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Mastering your mindset: Why it matters | 5 Ways to Rewire your Brain

What is a mindset?

Our mindset is our mental attitude about ourselves and the world. Cambridge Dictionary defines mindset as a “person’s way of thinking and their opinions”. Our mindset shapes the way we think, feel, and act. This means as we enter into situations—whether that’s related to relationships, our work or school, or significant life events—our mindsets inevitably influence the way we behave. The good news is anyone can train their brain and rewire it to become healthier, stronger, and more resilient. This ability to rewire our cognitive pathways is known as neuroplasticity or brain plasticity.

There are two basic types of mindsets: fixed and growth. People with a fixed mindset believe their abilities are fixed traits that cannot be changed, while people with a growth mindset believe their abilities can be developed over time. The term “growth mindset” was first coined by Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck, where Dweck discovered that our mindset plays a significant role in our ability to achieve goals. According to Dweck’s research, she and her team of colleagues found that the act of praising played crucial roles in the formation of a child’s mindset, which directly affected the ability of those same children to persevere later in life.

Person vs. process praising

Person praise, or praising someone for their talents or natural abilities, promotes a fixed mindset whereas process praise, praising someone for the effort they devote to a task, promotes a growth mindset. When we praise someone for their intelligence or natural abilities, we assign value to intrinsic parts of themselves. This significantly affects their self-esteem, especially in the face of challenges, because they associate failure in an activity as a personal failure in themselves.

As leaders, the way we praise our team members matters. We should encourage praise in a way that fosters a growth mindset because it directly impacts the success of the team. Leaders who adopt a growth mindset view challenges as opportunities to learn and grow instead of obstacles they need to overcome. When leaders embrace a growth mindset, they see all opportunities as learning opportunities and they are also eager for their team members to focus on self-development because they understand one’s abilities can grow and develop over time. This way of thinking not only instills confidence in your team members but also encourages them to continue learning about themselves.

What does it mean to have a growth mindset?

According to Harvard Business Review, leaders with a growth mindset “are more mentally primed to approach and take on challenges, take advantage of feedback, adopt the most effective problem-solving strategies, provide developmental feedback to subordinates, and be effortful and persistent in seeking to accomplish goals.” Having a growth mindset does not mean being excessively optimistic but rather recognizing the potential in your employees and various situations that arise at work. When leaders adopt a growth mindset, they gain a deeper understanding of how to become better leaders and manage their teams more efficiently by putting the needs of their employees first and demonstrating a human-centred approach to leadership.

Additionally, leaders who are committed to the growth of every member encourage healthy risks. A growth mindset isn’t just about praising your team members either. While praise is an essential part of the growth mindset, the outcome also matters. It’s important to process praise employees for taking healthy risks while also encouraging them to find strategies that can help them move forward more effectively in their work.

Here are 5 practical ways you can rewire your brain into creating a growth mindset to become a better leader:

  1. The power of “yet”. If you are struggling with something, a simple but powerful reminder is to add the word “yet” to your sentences. For example, saying, “I haven’t achieved this…yet,” helps your brain remind you that you are capable of overcoming challenges. Just because you may struggle with a task now doesn’t mean you will always struggle with it.
  2. Embrace new challenges. The best way to learn and grow is through new challenges. While failure is inevitable, we can learn how to better respond to ourselves and our team members in those situations. When we embrace new challenges as leaders and encourage our team members to do the same, we are fostering an environment where a growth mindset matters.
  3. Practice process praising. Leaders who act with compassion show their team members that they genuinely care about them. Being compassionate towards your team is key to leading with a human-centred approach. When leaders show compassion and understanding, they build up psychological safety in the workplace.
  4. Try new activities. Trying new activities, such as learning a new language or visiting a museum, can expand your worldview and promote changes in your mindset and brain. It is important to note that mindset changes develop slowly over time and aren’t something you can do in a day. Practice and consistency are essential in strengthening neural pathways.
  5. Engage in mindfulness practices. Mindfulness practices look different for everyone. Whether it’s journaling, going on a walk in nature, or practicing meditation, mindfulness is important for leaders and being mindful is something you can work on. Being mindful gives us time to pause and reflect set goals, acknowledge our strengths and weaknesses, and practice self-compassion.

The takeaway message is this: it’s never too late to start changing your mindset.