The award-winning a cappella chorus I sing with recently held a 4-day choreography intensive with an International coach. For most of the 90 women in the singing group, learning choreography is not an area of great comfort. On Day 1, anticipatory anxiety spread amongst the group - excitement coloured by a large dollop of self-doubt (Will I measure up?) and self-judgment (I'm no good at choreo) , and I knew that adoption of a "learner mindset" would yield the best results for this learning intensive. I introduced the simple mantra - "I am a Learner" and asked the chorus members: What if we could all show up as a learner? What if we could give our inner critic a break from the self-judgment that shuts down our learning centres? What if we embraced mistakes as opportunities to improve instead of failures? For the weekend we put "I am a Learner" signs on the walls as a visual reminder. The effect on the group was transformational. The learning was faster, retention was greater and the atmosphere filled with laughter and self-reminders of "I am a learner".
A learner mindset is a growth mindset. When we show up as a learner, we are open and willing to grow. The pressure lifts, self-judgment and doubt evaporate and space opens up when we relieve ourselves of the burden of having to know everything.
Where in your life could you benefit from showing up as a learner?
World-renowned psychologist Dr. Carol Dweck offers groundbreaking insights in her book, Mindset - The New Psychology of Success. In it she writes about the differences between the limiting "fixed mindset" and the expansive "growth mindset."
In a fixed mindset you believe that basic qualities, such as intelligence and talent, are fixed traits and you spend your life proving those traits. In this kind of mindset you believe that talent is what creates success, you set a bar of excellence for yourself that you are focused on achieving. You measure yourself against that bar and are constantly judging how you have fared. You may be prone to holding others to your 'bar' as well and being judgmental of others.
In a growth mindset you believe that your basic ability can be improved through dedication and hard work, and that talent and brains are merely the starting point. A growth mindset is focused on getting better, on improvement and developing skills so that you perform better than you did before. A set-back or failure is seen as an opportunity to grow.
The benefits of adopting a growth mindset are expanded creativity, innovation, resiliency, development and performance as well as aiding well-being, stress-reduction, inner peace and contentment. In an organization, a growth mindset will help us tap into, capitalize on, and maximize the talents of the members to create a more positive and engaged
organization. A growth mindset has a consistent generative focus on developing the skills to make things better.
5 Steps to Fostering a Growth Mindset
Are there any situations /areas of your life where there is nothing more you could learn? I doubt it! As they say, when you stop learning you are dead. If we are okay with the fact that there is more for us to learn in any situation in our life, we start to focus our brains not on what is, but what 'could be'. In those areas of your life where you think you know it all, or should know it all, practice showing up as a learner. Or it could be a conversation in which you traditionally would dominate - ask yourself, what can I learn in this conversation? Adopt the mantra: I am a Learner. By exercising our "curiosity" muscle instead of our "knowing" muscle we allow opportunity for other possibilities.
When you notice your self-judge turning up the volume, adopt the cool calmness of an outside observer. The great Boston Philharmonic conductor Benjamin Zander advises his musician students to replace their judging thoughts with observation, and smile, and then say, "How fascinating!" How fascinating that I missed that choreography move again. How fascinating that I am nervous going to this networking function. Etc.
3/ Move from Judge to Assessor
Self-judgment is a debilitating theme that rears its ugly head in a dramatic way with my high-achieving corporate and performer clients. A judgment is a black and white statement of criticism that implies a good or bad labeling of one's value or worth. Most often our inner judge delivers a negative verdict, and we end up feeling bad about ourselves. A judgment rarely has the effect of making us feel better or moving us into being more successful. To move into a more generative state that will create new possibilities, we must shift from self-judgment to self-assessment.
Self-assessment is an objective process that doesn't support or categorize a good or bad point of view. It simply notices what "is" with the clear, calm lens of a scientist. You become an observer! Ask yourself, "What is really happening here?
E.g. / Assessment: The financial numbers aren't balanced and I am having a challenge with figuring out how to balance the books. Judgment: I am not good with numbers, I am not good at math, I am stupid. OR E.g./ Assessment: I am having trouble remembering all the moves in this choreography Judgment: I am terrible at choreo, I am clumsy, I have a brain like a sieve.
The judge is reactive; an assessor is a learner who can be responsive. An
assessment simply notices what 'is' and then creates freedom and future possibilities for learning, whereas a judgment closes the door. An assessment keeps the sense of our
personal value separate from the evaluation of our functioning or actions.
4/ Create a Measurable Plan
Now that you have identified where you are now, think about where you want to go, and the benchmarks that will show you have moved to that place. Create a plan with small incremental steps to move you forward and put markers in place to measure improvement.
Nurturing a growth mindset involves focusing on progress over time instead of one finite moment or end point.
Our journey to personal mastery is a lifelong process.
5/ Reflection and Celebration
As you reflect after an event or conversation, keep to objective evaluation. Think about how you want to improve the next time; draw on your past experience of success, and move into the future from a place of strength and possibility. What would I do differently next time? What could I change for better results? How could I improve? What is the next step to growth? Be sure to celebrate each signpost along the way no matter how small. It's the power of incremental improvement. Every small step moves you forward. And that is worth celebrating!