth or fixed mindset? 

Last week as I was flicking through my Facebook feed when something on a post really grabbed my attention. One of my friends had posted she was sick of the negative comments which were coming up on threads, and it was someone’s reply that pricked my interest and has lead me to put pen to paper (well fingers to keys, actually). A comment on the post said to be more forgiving as the negativity was coming from people with a fixed mindset.

I had heard of fixed and growth mindsets, but didn’t know much about them, researching the topic I have been through an emotional, heart wrenching journey, which I want to share with you in this blog.

Carol Dweck, Professor of Psychology at Stanford University is the leading expert in the field of Mindset. These findings are based on her research, not something I made up in the car on the way to work…..

It got me to thinking about how mindset is formed? Is it nature or nurture? Can you change from fixed to growth and vice versa? It was during this thought provoking time and while I was looking for a story that my readers would relate to I realised I had an example which was very close to home.


My Personal Experience

In 1943 in the middle of World War 2, my father then age 8 had been knocked down by a bike leaving him with injuries which left him unable to walk properly for the rest of his life. His injuries meant he was unable to leave hospital for a long time with a knock on effect of missing school. The education system has progressed a lot since my father’s time, and I’m sure now there would be provisions in place to continue his education but at that time the long term effect of him missing school left him being treated as mentally disabled as well as physically disabled. This would be traumatic enough for any child, but also during this period his father was killed and his mother was confined to an institution, unable to continue functioning due to the grief of her late husband.

After many years in a wheelchair then callipers, against the odds my father finally managed to walk, despite being told by doctors this would never happen. This to me implies the first signs of a growth mindset.

Fortunately my Grandfather’s sister Aunty Annie, a spinster with a wonderful heart took my dad in and he finally started to have a resemblance of a normal life. He even managed to get a job in the shipyards and bluffed the papers so he could serve his national service.

For those of you reading, who remember the Glasgow shipyards in 1960’s you will understand the strong union presence at the time. While the unions did a great job to protector workers, they were also a breeding ground for fixed mindset.

It was a decision my father made with a fixed mindset that provided to be one of the biggest regrets of his life. Despite his early educational setbacks, he was a quick learner with a smart mind and had become an accomplished draftsman. Because of his skills and ability to teach he was offered a job as a lecturer at Clydebank College. This could have given the family an opportunity to move from our council high rise flat to a “bought house” as they call it where I’m from. But I’m not sure if it was Imposter Syndrome or a fixed mindset holding him back because he didn’t think he could do it, possibly a combination of both led to him turning the job down.

Fast forward to 1990, my father was 55 years old and “times were a changing”, computers were all the rage, and the shipbuilding industry was slowing down with lots of manufacturing being done overseas. Jobs were decreasing and skill sets were improving. With the introduction of Auto-cad a new era was born. The older men who could only draw on boards were being replace with the kids on the block who were a wiz on Auto-cad. My dad was left with a choice he could either, keep his fixed mindset, moan and complain that it wasn’t fair and that he was too old to learn new skills or he could revisit the Growth Mindset from his youth and go back to night school and learn new skills which would secure his employment for years to come. Yip you’ve guessed, at age 55 a mature student was born. It was exhausting for him as his health had never fully recovered from his youth and arthritis had well and truly set in but he persevered and achieved his Higher National Diploma.

By learning from his previous mistake of turning down the lecturer role, he decided he could do anything he wanted and moved into the contractor world, which not only paid better but meant with his draught board and Auto-cad combination ability he became one of the most sought after draftsmen in Scotland and the North of England. His effort and attitude to learning, ensured he maximised the rest of his working life. Many lesser men did not take the opportunity to retrain and never regained employment, blaming employers and the environment for not being able to return to work.


Nature V.S. Nurture

So is mindset nature or nurture? I don’t feel educated enough on the subject to give you a definitive answer, but with most subjects I have an opinion. I think it’s a combination of both and as we see from my Dad’s example it can fluctuate.

For me it’s all about growth, so where does my mindset come from? My parents ALWAYS rewarded me for effort. An example being my O Grade (similar to GCSE) results. Being a second sibling to an academic sister, my parents hoped I would follow in her footsteps. However, being an undiagnosed dyslexic put pay to that, when it came to the results day, the only positive result on the certificate was a C for arithmetic. Was I berated for poor results? Far from it, my house was full for cards and flowers from well-wishers congratulating me on my efforts. How did they know? Because my parents had total belief that I did my best and despite the overall result were forth coming to tell friends, family and neighbours.

My parents quickly understood that academia was not my “thing” but always supported me to persevere till I found the thing that makes my heart sing. I think they were shocked when I left home at 19 to travel the world on my own, but they never once held me back from carving our my own destiny. As a parent now myself I can see how worried they must have been, but they never once shared their fears with me.


How to Develop a Growth Mindset

I finally found it was sales and entrepreneurism which makes my heart sing. Both are full of ups and downs, so you need to have a growth mindset to succeed. It is easy for a fixed mindset to try creep in, especially on the dark days when things don’t go your way.

So what are my top tips for mindset:

1. Surround yourself with the right people. Unfortunately since they passed away, I no longer have my parents to support me, but I have a core group of business friends, who are always on hand to listen and keep me focused on the positive. Be around people who genuinely get a buzz from your success, not people who feel threatened by it. Who supports you?

2. We are not all great at everything, we all make mistakes. For me I love mistakes, I’m frequently heard saying, “Yehhhh, that’s another chapter for my book”. The key is to learn from mistakes – The definition of insanity is making the same mistake over and over and expecting different results – quote Albert Einstein. Write a list of your mistakes and what you can do not to repeat them.

3. Challenge yourself – I used to use the fact I am dyslexic as an excuse that writing was not for me. I now regularly blog and people feel inspired by what I have to say. What have you always wanted to do, but feel you can’t? Maybe mind set is holding you back from reaching your dreams.

4. Having your own business can be one of the most rewarding and frustrating things in the world. Over the years it has frequently crossed my mind to jack it in and get a “proper” job. Dig deep, persevere and reflect on the reason you set up the business in the first place. For me I know small businesses need me to teach them to sell, it’s my purpose and torch in the dark moments. What’s your purpose?

5. Keep learning new things. Thanks to Carol Dweck’s research I have now gained more knowledge on a new subject, which I can now share with my audience. When was the last time you expanded your knowledge?

See What I had to say – Facebook Live

The best advice I can give is, if you find it difficult to believe all the positive things your colleagues and family are telling you about how good what you’re doing is because you suspect they might be being too kind to save your feelings . . . . listen to your customers! They know.

If you want to do Carol’s test on mindset, visit her website http://mindsetonline.com/testyourmindset/step1.php

A heartfelt thank you for reading my blog and forgiving my dyslexic ways.

If you enjoyed it, please share with your audience.

Alison – The Entrepreneur’s Godmother

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