Tips for Maintaining a Growth Mindset


Growth mindset

Back in 2020, I wrote a blog post detailing 6 tips for working in the tech industry. And while these tips are sage for any tech worker, there is a 7th tip that applies to life in general: Adopt a growth mindset.

What is a growth mindset?

A growth mindset is a way of viewing challenges and setbacks. People who adopt a growth mindset believe that challenges can always be overcome with time and effort, and that setbacks and failures are valuable learning opportunities that lead to self-improvement and future success. In other words, a growth mindset is a positive, open, and healthy outlook on both learning and life.

Those who do not have a growth mindset often attribute their own skills and limitations to external factors. They believe they don’t have the ability to grow and improve unless they are given an ideal situation and outside help. We say that these people have a fixed mindset.

How can you develop and maintain a growth mindset?

We often categorize objects as fragile if they break easily when they are dropped or encounter a shock, or durable if they do not. However, our immune system is neither fragile nor durable – it doesn’t break when it encounters a shock, and it isn’t able to withstand all shocks. Instead, it learns and gets stronger when it is exposed to a shock. This is why our immune systems do not develop properly if we’re not exposed to enough shocks as a child.

You could say that our immune system employs a growth mindset as it improves each time it encounters a shock. Thus, to develop and maintain a growth mindset, it isn’t enough that we simply know what a growth mindset is – we must continually practice approaching and learning from situations using that mindset, much like our immune system does.

Following are 14 tips that will foster a growth mindset:

1. Be curious

It’s easy to dismiss opportunities, ideas, and solutions that don’t seem desirable. But doing so means you’ll likely pass over some of the best ones, including those that provide growth opportunity. Don’t dismiss anything quickly – be curious of everything, including things you are not interested in.

2. Embrace detours

Most opportunities don’t have “good opportunity” written on them. Be open to those that don’t align to your goals – you won’t know where they’ll lead you, but there’ll be plenty of growth opportunity along the way. If you ask a mentor of yours about their most valuable learning experiences and opportunities, they’ll almost always tell you that it wasn’t planned. So embrace detours. Success is almost never a straight line for anyone.

3. Value habit and punctuality

Habit is far more dependable than inspiration, and you can make progress by making habits. For example, instead of focusing on getting into shape, focus on becoming the kind of person who never misses a workout. If you repeat that habit 365 more times, you’ll be where you want to be next year. Moreover, there is no such thing as being “on time” – you are either late or you are early. If you choose to be early to an event or meeting, you’re maximizing opportunity for growth by learning your environment or preparing your thoughts beforehand.

4. Focus on the 20%

The Pareto principle is codified in the 80:20 rule. Around 80% of cited papers are written by 20% of scientists, 80% of corporate revenue typically comes from 20% of the customers, and in your own life, 80% of the rewards come from 20% of your effort. If you focus your time and effort on the 20% that leads to the most growth, you’ll build a skillset that maximizes your growth and related benefits.

5. Increase awareness of your emotional state

Say, for example, that you are angry. Sometimes anger is healthy, as it’s a signal to us that our boundaries have been violated. However, when you are angry, you often do things you wouldn’t otherwise do. When you become aware that you are angry, you’ll become less fixated on the anger, find resolutions, and learn from the experience. The same is true for any emotion, including sadness, frustration, stress, fear, disgust, surprise, and envy.

6. Welcome criticism

Too often, criticism is viewed as a personal attack. However, to take criticism well and improve from it, you must first view criticism as an opportunity for self-improvement. Regularly ask for it from those whose opinion you value.

7. Don’t assume you’re correct

Openness is a key component of a growth mindset. We often defend ideas we think are correct, and in doing so ignore better ones. When talking with others, speak confidently as if you are right, but listen carefully as if you are wrong. If you’re wrong, use it as an opportunity to learn and grow.

8. Practice forward thinking

Forward thinking is thinking ahead. Don’t bother fighting the old – build the new. When negotiating, don’t aim for a bigger piece of the pie – aim to create a bigger pie. Our time and space are limited – get rid of things in your life that don’t spark joy any longer to make room for those that do. Instead of asking yourself “What should I do now?”, ask yourself “Who should I become?”

9. Talk about problems

When you are stuck, explain your problem to others. Laying out a problem will often present a solution, or engage discussion that will. Make explaining the problem part of your learning process. This will also build valuable communication skills that lead to more growth opportunities.

10. Stay out of your comfort zone

We grow the most when we’re outside of our comfort zone. If an opportunity seems impossible to achieve at first, it’s probably a good one for learning and growth even if you fail at it. Learn from your mistakes and avoid repeating them – try to make new mistakes. If you’re the most knowledgeable person in the room, you’re in the wrong room for growth.

11. Remind yourself that everything takes time and persistence

We tend to overestimate what we can do in a day, and underestimate what we can achieve in a decade. Miraculous things can be accomplished if you give it ten years. A long game will compound small gains to overcome even big setbacks.

12. Expect failure and setbacks

Failure and setbacks are unavoidable. For example, in cybersecurity, attackers only have to be right once, while defenders have to be right all of the time – and defenders are not going to be right all of the time! But failure and setbacks are stepping stones to success. When they happen, treat them as such.

13. Encourage a growth mindset in others

Modelling growth mindset practices is the best way to encourage others to adopt them. After all, we learn the quickest by observing others. When you see people struggling, help them learn to grow and improve. When you lead a team of people, your real job is to create more leaders, not more followers.

14. Be nice to everyone

You will be judged on how well you treat those who can do nothing for you. Treat everyone with respect. They’ll gladly repay it by helping you grow. Similarly, denying or deflecting a compliment is rude. Accept all compliments with thanks, even if you believe it is not deserved.