Working during COVID-19: How a growth mindset can help
What is a growth mindset?
Let’s set the scene: 24th August 2004, Athens Olympics, 200m heats. Usain Bolt sits on the box behind his blocks in lane 5, waiting for the race to begin. At just 17 years old, Bolt looks younger, lankier, and much more nervous than many of us remember him at his prime. As the gun goes, he takes off, demonstrating the athletic prowess he is so well-known for. In the home straight however, his speed tails off and he crosses the line in 5th, his Olympic experience over before it really began.
was where Usain Bolt finished in his first Olympics.
This is where the narrative unfurls and gives way to two story lines, each as realistic as the other.
In the first, Bolt decides that his failure to go further in Athens is indicative of his lack of talent. The obstacles in his path to success seem too large, and the immensity of the effort needed to pursue his dreams must mean he doesn’t have what it takes to be the elite athlete he had dreamed of. He watches Shawn Crawford sprint to victory, and walks away from the sport for good, accepting he simply wasn’t up to the task.
The second narrative may sound more familiar. Usain Bolt and his coach analyse the mistakes made as a sign of the potential Bolt demonstrates. They work tirelessly for four years, learning what training suits Bolt best, capitalising on his strengths and building up his weaknesses. He takes challenges as learning opportunities, feedback as fuel and obstacles as tests of his hard work. By the time the 2008 Olympics came around, Bolt storms to victory in the 100m, 200m and 4x100m relay. To this day, his legacy is that of the fastest man in the world.
The two story lines represent two opposing mindsets, as outlined by Carol Dweck in her ground breaking psychological research. A mindset can be defined as a person’s way of thinking and their opinions.
The first is a fixed mindset, in which people believe that their talent, intelligence and capabilities are determined and unchangeable. If they fail at something, they take it as a sign of their lack of talent and avoid the task at all cost to protect their self-esteem.
The second is the growth mindset, and the one Usain Bolt and most high performers thrive on. Those with a growth mindset are open to challenges and use failures as lessons they can learn from. A growth mindset, Dweck argues, leads to people trying to be the best they can be, and therefore being more likely to fulfil their potential.
Those with a growth mindset are open to challenges and use failures as lessons they can learn from.
Why is developing a growth mindset so important now?
Having a growth mindset is fundamental to learning and growth for all of us. With the COVID-19 crisis creating upheaval in many industries, there are two main ways you will be impacted by the mindset you hold:
1. Shifts in work:
Right now, many organisations are furloughing a large proportion of their employees. Companies who haven’t furloughed employees are facing the challenge of drastically changing the way they operate due to lockdown. Employees must therefore be open to learning new skills and ways of operating whether they are furloughed or working full-time.
There is a long-standing cliché in the business world which is, “change is the new normal”. Amidst the COVID-19 crisis, this could not be more relevant! At Lane4, we have made our company updates fully virtual so that we can keep our people connected to the culture and vision of the company despite working from home.
So, how can you develop a growth mindset in the workplace? We spoke to Andrew Gillespie, a senior consultant at Lane4 with a Masters in organisational psychology. He gave us three ways you can develop a growth mindset to help you through the COVID-19 crisis.
How to develop a growth mindset at work
1. Put a spin on failure
We all have moments where we feel we could have done better, be it giving a presentation, making a report or providing a colleague with feedback.
In these moments, there are two questions you can ask.
The first is “Why didn’t my performance go well?”. By asking this, you are setting yourself up to ruminate over your mistakes and starting a blame game. The more you attribute blame and ruminate over your failings, the further away you move from being able to learn from the experience. This is the default of people with a fixed mindset: they tend to blame themselves for underperforming and assume the cause of their failure is their lack of talent.
The second question is “How could I make my performance better?”. In this instance, you are immediately taking a proactive stance, and looking for an actionable outcome from your disappointment. You can reflect on areas for improvement and make a plan on how to develop the necessary skills to do better next time. This is the default of people with a growth mindset: they are learning from failure, and believe they have the capability to learn, adapt and do better when the next opportunity arises.
We will all have experienced some failures as we have adapted to virtual working and shifting priorities. At Lane4 we talk about ‘failing fast’: we embrace failure and learn from it quickly so that we can develop our abilities further. Take some time to consider the following:
- Where have you failed throughout the COVID-19 crisis?
- What is the biggest learning you have from your failures so far?
- How can you encourage this perspective within your team, friends and family?
2. Supercharge your strengths
There is often a narrative in elite sport that you should work on your weaknesses until they become strengths. However, that belief should be disputed. I think there is as much value in learning from your successes as learning from your failures. If you constantly spend your time plugging gaps, you might miss out on the possibility of capitalising on your innate strengths.
For example, Usain Bolt’s weakness was famously the start of his race. His sheer height (1m95) meant that it would always be harder for him to get out the blocks smoother than Shawn Crawford, who was 15cm shorter than him. However, rather than focusing all his attention on bettering his reaction times, Bolt capitalised on his strength, which came 70m into the 100m race. Once he was running upright, the sheer length and strength of his legs meant he would effortlessly fly to victory, no matter how far behind he appeared to be.
Look at what has gone well over the last few weeks as you have navigated the COVID-19 crisis, and reflect on how you can keep capitalising on your strengths:
- What are some of your strengths which have stood you in good stead?
- When have you used your strengths to overcome a challenge?
- Which of your strengths have been useful to your team?
3. Focus on being at your best
Competition often displays performance in the most breath-taking ways. When you think about moments of sporting excellence, it is fair to say that most of them will have happened in a competitive sporting arena. In fact, often it is exactly this setting which will have contributed to the tension, excitement and exaltation which made the outcome so memorable.
However, when thinking about a growth mindset, monitoring your improvement in relation to other people is the wrong metric to encourage growth. The key is in the wording: if you are comparing yourself to other people to determine your success, there is an end point to that growth. For example, if Usain Bolt’s aim had been to beat his notorious competitor Justin Gatlin, Bolt would have stopped improving once he became triple Olympic Champion in 2008.
Instead, Bolt focused on being the best athlete he could be. This meant that at the pinnacle of his career – when he held National, World and Olympic medals and records – he still had room for improvement: not because there was anyone left to beat, but because he could still better his performance.
Think about how you can be the best version of yourself during COVID-19:
- What is one thing you could change to get closer to being the best version of yourself?
- How are you avoiding falling into the comparison trap?
- Have you been putting enough time aside to look after your wellbeing?