By Rebecca Tyler, Connections in Mind
Do you often try new things and push yourself outside your comfort zone? Or are you the type of person who sticks to what they know?
The answer to this question can reveal whether you have a fixed mindset or a growth mindset. A growth mindset is the belief that intelligence, ability and performance can be improved with effort and the right strategies, and that failures are an opportunity for growth and learning. A fixed mindset is the belief that brains are ‘hard-wired’ and incapable of dramatic change1. Individuals with a fixed mindset give up easily, ignore constructive feedback and feel threatened by the success of others. We all have different mindsets for different things. For example, you could have a fixed mindset about intelligence (i.e. “My intelligence is fixed and can’t be improved”), but a growth mindset about strength (i.e. “I can get strong if I just practice lifting weights enough”).
Actively seeking out challenges and improving your executive functioning will help you adopt a growth mindset that will increase your motivation, improve your work relationships, and make you happier and more successful in all aspects of your life2.
What are executive functions?
Executive functions are your ability to start tasks, stay focused, keep track of information, plan the necessary steps to reach your goals and manage your emotions to direct your behaviour. These skills are essential to your happiness, general wellbeing and to your success in every aspect of your life3. Whilst these skills peak in our 20s, they still need conscious and consistent work to be improved and maintained. If you want to find out what your executive function strengths and challenges are, then take our Executive Function questionnaire.
Is it too late for me to adopt a growth mindset?
The short answer is no. However, to answer this question properly we need to first understand the science behind a growth mindset. Within our 20s, our brains stop forming natural neural pathways and our habits, biases and attitudes become harder to change. However, the good news is that throughout adulthood, and even in old age, our brains are malleable, flexible and are able to shift more than was first thought4. This is known as neuroplasticity.
Neuroplasticity is your brain’s ability to reorganise itself through your environment, behaviour, thinking and emotions5. This works in a similar way to training a muscle. The muscle will get stronger through practice and the more you practice, the easier it will become to follow the same routine. In the same way, your brain is capable of forming and strengthening neural pathways when adopting new beliefs and attitudes in line with a growth mindset. The more you practice a growth mindset, the easier it will become.
How can I develop a growth mindset?
Face the fear.
A fixed mindset stems from fear, whether that’s a fear of failure, or being judged. Fear is the emotion that will hold you back and can stop you from reaching your full potential. Self-awareness and inhibitory control are executive function processes that can help you monitor your progress so that you can identify and actively challenge your fixed mindset inner dialogue. Have a look at some examples of growth mindset mission statements that you can start using straight away to challenge your inner dialogue.
Learn to relish the challenges.
Taking on new challenges may at first seem daunting, but take the time to stop and rethink the situation in your mind. Viewing this challenge as an opportunity can help shift your mindset. Navigating your way through new circumstances will often come with many obstacles and even mistakes. Organisation, time-management, planning and prioritisation, emotional control (to keep calm!) and cognitive flexibility are all executive functions that will help you take on these new challenges. Cognitive flexibility will help you adapt to changing situations and is the skill, alongside motivation, that will help you adopt the growth mindset attitude of not giving up. Remember, from struggle comes growth!
Reflection is key.
Reflecting daily on your experiences is key to keeping track of your progress and developing a growth mindset. Put simply, reflection or metacognition reflection is thinking about one’s thinking. It is the executive function that enables you to plan, monitor, and assess your understanding, performance and learning. Metacognition helps you to make those key decisions. Reflecting on your strategies, the effectiveness of those strategies, and other resources that might be useful to solve your problems can be instrumental to your success. Your executive function skill, known as self-regulation, is your ability to monitor your actions and beliefs and reflect on them. Developing your self-regulation skills can help you respond positively to setbacks so that you can remain focused on future success and reach your goals6. Keeping a reflective journal is a simple and effective way to do this.
How can Connections in Mind help?
At Connections in Mind, we are a team of dedicated and caring executive function coaching experts. Our coaches combine their skills acquired through experience and education with strategies based on the latest empirical research to create bespoke coaching programmes tailored to individual client needs. If you can identify challenges with meta-cognition, time management, emotional control, prioritisation, working memory or motivation we are here to support you. You will get to work one to one with one of our amazing coaches who will help you regain control by developing new strategies you can use in both personal and professional aspects of your life. You can read testimonials from our clients here. To help you understand the coaching process and to find a bespoke programme that works for you, book a free consultation call with Sarah, one of our executive function coaching experts today.
1Dweck, C. (2017). What having a growth mindset actually means. Harvard Business Review.
2Dweck, C. (2007). Mindset: The new psychology of success. Penguin Random House: New York.
3 Diamond, A. (2013). Executive Functions.Annual Review of Psychology, 64, 135-168.
4Pauwels, L., Chalavi, S., Swinnen, S. P. (2018). Ageing and brain plasticity. Ageing, (10) 8, 1-2.
5Sarrasin, J. M., Nenciovici, L., Foisy, L-M., Duquette, G., Riopel, M., & Masson, S. (2018). Effects of teaching the concept of neuroplasticity to induce a growth mindset on motivation, achievement, and brain activity: A meta-analysis.Trends in Neuroscience and Education, 12, 22-31.
6Burnette, J. L., Babij, A. D, Oddo, L. E., Knouse, L. E. (2020). Self-regulation mindsets: Relationship to coping, executive functioning, and ADHD.Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology. 39(2), 101-116.