By Stuart R. Levine
Published In, The Credit Union Times

Is your mindset supporting your success?  Are you pushing your learning well beyond your comfort zone?  Is your curiosity causing you to take intellectual risks in order to grow? Will just reading this piece help you to become smarter, more talented and more effective?

How we view our ability to grow actually affects our successes, outcomes and even the structure of our brains. Dr. Carol S. Dweck, a Stanford psychologist, who has researched motivation, personality and development for decades, relates how people with a “growth mindset” are able to increase their talent, ability and even intelligence.  It all starts with a belief that these traits are not fixed, but can grow through curiosity and discipline.  In a growth mindset, challenges, mistakes and struggles are opportunities to learn and to evolve into the person you want to become.  If you believe you can grow and have the courage to express this belief, you will grow.

Those with a growth mindset don’t necessarily believe everyone is the same or that anyone can be an Einstein.  But they do believe that almost anyone can become smarter if they work at it.  A “fixed mindset” reflects the belief that personal endowments are fixed and that native ability cannot be changed.  A fixed mindset limits growth and development.  Dr. Dweck’s research applies across the diverse fields of business, music, language, sports, leadership and even personal relationships.

Importantly for today’s complex world, the qualities that help us manage complexity, Intelligence (IQ) and Emotional Intelligence (EQ), can both be developed if you are open to it and disciplined in their pursuit.  Complex environments are overflowing with information, creating increasingly greater demands for both cognitive abilities and psychological skills.

A higher IQ enables faster learning and problem solving.  Research shows that even intelligence can be developed through disciplined perseverance in learning new things. French educator Alfred Binet, who developed the first IQ test in 1905, did not believe that IQ was fixed.  He wanted to identify students needing special help in order to create better learning methods to expand their intelligence.  Neurological research shows that anatomical changes actually occur in the brain when we learn new things.  Learners gain additional neural pathways and the brain network actually becomes better integrated.

EQ involves the ability to recognize, manage, and convey emotion.  Using the Dweck framework, a mindset of openness to continuous learning can improve interpersonal skills as well.  Learning from difficult management situations enhances leadership ability.  It allows people to become more entrepreneurial, proactive and able to exploit opportunities.  They are comfortable taking smarter risks to advance themselves and their organizations.  Greater EQ is also associated with reduced stress and anxiety.

Discipline is critical to growth.  Dweck tells that when basketball legend Michael Jordan didn’t make his high school varsity team as a sophomore, his mother told him to “go back and discipline himself”.  He did, training intensively to become a star JV player.  At the University of North Carolina, his coaches saw that he worked harder than anyone else.  Mohammed Ali was written off when he first entered boxing because he didn’t have the body of a boxer and had the “wrong boxing style”.  But Ali worked his body to the limit and had the mental discipline to psyche out his opponents starting with Sonny Liston. When asked how many reps he did to work out, he said he worked until it hurt, because that’s when the positive impact would be felt.

A disciplined growth mindset applies to all levels of an organization, even transforming nations.  In his recent book, “Turnaround”, Peter Blair Henry, Dean of New York University’s Stern School of Business, tells how through discipline, China, Mexico, and Brazil, considered third world countries just decades ago, have lifted millions out of poverty.  Using the language of EQ, Dean Henry states: “Just as an individual’s ability to delay gratification at a young age is a powerful predictor of future academic and professional achievement, discipline is also central to the long-run economic health of nations.”  “Discipline [calls for] healthy habits practiced over a lifetime”.

Just adopting a disciplined growth mindset can begin a transformation.  Creating a growth mindset culture within your organization begins when challenges are used as opportunities for learning and when passion for learning on the part of leadership stimulates an environment for intellectual curiosity.  As Albert Einstein said, “I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious.”