The 4 Makers & Breakers of Mindset – pt. 2
The growth mindset research is a game changing field that’s actually changing the game and that excites the crap out of me.
We’ve spent a lot of time talking about the importance of it and the characteristics of both the growth and fixed mindset.
However, the characteristics are just the symptoms. To fully understand and realize the power of mindsets we have to dig deeper and look at the cause of these symptoms. Buckle up. It’s go time!
Previously on The Makers and Breakers of Mindset, we gave a quick review of what the mindsets are, introduced The Seesaw of Mindset, and covered the first two makers and breakers: Understanding the Brain and Values. Click here to check out part 1.
Enough rambling. You’re here for the 3rd maker/breaker…
3. Process v Outcomes
This is the most delicate maker/breaker of them all. It’s not black and white like the others. In fact, our good friend, “The Seesaw of Mindset” doesn’t even apply here.
By now I think it’s pretty obvious how a fixation with outcomes and results would lead to a fixed mindset. Concerns with looking good, playing well, and winning supersede concerns with getting better (which we know involves some stumbles, set-backs, and losses). An obsession with winning and looking good robs us of valuable opportunities to learn.
At this point a lot of us (including me three months ago) may come to the conclusion that:
Fixating on outcomes = fixed mindset
Focusing on the process = doing away with outcomes/results = growth mindset
Sorry, but it’s not that black and white.
A healthy focus on the process does NOT mean we can completely shut ourselves off from outcomes and results. I’ve seen some people misinterpret a “process focus” and use it as a place to hide. They avoid putting themselves out on the line and into the fire. They claim to only care about learning and not about the results, but it can become an excuse for them to not confront themselves.
The truth is: life is, and always will be, full of competition and battles, wins/losses, successes/failures, and ups/downs. It’s actually pretty damn easy to have a growth mindset when everything is on going well and when you’re not feeling the heat. The hard part (and most important) is conditioning ourselves to be a learner when things are going wrong, our neck is on the line, it’s crunch time, and when it all matters the most (which is what life is all about).
Everything is a skill. Everything can be learned. And the only way to develop our growth mindset under fire is to experience the heat. Something needs to be on the line. And the outcome has to matter.
Josh Waitzkin – A master of learning and author of The Art of Learning) explains:
“The road to success is not easy, or else everyone would be the greatest at what they do. We need to be mentally prepared to face the unavoidable challenges along the way. And when it comes down to it, the only way to learn how to swim is by getting in the water.”
And how about a splash of Carol Dweck:
“The mark of a champion is the ability to win when things are not quite right – when you’re not playing well and when your emotions are not the right ones.”
Great learners can also use outcomes and results as a measuring stick to gauge progress. These short-term wins and improvements in performance can add fuel to the growth mindset fire, helping us to stay the course of becoming a lifelong learner.
Don’t get me wrong: Yes – games are random and a lot of it is out of our hands. Yes – you can play great and still lose.
BUT – If you’re being a learner and practicing properly you can expect to see some results. These can absolutely show up on a scoreboard, in the stats, or on a test score.
So here is what we know:
Fixating on outcomes and results is wrong.
Too much sheltering from results can be stunting.
Outcomes (if framed properly) can be a great gauge of progress and teach us how to handle the ups and downs of life.
I think the key here is to find a balance where we have a nurturing, long-term, process focus, balanced with healthy short-term goals. Results and outcomes do, and should matter. Thats why we put in the time at practice and in the classroom.
My advice is to acknowledge the outcome and focus on the process.
We can be disappointed with a loss, but still take a growth mindset approach. We can look at the process that led to the loss. Was it bad luck? Were we unprepared? And focus on what we can fix and get better at for next time.
Just as we can be excited and celebrate a win, but hold onto our long-term process focus. We can talk about what led to the win, what went well, and also where we can improve for next time.
This is hard to do but I think the next section does a great job of helping us out.
So yeah, a seesaw won’t cut it for this one. Introducing…
Honestly this one scares me a lot. It points out some major flaws in the way we talk to our players, students, and children – showing that we’re actually a major cause of their fixed mindsets.
This video is a great starting point:
We can go even deeper with it.
As teachers, coaches, and parents we’re not ALWAYS praising the kids we work with. Sometimes things go wrong and we need to do some critiquing. There are actually three ways we can go about praising or critiquing someone:
Again, this situation isn’t completely black and white.
Meet Bill. Bill is your child for the next couple of minutes…
Bill loves golf. He loves practicing, watching the PGA tour on TV, and he studies the game like crazy.
Bill plays in a weekend tournament at your local course. It doesn’t go well at all. He’s disappointed in his performance and feeling down.
As Bill’s surrogate parent – what do we say?
Directing our critique at him as a person is incredibly destructive… “Maybe you’re just not cut out to be a golfer.” Ummm NO. Never do that. Please.
We could take an outcome focus: “Wow that didn’t go very at all – that’s one of your highest scores of the season.” Meh – I don’t see that helping at all.
What if we take it all back to the process?: “Don’t worry about it – it doesn’t really matter let’s focus on what we can do better for next time.” I think this is the right path but saying “it doesn’t matter,” isn’t fair to Bill. He knows it matters. It feels important and he’s invested a ton of time working to get better. It matters to him A LOT.
I think we need to take a lesson from the last section, walk the tightrope, and acknowledge the outcome/results but then turn the focus to the process:
“Bill I know you’re disappointed and it’s ok to feel like that. You and I both know that wasn’t your best performance. What do you think happened? What can we fix for next time? What are some things that went well?”
Acknowledging the outcome shows empathy and that we understand that not playing your best can hurt a bit. Then by taking the focus to the process, or what caused the poor performance, we are encouraging Bill to have a growth mindset, find the lessons in the loss, and use the experience to grow.
When Bill plays great and wins…
The same rules apply.
We need to avoid praising him as a person: “That’s my boy! You’re a natural – the next Tiger Woods!!”
We can’t just talk about outcomes: “That was amazing! You’re a champ – let’s go get ice cream!” This approach essentially tells Bill that he’s a winner when he wins, and a loser when he loses. And that we are excited for him only when he plays well. No bueno.
We can’t shut off his emotions and focus only on the process while Bill is jumping up and down with excitement: “No time to celebrate. What went well? What went wrong? What can we do better next time?” Bill should be able to enjoy the win and feel really great about the progress he’s made.
I know I’m sounding like a broken record but, again, we need to acknowledge the outcome and then focus on the process.
“A heartfelt, empathetically present, incrementally inspired mom or dad or coach can liberate an ambitious child to take on the world.”
I’m so fascinated with this topic and working on a really cool study to learn more about it.
It can change everything…