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How to Develop a Growth Mindset

by | Aug 6, 2021

Think back to the last time you got a new phone, or there was a software update on something you use daily.

I imagine that if you are like me you had some initial resistance to learning how to use it. You didn’t give up!  You tried a few things, some worked, others needed some tweaking, and then one day you realise you are automatically working with the software or phone. You don’t even think about it.

This is an example of a growth mindset. 

If you held a fixed mindset you would feel the initial resistance and say ‘I can’t do this’, ‘that’s it I will go back to my old phone’. 

But instead you found the motivation to keep trying, failing and trying again. You didn’t take it personally. If it didn’t work you asked your 6-year old for help with no sense of shame. 

In Carol Dweck’s now famous book Mindset:The New Psychology of Success she introduced us to the idea of fixed and growth mindsets.

Recently I experienced a period of ‘fixed mindset’ and it has reminded me how easy it is to slip into believing things aren’t possible. I noticed my ability and willingness to learn shutting down as I had thoughts like ‘I can’t do this’ or ‘I am not suited to this.’

My own experience shows that holding a growth mindset isn’t always easy. 

On the face of it I am naturally a growth mindset person. I spent my entire career in learning – originally training as a teacher and then moving into talent and leadership development – and of course most recently teaching coaching. I saw my role as a teacher of 5 year olds as instilling a love of learning and a curiosity in the world.

What is a Growth Mindset vs Fixed Mindset?

This growth mindset is based on the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts.

– Carol Dweck

Fixed Mindset Growth Mindset
  • Feels need to ‘look smart’
  • Avoids challenges
  • Sees effort as pointless and hard work
  • Pushes away negative criticism
  • May plateau
  • Less likely to reach full potential

‘I’m either able to do it or I’m not’

‘I stick to what I know’

  • Feels need to learn
  • Embraces challenges
  • Sees effort as path to learning
  • Looks for the learning in criticism
  • Keep moving forward
  • More likely to reach full potential

‘I can learn anything I want to”

‘Challenges are an opportunity to learn’

When we are in a fixed mindset we stop believing that things are possible. 

There is a strong link between a fixed mindset and perfectionism. As a perfectionist I might try to get things right the first time in order not to be criticised. With a growth mindset I would be willing to have a go and for it to be just okay –  or even to fail on the first few attempts. 

Holding a growth mindset requires us to have a confident approach to life and work. We need to believe that even if things don’t go to plan people will see the thing that went wrong and won’t believe this makes us all ‘bad’. 

6 tips to increasing your growth mindset

Learning to coach is harder than it looks! On our coaching programme we introduce the importance of having a growth mindset as a coach so that when we struggle and think we can’ do it – it’s time to embrace a growth mindset and move forward. 

We can be proactive in developing a growth mindset – here are 6 ways to help.

  1. Become aware of your fixed mindset moments – we all have them. Noone is fully growth mindset all the time. When you notice yourself saying ‘I can’t’ or ‘I don’t have the skill’ or ‘I wasn’t born with the ability to….’ pause and ask yourself ‘how true is this?’ Often this is negativity bias and we are being cautious. Instead look for one small step in the direction of growth and learning. 
  2. Learn to look for what worked and what can be improved – history is full of inventions that happened through failure and accident. Penicillin and post it notes are 2 famous examples. When you are trying something new and out of your comfort zone look at what worked first. Then explore the areas that didn’t go well and create an improvement plan!
  3. Focus on Input not Output – One of the ways to develop a growth mindset in children is to celebrate the energy and effort they put into doing something more than the output. The same is true for us. When we dig in deeply to learn something we can acknowledge how much effort and energy we put into our learning and celebrate this. 
  4. Learn to seek feedback without fear – Some of us are held back by a fear of criticism and judgement. However, if we don’t ask for feedback we are limiting our opportunities for growth and learning. On our programmes people receive a lot of feedback on their coaching. In the beginning this can be daunting – however very quickly people see how rich the learning experience is by receiving constructive help in a safe environment.
  5. Understand the neuroscience – Neuroscientists tell us that we can grow new neural pathways – and when we learn something this is what happens. However… this doesn’t happen immediately. It’s like drawing a line in pencil on paper over and over again. When you draw the first line it is faint, however after 20 times drawing in the same place the line is very clear. Practice, practice, practice and your neural pathways will build.
  6. Be patient and compassionate towards yourself – Learning isn’t easy. It always takes us away from what is familiar and comfortable. Remembering to acknowledge this and lean kindly into your discomfort will help you continue your path of learning. 

Learn more about the neuroscience of coaching on our upcoming ICF Accredited PCC programme. Early bird closes on 13th August 2021 for our next cohort.

Jean Balfour ICF Accredited Professional Coach and Managing Director of Bailey Balfour

Jean Balfour

Founder & Programmes Director


About the Author

Jean Balfour is Managing Director of Bailey Balfour and Programme Director of our ICF Accredited Coach Training Programmes. Jean is passionate about helping people to have good conversations both at work and at home. She believes that coaching is a life skill and that you never regret learning to coach.

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