Monday, April 28, 2008

Strive for a Growth Mindset When Considering New Things

A lawyer I know mentioned to me a first-year law school student that we both know. I asked how he was doing, and the lawyer replied that he didn’t take advice well.

It was obvious my friend meant that he hadn’t listened to her. So I asked why the young man hadn’t listened. Her reply was that young people think older people (she’s not that old FYI) don’t know anything.

I’ve been puzzling over this conversation for several days. It seems to me that this doesn’t make sense. Why would a first-year law school student in his search for a summer law job not take the advice of someone older who has been there/done that?

I truly believe that this is an example of a fixed mindset, which is the focus of Carol Dweck’s book MINDSET: THE NEW PSYCHOLOGY OF SUCCESS. Dweck is a professor of psychology at Stanford, and her students encouraged her to write this book based on her years of research. The book is well-written in language easily understood by those of us not in her field of expertise.

According to Dweck, a person with a growth mindset – the opposite of a fixed mindset – eagerly tackles new experiences even if that person knows he/she may not at first be successful. A growth-mindset person understands that what’s important is the learning that takes place in trying new experiences. It’s not a question of how smart or how stupid someone is. It’s a matter of willingness to learn new things even at the risk of failing.

It is quite possible that the lawyer suggested something to the young law student that he felt uncertain about whether he could be successful. Rather than admit this concern and then add he was willing to try new things, he shrugged off the advice. It is easier for many people not to try something new because of the fear of failure. But if you have this kind of fixed mindset, you will be closing off many opportunities for learning and for success.

The next time someone offers you advice: listen carefully, make sure you understand fully, then if your immediate reaction is to ignore the advice, first carefully consider whether trying to follow this advice may seem somewhat scary. If so, consider switching from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset and be willing to try out new things. The person you help will be yourself.

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