How can you fix a fixed mindset?

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Q: Robbie, Bosun, 29:

“I read your blog last week on fixed mindset and I realised this is me! I do react badly to criticism and get jealous of others who are clearly really talented at ‘my’ area of expertise. I was really disturbed to realise this! I’m working towards becoming a Captain, and I now realise that some of the worst Captains I’ve met were totally fixed mindset kind of people! Why does this happen? Is it something we’re born with, or something we’re taught? And what can I do about it? “

A: The Crew Coach:

Thanks for writing in with this question. We got lots of interest in this topic when we ran the blog last week, so it’s obviously hit a chord with lots of crew. First things first: don’t be too hard on yourself! We’re all a mix of growth and fixed mindsets, because as I wrote last time, mindsets are a broad colourful spectrum, not black and white. Interestingly, if you really were 100% fixed mindset, you probably wouldn’t have reached out to me like this—and you wouldn’t be reading The Crew Coach blog in the first place, as it’s all about self-development! So the good news is that you’re already well on the way towards developing a growth mindset.

So just to recap: People with fixed mindsets have the core belief that their talents are given at birth, and cannot really be improved in any meaningful way. People with growth mindsets believe that their talents are highly malleable and can be significantly improved with effort.

Want to learn what your mindset is currently? Take this very quick test.

Where does fixed mindset/growth mindset come from?

‘Nature versus nurture’ questions are always fascinating, but what is clear is your upbringing has a tremendous amount to do with whether you exhibit more fixed or growth mindset characteristics. Were your parents more fixed or more growth mindset themselves? Did they congratulate you for grades, or for effort? Did parents and teachers talk about certain children (or you) being ‘naturally gifted’ at certain things, and not at others? Did they ever say ‘you’ll never be great at that?’, or did they say things about others like ‘the kid can’t play football, he just needs to face the fact’? Also, if your role models were quite critical of your failure or extremely proud of your successes, then that’s another frequent trigger for children to become fixed mindset about their talents (and therefore sensitive to criticism and jealousy of other people’s skills in ‘your’ area of excellence.)

This learned behaviour process continues well into adulthood. You mention that you have worked under some captains who were clearly fixed mindset. Don’t forget they were your teachers and role models at the time, so it’s not surprising if you’ve learnt some additional fixed mindset behaviours about yachting and leadership from them.

The good news is that you can definitely change your mindset—and quickly.

Steps to change your mindset towards growth

Keep in mind that fixed mindset is firmly rooted in fear. When you find yourself thinking ‘what if my talents aren’t enough, what if I fail?, keep in mind that effort is what ultimately will propel you to success, not natural talent left to stagnate.
Silence that inner voice that stops you trying. When that voice tells you that you shouldn’t have to really try as effort might show up that you aren’t that naturally talented, remind yourself that all the great athletes and businesspeople found success through huge amounts of effort and hard work. As Albert Einstein once said ‘It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s that I stay with problems longer’. It’s effort that will make you great, not genes.
Learn to accept setbacks without losing faith in yourself. This is not an easy skill to learn, but once you master it, your life will never be the same. As you develop your growth mindset, you’ll start viewing all your setbacks as a crucial part of the process that will eventually make you great.
Lean into criticism. Take a deep breath and open your ears to criticism— for the only way you can get better is to learn where you went wrong. Even if you think the criticism is unjustified, you’ll find that by not allowing your emotion to take over, you can start to view the other person’s perspective and be able to come to a solution.
Accept that you’re extremely unlikely to ever be the best in the whole world at anything. Once you genuinely come to terms with that rather obvious fact, you can start to see other highly skilled people as someone to learn from so that you can get better. Meeting someone who is better at something is an opportunity for your improvement, not someone to fear and resent.
Surround yourself with growth mindset people you can emulate. Granted, choosing who you spend time with can be tough on a yacht, but you can reach out to your friends who are growth mindset via Skype, or read books by growth mindset people like Richard Branson. Read up on growth mindset as much as you can, as you’ll increasingly notice when you’re reacting in a fixed mindset way and be able to take steps to rapidly switch your outlook.
Keep learning new things. There’s no better way to boost your growth mindset than to give the brain regular challenges. They more you grow new skills, the more your mind starts to welcome more challenges rather than fear them.
Don’t feel like you’re alone! Growth mindset development is being taught in schools and corporations all over the world. Many of us are stuck in fixed mindset patterns that limit our growth and make us resist and fear others, so recognise that you are far from alone in your journey towards growth mindset.
Learning to encourage growth mindset thinking will set you free from fear, jealousy, and holding yourself back. This development will further your career towards getting your first drive- and when you get there, you’ll be a much better captain for it.

Expanding your mindset is one of the most valuable results you will gain from working with a professional career coach who can really challenge you and help you realise where you are holding yourself back. If you’re interested to know more about our private coaching and other programs such as our Leadership Mastermind group, you’ll find more information about these here on our website.

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Alison Rentoul

Alison Rentoul

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