Tips for developing the essential soft skill you need to thrive
Written By: Dr. Ernie Ward, Chief Veterinary Officer.
Without a doubt, the number one question I’ve received over the past thirty years as a veterinary business consultant is, “What do I need to do to succeed?” Though it comes in many varieties (“How can I grow my revenue?”) and guises (“How can I overcome stress?”), it breaks down into a single answer.
Sustainable success requires a growth mindset.
“Growth mindset” was coined by world-renowned psychologist and human motivation expert Carol Dweck. I first became familiar with the concept around 2001 as her textbook, “Self-theories: Their Role in Motivation, Personality, and Development (Essays in Social Psychology),” was gaining popularity in the business press. In her textbook, later made into a much easier-to-read 2006 bestseller, “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success,” she reveals her decades of research into “self-theories,” or how we perceive ourselves and interactions.
Dweck defined our “mindsets” as either “fixed” or “growth.”
The Perils of a Fixed Mindset
In simplest terms, people with a fixed mindset view their intelligence, personality, skills, and abilities as limited, defined, and finite, with little opportunity to change. In her research, she found these individuals struggled to achieve satisfactory performance in their personal and professional lives.
Dweck found that those with a fixed mindset viewed it as a limited asset and desperately needed to prove they had what it takes.
Dweck writes in Mindset, “If you have only a certain amount of intelligence, a certain personality, and a certain moral character— well, then you’d better prove that you have a healthy dose of them. It simply wouldn’t do to look or feel deficient in these most basic characteristics.”
A fixed mindset inevitably leads to a lifetime of attempting to prove their value to the world.
Dweck notes, “I’ve seen so many people with this one consuming goal of proving themselves— in the classroom, in their careers, and in their relationships. Every situation calls for a confirmation of their intelligence, personality, or character. Every situation is evaluated: Will I succeed or fail? Will I look smart or dumb? Will I be accepted or rejected? Will I feel like a winner or a loser?”
The Advantages of a Growth Mindset
Folks who have adopted and accepted a growth mindset see themselves as full of opportunities to change and grow.
Dweck continues, “There’s another mindset in which these traits are not simply a hand you’re dealt and have to live with, always trying to convince yourself and others that you have a royal flush when you’re secretly worried it’s a pair of tens. In this mindset, the hand you’re dealt is just the starting point for development. This growth mindset is based on the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts.”
In other words, why waste your time constantly proving to others how capable you are when you can be getting better?
Dweck writes, “Why hide deficiencies instead of overcoming them? Why look for friends or partners who will just shore up your self-esteem instead of ones who will also challenge you to grow? And why seek out the tried and true, instead of experiences that will stretch you? The passion for stretching yourself and sticking to it, even (or especially) when it’s not going well, is the hallmark of the growth mindset. This is the mindset that allows people to thrive during some of the most challenging times in their lives.”
How to Change Your Mindset
The first step to changing your mindset from “fixed” to “growth” is to recognize how believing that your qualities can be cultivated (changed) leads to different thoughts and actions, allowing you to achieve your goals.
In other words, if you feel your personality, intelligence, and abilities can’t be changed, you live your life very differently than if you believe all of these attributes can be changed and improved.
Dweck describes it this way in Mindset, “Sure, people with the fixed mindset have read the books that say: Success is about being your best self, not about being better than others; failure is an opportunity, not a condemnation; effort is the key to success. But they can’t put this into practice because their basic mindset— their belief in fixed traits— is telling them something entirely different: that success is about being more gifted than others, that failure does measure you, and that effort is for those who can’t make it on talent.”
I’ve found a few key hallmarks of folks possessing a growth mindset that are easy to spot.
The Power of Challenges
First, they challenge themselves and stick to it, especially when they’re not doing well. This feature is one of the reasons I cherish taking on big (but reasonable) risks. Whether it’s an athletic pursuit (e.g., 5k, Ironman, daily walks, etc.), taking up a new skill (e.g., art, dance, cooking, etc.), learning something new (e.g., language, a subject you’ve never studied but are curious about, etc.), or business, people with a growth mindset are constantly challenging themselves.
The process of challenge, setback, and overcoming is how growth is achieved.
Constructive Not Critical
Next, they take feedback not as criticism but as construction.
Structured, thoughtful, and appropriate feedback from managers and co-workers allows you to identify blind spots, so you can shift how you’re doing things. People with a fixed mindset see feedback only as pointing out their shortcomings and can’t understand that they can change these traits.
If you find yourself reacting negatively to feedback from others, try saying this:
"I understand and appreciate your feedback. Here are the steps I'm going to do to try and improve in that area for development."
"Thank you for sharing this. That's not yet a strength of mine, but I am going to make it an area I focus on."
Then do it.
The goal is to become open to improving something, not be the type of person who walks out of the room saying, “Nothing's going to change."
Being thoughtful and willing to try something new or different goes a long way toward finding happiness and success.
Finally, someone with a growth mindset celebrates when others succeed. They are inspired and learn from them. Those with a fixed mindset are threatened when peers succeed, try to minimize their achievements and see another’s win as their loss.
I routinely recommend Mindset: The New Psychology of Success to most veterinary professionals. I’ve found it incredibly helpful in my personal and professional life, and I believe if you apply Dweck's principles, you’ll find it beneficial too.
Here’s to infinite growth,
Dr. Ernie Ward
Chief Veterinary Officer, VerticalVet