The Resilient Lawyer – The Growth Mindset – How Fascinating!

The inspiration for my article this week comes from a comment that I received on last week’s article.  In the comment, posted by a former classmate of mine at Royal Roads University, she said that if she makes a mistake, she just steps back and says: “How fascinating!” – another gem from Benjamin Zander.  Let me explain why.

While studying to obtain my coaching certificate from Royal Roads, we routinely had to coach a volunteer client while an experienced mentor coach listened to our conversation.  Afterwards, the mentor coach would provide us with feedback on how we had done.  I don’t know about you, but I’ve always dreaded feedback because, if I received any criticism, I felt like I was a failure.  As a result, I approached each of theses sessions with a great amount of anxiety since I was sure that the mentor coach would “see right through me” and expose me as an imposter.  So, rather than listening with an open mind, I would instead spend most of the time critiquing the feedback in my head in an attempt to protect my self-confidence.  As a result, I missed out on opportunities to really learn from what my mentor was saying and to truly improve my coaching.

As luck would have it, part way through our studies, we had to read excerpts from Carol Dweck’s book “Mindset.”  In her book, Dweck speaks about a “fixed mindset” and a “growth mindset”.  Dweck posits that a person with a fixed mindset believes that their qualities are carved in stone and they are mostly concerned with how they will be judged by others.  They feel the need to be flawless, and to be flawless right away.  If they fail at doing something, they consider themselves to be a failure.  A fixed mindset gets in the way of development and change.  

On the other hand, Dweck posits that a person with a growth mindset believes that they can cultivate their qualities through their efforts and are concerned with improving.  They don’t believe they have to be perfect immediately and they are open to receiving information about their abilities since this helps them to learn effectively.  A person with a growth mindset is resilient in the face of setbacks and thinks that the only true failure is to stop trying at all.  During the course of my studies at Royal Roads, this was one of my true “how fascinating” moments – recognizing that I had been approaching my mentor coaching sessions with a fixed mindset, which in turn was inhibiting my growth.  

So, I mustered my resolve, and decided that I would use my mentor coaching calls as a way to practice the growth mindset. With that decision made, I immediately noticed how differently I approached my next call.  Rather than being anxious about the criticisms to come, I was excited about what I was going to learn from my mentor that would help me become a better coach.  I also noticed how differently I handled the feedback – I listened intently, with a relaxed and an open mind, and I took copious notes.  I then took what I learned and put it into practice in my subsequent coaching sessions.  Suffice it to say, that my coaching skills improved much faster when I approached the work from a growth mindset, as opposed to my previous fixed mindset.

The lesson here:  recognize that when you are trying to learn something, not only are you not going to do everything perfectly the first time, but you are also absolutely going to make mistakes on more than one occasion.  However, rather than seeing those mistakes as negative outcomes, accept and embrace them as part of the learning process.  Each mistake is actually an opportunity to get better the next time.  Science calls this experimentation.  Take the COVID-19 vaccines as an example.  I am sure the scientists who came up with the vaccines conducted a nauseating number of experiments which “failed” to produce a successful vaccine.  However, each of those so-called “failures” supplied scientists with the data that they needed to reach the final successful product.  So, the next time you are doing something and make a mistake, don’t take yourself too damn seriously.  Just take a moment to say, “How fascinating!”, to yourself, think about what you learned, and then move on.  There is no doubt in my mind that practicing a growth mindset (again, and again, and again . . .) will make you more resilient in the face of any challenges.