12 Powerful Habits for Growth Mindset Success
For better or worse we shape our individual realities according to our response or reaction to the world around us. Hardly anybody responds to external stimuli with the purpose of producing unintended, unwanted results. Yet, our responses, our reactions, our behaviours, often produce results that run afoul to their intended purpose, which can cause some chaos in our personal lives.
It should be obvious that we can shape our realities to produce more wanted results in life simply by becoming more proficient in responding to external stimuli in ways that produce wanted results. And, how we respond to the world is largely a function of our mindset.
The form of existence is an effect of the Self, Whatsoever thou seest is a secret of the Self.
The Secrets of the Self, by Sir Muhammad Iqbal,
Mindsets are Mutable, Not Fixed
Mindset is commonly defined as “a fixed mental attitude or disposition that predetermines a person’s responses to and interpretations of situations.” The key words in this definition are fixed, attitude(s), and predetermine. The definition would have us believe our mindsets are fixed and trigger predetermined, automatic responses to external stimuli. And, our predetermined responses to external stimuli produce results that shape our realities, regardless of whether those realities are wanted or unwanted.
Though the common definition of mindset says they are fixed—immutable, neuroscience prove conclusively that mindsets are mutable. Thanks to neuroplasticity studies, we now know mindsets can be moulded. It’s all based on how people actively manage and control the way their brains process information from external stimuli, which trigger responses to that stimuli. Active management produces wanted, desirable, physiological, mental and emotional effects in the self. Passive, non-management produces random and often unintended, unwanted, results.
The Quantum Brain?
Brains are social. At the quantum level, brain electromagnetic waves show properties analogous to the quantum entanglement . In social interactions, evidence suggests that brain electromagnetic waves become engaged, entangled and correlated with the brain waves of others at the quantum level, and vice versa.
We intuitively know and feel this quantum entanglement when good and bad vibes engage us. This is precisely why positive, upbeat people make you feel positive and upbeat. Conversely, people who emit negative vibes can have the opposite effect without the active management of your brain processes.
In short, active management of your brain processes can produce favourable responses in others and makes you less susceptible, less vulnerable to negative vibes emitted by others.
The Growth Mindset
Stanford University’s psychologist, Carol Dweck, takes credit for growth mindset theories, which are popularised in her book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.
Dweck’s growth mindset is the opposite of fixed mindsets. People in the fixed-mindset mode believe their basic attributes, like intelligence, personality, emotions, and talents, are fixed. They tend to devote their lives to validating the givens, what they believe they know about themselves instead of developing the givens further. People in the fixed-mindset mode rarely venture into the strange terrain of the unfamiliar and the unknown willingly. That which they don’t know about themselves and their innate abilities to accomplish impossible endeavours if they only tried is hostile terrain, enemy territory.
When success doesn’t come effortlessly, fixed-mindset people tend to abort the task without further effort, being rooted in an immutable mindset that talent drives success. In her research, Dweck found that rationalising failure plays a huge role in explaining why fixed mindset students believe they fail in their school work, “I’m not good at Chemistry.”
Conversely, growth mindset people subscribe to the believe they create their own realities. Brains and talent are the raw ingredients from which they create their realities through commitment, hard work, and resilience. Growth mindset people love learning new things as opposed to the fixed mindset that views learning as a drudgery and threatening. People in a growth-mindset mode believe they become smarter as they learn, and they do become smarter as they learn. And, they become smarter faster, because they learn more quickly. Challenges and failures hone their learning abilities, which makes the learning process faster and far less gruelling, which affirms the plastic brain—learning does change the brain.
Know Your Brain—Threat and Reward Responses
Because the brain has plasticity, anybody can build a growth mindset regardless of age. The god news is you don’t need not be a neurologist to rewire your brain for a growth mindset. But, it does help to have an appreciation of how the brain works and the electrochemical processes that fuel brain operations.
Driving your brain is analogous to driving a car. You don’t need to be a mechanic with detailed knowledge of internal combustion engines to drive a car. But, knowing how to steer, when to brake, and when to accelerate are critical skills. It also helps to know the quality of fuel that optimises a car’s performance, when to change the oil, and when the spark plugs are misfiring. The more comfortable you become with your car and its idiosyncrasies, the more sensitive you become to the car’s subtle cues that signal something’s not right.
The same basic driving principles are at play when driving your brain. Knowing how to steer, when to accelerate, when to brake, the quality of fuel that optimises performance, and a sensitivity to your brain’s subtle cues are vital for building a growth mindset.
The brain is the central processing unit—the CPU—for all physical and mental functions. But, emotions are leading factors that trigger brain activity when reacting to change. Emotions carry the fuel that causes brain synapses to fire. Depending on the quality of your emotions when reacting to change, you brain synapses can fire like a finely tuned Aston Martin, or they can grunt & groan like a Yugo GV.
The two regions of the brain of keen relevance to building a growth mindset are the left brain and the right brain, LB and RB respectively. The LB controls reward responses—positive emotions to change, whereas the RB controls threat responses—negative emotions to change. Positive emotions drive LB reward response activity. Negative emotions drive RB threat response activity.
Our emotions routinely affect our perceptions of external stimuli—the world around us. And, emotions are causally related to our qualia—the bundle of subjective, unconscious associations the brain uses to derive meaning from the conscious act of experiencing external stimuli. Perceptions of bad external stimuli trigger threat responses, whereas perceptions of good external stimuli trigger reward responses. We can change how our brains respond to external stimuli by reappraising/changing our perceptions of external stimuli, which triggers changes in our emotional responses.
In simple terms, Dr. David Rock, Director of the NeuroLeadership Institute, says the brain operates in two basic modes: to minimise danger and to maximise reward. The immediate interpretation of any change is either good, which triggers reward responses, or bad, which triggers threat responses. The brain is indifferent whether danger/reward triggers are physical or social. Brains respond to social injury identical to physical injury.
Threat and reward stimuli arouse the brain’s base, primal instincts of maximising rewards and minimising threats, commonly called the reptilian brain. Threat perceptions ignite fight-flight response mechanisms in our sympathetic nervous system. Because the brain interprets all threat stimuli, be they physical or social threats, as imminent, threat responses are immediate.
The threat alarm that processes emotional signals is located in the amygdala area of the brain. It sends distress signals to the hypothalamus, the brain’s command central. In turn, the hypothalamus communicates with the rest of your body through the sympathetic branch—the fight or flight branch—of the autonomic nervous system.
And that’s when all hell breaks loose…
The sympathetic nervous system activates parts of the adrenal gland, which release huge amounts of cortisol and related stress hormones into the bloodstream. Cortisol increases blood sugar and suppresses or shuts down bodily functions non-essential to the immediate threat, like the immune system. Energy redirects to the perceived threat. Companion hormones, notably adrenaline, restrict blood vessels, your muscles contract, breathing passages dilate and increase heart rate to drive more oxygen to the lungs and blood flow to target muscles.
You are now prepared for war, or love, against real or imagined enemies.
The parasympathetic branch on the other hand responds to reward—rest and digest—external stimuli. It’s responsible for controlling the body’s mental and physical balance—homeostasis—irrespective of external conditions and stimuli. Activation of your parasympathetic system allows your body to relax and repair by returning it to a condition of tranquil serenity. Unlike the fast-acting sympathetic system, the parasympathetic system is a much slower system that moves along longer neural pathways. This is precisely the reason why people are quick to react to perceived threats but are slow to calm down after the perceived threat passes.
You know you’re in a reward-response mode and your parasympathetic system has kicked in when, Your mouth is wet, your stomach is churning digestive enzymes, your heart rate slows down, your bronchial tubes and pupils constrict and muscles relax.
From Carol Dweck’s profiles of fixed-mindset people, it becomes apparent that the brains of such people are prone to go into a threat-response mode more often and remain in threat-response mode longer. They must contend with a huge quantity of external stimuli that can be perceived as potentially challenging to their fixed realities—their fixed notions of themselves and the way the world works. Fixed-mindset people have realities fortified by a plethora of world-view bunkers vulnerable to attacks that cannot be defended.
The SCARF Model
David Rock took what is known about building a growth mindset for personal development and distilled those principles down to a set of tools called the SCARF Model—Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness, Fairness—for motivating others in social and team environments. According to Rock, SCARF are elements the brain constantly monitors to determine if external stimuli are threats or rewards. In team settings, engagement is synonymous with teams being in the reward-response mode, whereas disengagement/withdrawal equates to teams being the threat-response mode.
Perceived increases in any of the SCARF elements by team members enhances engagement and decreases in SCARF elements trigger threat responses that make for disengaged teams. For example, a drop in social network status automatically triggers a panicky threat response. Brains thrive on certainty and react to ambiguity as a threat. Brains thrive on the autonomy of choice and react to perceptions of control—no choice—as a threat. Being social, brains thrive on relating—bonding—with other team members and perceive a threat when bonding fails to occur. Brains perceive fair exchanges as rewarding and are threatened by perceived unfair exchanges.
The easiest way to move from a threat-response, fixed mindset mode to a more satisfying reward-response, growth mindset mode is to turn adversity into opportunity. Life is a field of opportunity and is only as threatening as you perceive it to be. Get a grip on the reality that, in the greater scheme of life and living, there are few events in life worthy of a threat response. And when valid threat-response situations do arise, use your threat response capabilities wisely.
Merely talking the talk is meaningless until you walk the walk. Words become meaningful when words are put into action.
Here are practical and effective action steps anybody can take to evolve into a growth mindset, reward-response mode from a fixed mindset, threat-response mode.
- Abandon the notion of the fixed mindset. You brain is not fixed, neither is your mind. Stay current on the new and exciting discoveries in neuroplasticity and the plastic brain to reinforce the revelation that your brain and mind can be moulded like clay.
- Abandon the notion of absolutes. In philosophy, absolute is that which is essential; few things in life are essential. In life, absolutes create expectations, which can change as situations change. Furthermore, the gap between expectation & reality attracts anxiety.
- Take ownership and control of your perceptions, emotions, and your attitudes. Your perceptions trigger emotional reactions that trigger threat-reward responses in your brain, which are visible to others by your attitude. Reassessing your perceptions of external stimuli can effect positive, reward responses in your brain.
- Redefine challenges as opportunities. Purge fail from your vocabulary completely. Carol Dweck uses the term not yet to mean the learning is still in progress as opposed to the ego-destroying, loser connotations of fail. You may not speak Japanese. But it’s a sure bet if you were determined to learn to speak Japanese, you’d eventually succeed.
- Embrace self-reappraisal—thinking about a situation a different way—as a daily routine. Question your perceptions and beliefs about you and your world with keen attention to your notions of threats that disrupt your emotional equilibrium and cause your sympathetic nerve system to go bonkers. Acknowledge and embrace your imperfections and the imperfections in others.
- Make empathy as your friend. Attempting to objectively comprehend differing perspectives provides a wealth of insight into your own perspective…learn to truly listen
- Ignore approval seeking behaviour. Though validation is social currency on which the brain thrives, seeking approval from others can degenerate into a wicked pathology where perceptions others have of you define your concept of self. Belief in yourself as others see you can stunt your personal growth and development. Believe in yourself as you see you absent the bunkers people tend to build around their own imperfections.
- Cultivate a purpose-driven life based on serendipity and intellectual curiosity. Embrace all things new and unfamiliar. That which you already know is infinitesimal compared to what you don’t know that’s worth knowing. Define yourself by what you are not & reframed as opportunities.
- Embrace lifelong learning. Because the process of learning is an unending journey that grows your plastic brain, learning is far more important than what you learn. Take joy in and prioritise the process of learning, instead of the result from learning. That’s when brain growth halts. There’s no such thing as a standard model for learning. Experiment with different learning strategies to discover the learning strategy that works best for you.
- Seek like-minded individuals. Cultivate the company of people who emit positive energy while avoiding energy vampires who rob you of your positive energy.
- Volunteer. Pay it forward & give something back. We have evolved in such a way that we are chemically rewarded when we think beyond ourselves. The act of service, giving and exchanging positive energy with another human is a psychological and emotional win-win. You will feel healthier, more resilient & definitely more grounded.
- Learn to laugh. Embrace the genuine humour of life’s journey, gritty as it may be. Laughter is not only uplifting to yourself and other , it also insulates against harshness of reality.
The success of your growth mindset journey rests with your desire and commitment to step out of your comfort zone and embrace these powerful beliefs as daily habits. But know this, a stronger more grounded & positive version of you awaits!