Last week John and I presented to an accountancy firm’s national partners conference on courageous goals. It was great to move the subject to a new audience. After the event one of the attendees said that he liked the concept of big audacious courageous goals, but knew that many less optimistic people do not. He went on to say that courageous goals should inspire people to act as a team but turn off as many as they turn on. I had never connected courageous goal setting with optimism and this made me think of our psychological view of the future, and is your glass half-full or half empty? Are you an optimist or a pessimist?
Psychologists have studied this area for many years and about 12 months ago I came across the work of Stanford University’s Carol Dweck, the psychologist behind the book Mindset: The New Psychology for Success. In this book Dr Dweck proposes that we have one of two mindsets at any one time; fixed or growth.
Someone with a fixed mind-set believes that talents and traits are fixed and unchangeable. People see being intelligent and being expert as extremely important. They feel the need to prove their intelligence or abilities to others. If someone is not good at something there is no point trying harder as their ability will not change. This mind-set gets in the way of learning. Challenges are seen as threatening. To the fixed mindset the idea of trying and failing is terrifying. Avoiding a challenge guarantees success in everything that is attempted.
A growth mind-set says that abilities and talents are cultivated through effort. This promotes taking on challenges and creates resilience in the face of obstacles. To a person in a growth mind-set failure is important because it highlights a problem that allows the individual to learn and develop. Dr Dweck is quoted as saying “…success is about stretching themselves. It’s about becoming smarter (and) effort is what makes you smart or talented.”
So when faced with a coachee who sees a courageous goal as impossible and fruitless, it may be because they are viewing this with a fixed mind-set. This means they are cynical, pessimistic and threatened. Maybe we need to approach coachees differently when in a fixed or growth mind-set. When in a fixed mind-set we need to support their small steps to success so that the goal is viewed as achievable.
Alternatively, we could write them off as incapable of ever achieving great things. However, I believe that anything is possible! Guess my mind-set…
There are lots of pseudo psychological tests on the web on optimism/pessimism and fixed/growth mind-sets. But I’d suggest view these with caution.