How to Keep Learning: Maintaining a Growth Mindset Throughout Your Career
Article by Cecilia Meis
Children learn how to walk in phases. First they discover their toes, gripping and pointing and kicking. Then come a few unsuccessful crawls as they test out the strength of each foot, realizing a knee is better suited for the task. Finally they stand a few times, gaining confidence and taking some video-worthy spills.
Dozens of falls later, they’re still at it, figuring out the best way to start and how to stop themselves when the head’s momentum outpaces the legs’ ability. Eventually they succeed, surrounded by smiling and cheering adults. Now, it’s time to run.
We are born with an innate desire to learn new concepts — not only those expected in the course of normal human development, but also those that bring us happiness or satiate our curiosity, and even those that have no measurable benefit at all.
Somewhere along the way, however, we stop learning more than is required of us. Maybe our friends said it wasn’t cool to study. Maybe work keeps us busy enough to forget the simple joys of learning. Whatever the case, we begin to ignore those challenges that don’t fit our current skill sets. Instead, we look for ones that show off our strengths and hide our weaknesses. We become fixed in our ways, and because of our fixed mindsets, we give up at the first sign of struggle.
However, knowing that our best growth happens in times of struggle is the basis of having a growth mindset. With a growth mindset, we meet challenges with “How can I learn to do this?” instead of “I can’t do this.”
Carol Dweck, one of the pioneers of growth-mindset research, found that unwarranted praise can promote a fixed mindset in children. The same is true of ourselves. While we should respond with self-encouragement after failing, we should also hold ourselves accountable. At its core, a growth mindset isn’t blind positivity, but the understanding that knowledge and achievement come from hard work and practice.
A growing body of research shows that adopting growth mindsets can stabilize existing neural pathways in our brains and even construct new ones, allowing connections between information and response to happen faster and more reliably. The application of a growth mindset has shown promise at nearly every stage of life. Students who understand the concept of brain plasticity outperform their peers. Lifelong learning programs in retirement communities are becoming increasingly popular as research finds correlations between learning new skills that require mental and physical focus — mastering a new card game, for example — and preventing the onset of dementia and other neurological diseases.
Commit to a growth mindset by allowing your own curiosity to grow and lead you in new directions. Start with the following tips:
1. Feed Your Curiosity
Ask questions and spend time researching the answers. Frustrated that you hit that same red light every day on the way to work? Research how traffic flow maps are built. Remember that learning new things isn’t always about getting a raise or earning a promotion. Learning in all forms is inherently beneficial.
2. Target Your Weaknesses
Commit to conquering one new thing each month. Never learned how to dance? Sign up for a swing dance club.
Even if you don’t consider yourself an avid reader, dive into books. Research has found that reading not only helps us learn new concepts, but it can also improve our emotional intelligence and social awareness. When we connect with the characters on the pages, we are working through complex social situations, and we become better prepared to handle future ones as a result.
Along with these tips, you have to take care of your mind and body in order to be ready to take in new information and apply it in meaningful ways. Get plenty of rest, eat a balanced diet, increase your heart rate for 20 minutes a day, and try meditation to clear your brain’s junk drawer.
Three Entrepreneurs on the Important of Growth Mindsets
“A growth mindset involves asking a lot questions and trying to work through the why, what, and how of situations, people, and systems. Young kids ask a lot of questions. Part of a growth mindset is channeling a child’s innate curiosity and applying it to your work.
“One of my company’s principles is ‘We don’t take ourselves too seriously.’ If you take yourself too seriously, you shut off avenues through which you can learn and grow. An unfortunate side effect is that you’ll start watching a YouTube video at 11 p.m. on how to make tiramisu and before you know it, it’s 3 a.m. and you somehow got to a Wikipedia article on Johannes Gutenberg’s first iteration of the printing press.
“When you’re in the right environment, every situation can be a learning opportunity. We’ve implemented a management/business book club at Fresh Prints. This allows us to learn together on a company-wide level. We send each other short videos and articles and share books we find interesting. It’s not a bad use of company time if we watch helpful videos on the job. Our company principles allow us to do so. In fact, they encourage that. Most young entrepreneurs start out with a growth mindset. That’s the only way to get your feet off the ground.”
- Jacob Goodman, co-owner and CEO of Fresh Prints
“I started my first business when I was 12 years old. Being young, I knew there was a lot I didn’t know, so I spent time around people who knew more than I did and absorbed their knowledge. But it was when I went to my first motivational speaking event with Jim Rohn, Tom Hopkins, and Brian Tracy that I got the real drive to learn as much as I could.
“Now I have a very consistent lifestyle. I get up at 4:45 a.m. every day to do my studies, read a business book, and read about Asperger’s syndrome (to gain knowledge to help with my son). After that, I listen to an audiobook while getting ready for the day or doing household chores. While working on my latest book, #12Books12Months, I find inspiration and additional support for my own theories with examples from other books and content that I find helpful in expressing what I have to share. Make learning one of your non-negotiables and be sure to create an effective schedule so you will receive all the benefits of the process.”
- Vicki Fitch, author, speaker, and business consultant
“When I became an attorney, I realized that to be great at the profession, it wasn’t enough to learn just what was required. Additional knowledge resulted in having an advantage over my opponent and served my clients better.
“I have to build my learning into my day. I listen to business podcasts daily, during any driving as well as any house chores. I also take online business courses to constantly improve the performance of my companies. Every summer, I travel with my family — mostly to Europe — and I learn art and history related to our destinations. I interact with several business mentors on a regular basis. Currently, I’m also studying style and have hired a consultant to help me understand it better.
“I feel like I’m constantly growing, and my circle of friends includes fascinating and likeminded people who are committed to learning. I look at learning as a tool to make life less stressful and less busy. It helps in organizing systems and processes to avoid chaos. One of the main reasons I love entrepreneurship is that it involves constant learning. I use any setbacks or challenges as triggers to learn how to overcome them. One of the most successful people I know once told me that his life motto was established to put himself in uncomfortable positions: ‘If I’m too comfortable, I’m not learning, not growing.’”
- Elena Ledoux, founder and chief mommy of MommyGo.com
Cecilia Meis is a full-time writer and editor based in Dallas, Texas. Besides SUCCESS, her work has appeared in Time Out Dallas, Rewire, Healthline, and others. Outside of work, she plays beach volleyball, attempts home cooking, and is ardently working toward making her cat, Nola, Insta-famous.