Yesterday, six-time champion Serena Williams thrashed Russia’s Elena Vesnina in just 48 minutes to reach her ninth Wimbledon final. On Saturday, Serena, will bid to match Steffi Graf’s open era record of 22 Grand Slam singles title. Both Williams and Graf exemplify the champion’s mindset.
Today Roger Federer and Andy Murray will play their semi-final matches. Roger is aiming to exceed Pete Sampras’ haul of 7 Wimbledon titles and his own record of 17 Grand Slam titles. While Andy Murray is seeking to win his second Wimbledon Championship. Both men showed remarkable resilience and fortitude to win hard fought quarter finals, Federer especially after being two sets down.
So what is it that distinguishes these great athletes – champions – from others?
It’s easy to think it’s because of their natural talent, but in actual fact, it’s mindset that differentiates the great champions. Exactly the same applies in business. This is explained in the work of Carol Dweck, Professor of Psychology at Stanford University, whose research examines the self-conceptions people use to structure the self and guide their behaviour.
Professor Dweck is renowned for research in which she identified two distinct mindsets:
- The fixed mindset, in which people see abilities as fixed traits. In this view, talents are gifts – you either have them or you don’t. Those with a fixed mindset believe you only have a certain amount of a talent or ability. As a consequence, they need to prove that they are talented and are reluctant to do anything to contradict that impression. So people with a fixed mindset try to highlight their proficiencies and hide their deficiencies. This means they will often reject valuable learning opportunities if these risk revealing their shortcomings
- The growth mindset in which people believe their talents are potentialities that can be developed through practice. This group don’t deny that some people may be better or faster than others at acquiring particular skills. But they focus on the idea that over time, everyone can get better. As a result, they put a premium on practice and learning.
The Problem With A Fixed Mindset
There are two key problems with a fixed mindset. One is that any lapse in performance is a threat to (a) the person’s sense of their underlying ability and (b) their sense of their future. The second is that this great concern with ability can drive out the willingness to learn, often when this is most needed. It’s hard to thrive in sport – and indeed the business world – if you don’t have a strong desire to address your weaknesses and learn.
When it comes to business, in some circles, you’ll hear talk that you should focus entirely on your positives. In my view, the problem with this approach is that, unless mitigated, our weaknesses are likely to lead to blind spots that will skew our business judgement. Ignoring our weaknesses means we lose the opportunity to develop a new skill that in the longer term will serve us well and help us take our business to a whole new level.
Let me give a personal example. Sales was not an activity I’d ever had to do in my corporate life. And because I had very little idea what I was doing, I hated this particular activity. But when I was thinking about starting my own business, I knew I’d have to ‘put my big girl pants on’ and master the sales process. Because sales are essential to business success. So I did just that. I knuckled down, read, studied and worked with a sales trainer until my skills and confidence improved. And within a few months, I’d developed a whole new competency that has served me well ever since. Imagine if I’d listened to those who said you should ignore your weaknesses!
Mindset and Effort
According to Dweck’s research, people with a fixed mindset believe, that if you have true ability, you shouldn’t need to put in a lot of effort. Yet, there is no activity – be it business or sport – where you can be successful without intense and sustained effort.
This is important because young athletes who have a great deal of early ability can coast along for some time, outshining their peers. They may even equate athletic ability with the ability to outperform others without engaging in practice or training. At some point, natural ability will not be enough, and others will start to pass them by. Whether they can now learn to put in the effort and practice required will be critical to their future success.
Exactly the same applies to business.
In contrast, people in the growth mindset understand that effort is the way that ability is brought to life and allowed to reach fruition. Far from indicating a lack of talent, they believe that even the great masters need to put in great effort to fulfill their promise. People with a growth mindset not only believe in the power of effort, they hold effort as a value.
Going back to Wimbledon, last week we followed the heroic journey of tennis journeyman, Marcus Wills who got to take on the mighty Roger Federer in the second round. The contrast in mindset between the two men, over the course of their tennis career, could not be more different. While Federer has stuck to a well thought out training and practice routine over years – which let’s be frank, requires huge levels of self-discipline – Wills was out drinking, eating junk food and piling on the pounds. The results speak for themselves. Whilst I enjoyed following this particular story, I couldn’t help wondering what Wills could have achieved with a different mindset.
Mindset and Coping with Setbacks
These two mindsets lead to entirely different ways of coping with difficulty and adversity. In the fixed mindset, setbacks are seen as affirming a lack of ability, leaving people with few good ways of reacting to setbacks. In contrast, those with a growth mindset take charge of the situation and work hard to overcome the setback. When the going gets rough, people with a growth mindset not only take charge of improving their skills, they take charge of their motivation as well.
Despite setbacks—or even because of them—people with a growth mindset find ways to keep themselves committed and interested. While people with a fixed framework lose interest as they lose confidence. As the level of difficulty increases, their commitment and enjoyment go down. Since all important pursuits involve setbacks sooner or later, losing interest and enjoyment just when you need greater effort puts you at a major disadvantage. And this means you’re more likely to abandon effective strategies just when you need them most. A growth mindset, on the other hand, leads people to seek out challenges and learning, to value effort, and to persist, irrespective of the obstacles before you.
We saw this attitude in Roger Federer this year as he’s battled to return to peak fitness following knee surgery and a back injury. And in Andy Murray who is both cursed and blessed to be playing tennis in this era. Cursed because in any other era, Murray would have won many more Grand Slam titles, and almost certainly have been the world No1. Blessed, because competing against great champions like Federer, Nadal and Djokovic means he’s had to become a greater master of the game and develop phenomenal mental strength to remain a challenger.
Can Mindset Be Changed?
Can a growth mindset be taught? Well, the good news is that four studies to date suggest it can. This is because the brain is a dynamic, malleable organ, that every time we learn something new means our brain forms new connections.
Join The Conversation
Question: Do you have experience of making the transition from a fixed to growth mindset? What helped you to achieve this? I love reading your feedback which you can post in the comments box below.
Explore These Additional Resources
If you enjoyed this article, you may also like:
- How To Develop Mental Toughness Like The Pros
- Why Humility Is Such An Admirable Leadership Quality
- “The Mindset of a Champion” published in Morris, T., Terry, P, & Gordon, S. (Eds.), Sport and exercise psychology: International perspectives. Morgantown, WV: Fitness Information Technology.
I help micro business owners (with less than 9 employees) formulate and implement the right business strategy so that they can make the transition to a small business (10 to 49 employees) and then on to a medium sized business (50 to 249 employees). I do this by helping them to increase profitability, continuously improving their business results and focusing relentlessly on their core priorities. A former CEO, I took a leap of faith when I left my 25 year corporate career to set up my London based business coaching and consultancy practice. Because of my practical experience in the trenches, hard work, warm, no fluff, down to earth approach, I’ve built a global reputation, and am delighted to have a client list in the UK, US, Canada and Australia.
To find out more about the different ways of working with me, click HERE. If you’re familiar with my work and would like to discuss how I can help you grow your business, book a 30 minute informal Skype coffee chat using this link. There’s no hard sell. Just solid advice and a straightforward, honest assessment of whether 1:1 business coaching or business consultancy would be a good fit for your business, the results you can expect and how to get started.
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