Positive Psychology

Mindset Makes A Difference

Dr. Larry Richard

By Dr. Larry Richard

Carol Dweck is a psychologist at Stanford University who studies achievement and success. Within her field, she is quite well known for the concept of “mindset” (also the title of one of her best-selling books). Her idea is simple–people seem to come in two flavors–those with a “fixed” mindset, and those with a “growth” mindset. Those with a fixed mindset assume that they are the way they are and that’s all there is to it. “There’s no changing me–I yam what I yam . . . ” (as Popeye frequently said.) Those with a growth mindset assume that they can change, that their personality and qualities are malleable and that they can change and grow. The consequence of this difference in assumptions is huge–fixed mindset people, based on Dweck’s scientific research, seem to be risk-averse. Since they believe that nothing they do can make themselves smarter or more successful, they want to conserve what they have and present the best possible image to the public. By contrast, those with a growth mindset believe that they can learn from their mistakes, so they are much more willing to try new behaviors, and when they stumble, they’re more likely to interpret it as a step along the way to becoming even more successful. There’s an old expression: “Argue for your limitations, and sure enough, they’re yours.”

Which mindset do you think characterizes most lawyers? We don’t have hard data on this one, but I’m willing to bet that more lawyers have a fixed mindset. Why does it matter? In today’s fast-paced, rapidly changing environment, a growth mindset will enable you to cope with change better. Growth mindset people can adapt better, hence they may make more effective leaders. A growth mindset will lead to less defensiveness and greater openness to trying out new behaviors. Here’s a more concrete example: If you’re a partner, and you’re giving feedback to an associate on his/her work product, if you’re coming from a fixed mindset, you may tend to rigidly classify the associate as either a “star” or something other than a star. If your come-from is a growth mindset, you may be more open-minded to the associate’s capacity to learn, grow and develop. Many associates have been written off by a partner who prematurely categorized them, only to flourish at another firm where they had a better chance to develop. These things all contribute to success in a changing world.

The good news in all of this is that your mindset is something you can change just by reflecting on the assumptions you habitually make and deciding if they’re working for you. But remember, if you have a fixed mindset, you will be tempted to conclude that you can’t change your attitude. Resist this thought, and give yourself the leeway to reflect more deeply on this question.

As usual, if you have comments or questions, please post a reply.

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