You know that saying “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks?” That saying has perpetuated a myth that the old dogs’ brain has hardened in ways that make him unable to learn anything new. For many decades the scientific community thought this to be true — of animals and people alike. But, as science has progressed, we’ve found that simply isn’t reality.
Modern neuroscience has proven that our brains are more malleable than we could have ever imagined—well into later stages of life. We can teach an old dog new tricks!
Still, many of us get down when we face the difficulties of learning new skills or mastering old ones. We blame the rapidly evolving technology environment, or job competition, or lagging energy levels for our failings. But we don’t need to. All we need to do is adopt a growth mindset and we can learn and grow as we please.
The Growth Mindset
The idea of a growth mindset came from the famous Stanford researcher, Carol Dweck. Dweck and her team stumbled upon the phenomenon when observing students and their various responses to failure. Why was it, they wondered, that some students could bounce back from a setback like nothing happened, while others sulked and fumed when obstacles fell in their way?
It wasn’t the magnitude of the setback, nor the consequences of the setbacks that determined the student’s responding behaviors—rather, it was their mindsets. Some students had a fixed mindset while others had a growth mindset. The ones with a fixed mindset believed that capabilities are innate and were sure that no matter how hard they tried, they wouldn’t be able to do anything about their failures. The growth mindset kids believed that they could eventually learn to do anything if they put in effort and practice.
How to Get Your Own Growth Mindset
If you don’t already have a growth mindset, there is good news– developing one isn’t too hard! The real struggle comes down to alleviating the shame and embarrassment we feel around failure and set-backs.
1. First, we should acknowledge our set-backs or unfavorable circumstances. We don’t want to call them failures, though. We want to call them learning opportunities. Marvel at the processes more than the results.
2. Now we want to acknowledge any shame that might accompany those learning opportunities. This is a key step because it alleviates lingering embarrassment.
3. Next, laugh it off! You can either laugh it off by yourself or with others. We recommend finding others who are non-judgmental and supportive who you can laugh with. This helps normalise laughing at your setbacks and helps give you perspective.
4. View your setback as an opportunity. At least, it’s a great story to tell! At most, it’s an opportunity to learn where you can improve.
5. Reflect. If your setback took place in a business setting, make sure to take note of it so you can avoid it in the future!
6. Lastly, and most importantly, stay curious. Never lose your sense of wonder for the world. Never stop wanting to know more…
Whenever you encounter a new challenge, respond to your fixed mindset thoughts with growth mindset and take the growth mindset action!