The Tale of a "Bad Student"
Recently, I was working with a client who left a long, successful corporate career to pursue her entrepreneurial ambitions. As a new business owner, she had a long list of things to do and had a plan of attack for each one. She even implemented a visual tracking system to see the work she had to do and what she'd done. She had to deal with marketing, networking, finances, and the many other tasks that come along with being a small business owner. And being the organized professional she was, she was able to make progress on each of those tasks every week - except for one. The one area in which she was stuck was her professional development. She had a long list of things she wanted to learn in order to be more successful in her business, but week after week the tasks on her board weren't moving.
When we started exploring possible reasons for being stuck, she mentioned she had not enjoyed studying in school and she was "a bad student."
When we give ourselves a label like that, we're telling ourselves that we're a finished product, that there's no way for us to change. In Carol Dweck's book, Mindset, she refers to this as a fixed mindset.
People with a fixed mindset believe their intelligence, character, and attributes like their creativity are fixed and unchangeable from birth. With those believes, people with fixed mindsets find reasons for not pursuing goals they set if they think they aren't capable enough. Or they set goals too low for themselves because they believe their abilities are limited. Given that they believe their intelligence is fixed at a given level, they may also feel the need to continually prove themselves to others rather than pursuing their own goals.
People with growth mindsets think differently. They see themselves as works in progress with the ability to continue to learn and grow through their entire lives. They believe their true potential is unknown. They are willing to put in the effort to pursue ambitious goals and if they fall short, rather than seeing it as a personal character flaw, they see it as an opportunity to learn.
When I recognized my client had a fixed mindset in the area of learning, I called her out on it. This gave us the opportunity to raise her awareness that she had a choice about how she looked at her past challenges as a student. She could continue to look at it from a fixed mindset and believe the story she had in her mind about not being a good student. This would allow her an excuse to not do professional development work since she "knew" she wasn't going to get better at learning.
Or, she could develop a growth mindset and see herself as a work in progress and see her personal development as an opportunity to challenge herself and learn new ways of studying. We were then able to discuss ways in which she might be able to look at the situation from a growth mindset, such as changing the story from "I'm not a good student" to "I wasn't a great student back then, but I can get better."
When you run into a difficult challenge and find yourself stuck, ask yourself "What mindset am I in right now?"