The Growth Mindset
If you’ve ever been in a job interview, you’ve been asked this question:
“What’s one area where you’re weak?”
“Well,” you’re supposed to say, “….I’m a bit of a perfectionist….”
This is a line rehearsed with career counselors, guidance counsellors, and other job coaches before the interview process. Is it a good answer?
Perfectionism, we’d argue, is detrimental to the end goal. If the goal is to be perfect – which is, of course, unattainable – then the process is flawed from the outset.
Our principal tool for encouraging adherence, progress, and forward movement: Bright Spots. However, it’s tough to apply Bright Spots when the goal is perfection: are you, personally, more perfect than yesterday? How would you measure ‘perfect?’
With that in mind – that ‘perfect’ is subjective and, therefore, not measurable – we submit that ‘perfect’ is not valid goal, and that ‘perfectionism’ is a negative.
Perfectionism causes a tendency that we’ll call paralysis by analysis. Rather than taking action, a participant waits for the perfect moment, or the perfect answer, or the perfect solution. “Something better will come to me,” is the early iteration of a dead man walking. Dissemination of all possible variables, whether deciding where to buy gas or analyzing poll data, takes time that could be spend executing.
Try this analogy: a perfectionist walks into a room in need of paint. The paint, rollers, and tape are already in the room. “This will take at least three hours,” says the perfectionist, “I’ll come back when I have time.” Time, of course, never creates itself, and work expands to fill the time available. That’s Parkinson’s Law.
The Growth Mindset is our modern-day version of Kaizen – the lifetime pursuit of ‘better.’ The Growth Mindset requires belief that you can never be ‘perfect’ – but you can always be better than you currently are. It requires a humble submission to the concept of Beginner’s Mind – that there’s always more to learn on any subject – and that any action toward positive change is better than none.
Let’s return to our analogy above. A student of the Growth Mindset enters the room to be painted; “I have five minutes now,” she says; “Enough time to tape the first wall.” Slowly, bit by bit, the room grows closer to satisfactory completion.
Applied to a physical example, let’s use the example of double-unders: a technical skill requiring little physical strength, but a lot of practice. The perfectionist fully expects to be able to link fifty double-unders by the end of the month. Today, though, is Deadlift day, and he wants to focus all his attention on lifting. His coach gave him a warmup – perfect for the deadlift – and he doesn’t want to deviate from that process. After his max deadlift, he’s “too tired” to practice well, and needs to be 20 minutes early for his next appointment, so he leaves without practicing.
The student with a Growth Mindset considers that they have to do some kind of warmup, but it doesn’t have to be perfect. Therefore, five minutes can be spared to practice. After a full minute, the student achieves ONE double-under – Bright Spot – but can’t link two together. No matter, because partial success has been achieved, and the student can’t wait to try again the next day. In fact, after deadlifting, the student is encouraged enough to try again for a few minutes, even though he risks being late for his next appointment….
We believe in the value of “good-better-best.” But ‘good’ is not a step in the road toward ‘perfect.’ Perfect is the ENEMY of good, because it hampers the Growth Mindset.
Behavioral modification doesn’t start at a red light.
Fitness is an industry of behavioral modification. We attempt to change people’s habits more than anything else. But ironically, gyms have some of the worst retention and adherence rates of any professional service. Everyone quits a gym; no one quits their dentist.
To change behaviors–whether just starting on a fitness program or doing a full-on Ignite strategy–we don’t start with a list of “bad” behaviors to change. Instead, we start with “Bright Spots”: what’s the client already doing RIGHT? Which positive habits can we build on and inflate to slowly crowd out the negatives?
Bright Spots strategy is built on research from Harvard and Carnegie Mellon Universities. Chip and Dan Heath (“Made to Stick”) studied how cult deprogrammers and successful drug rehab programs worked. George Lowenstein studies how the brain responds to challenge and reward. They’re all famous because their work has commercial value, but we can use their knowledge to shape the environment of an Ignite client.
Step One: make a list of things the student has done well in the past. These must be concrete.
Step Two: use those Bright Spots to create Future Bright Spots. Build on success: if the student managed to complete yesterday’s homework, ask how they’ll feel after completing today’s homework. Ask how they’ll feel after finishing a full week.
Step Three: acknowledge new Bright Spots as they occur. The more solid your foundation of success, the less likely anyone is to fall through it.
The 20% Bonus
To give a student a head start, remind them of their previous successes, or give them a “boost” to begin.
In this study by Lowenstein, car wash patrons were given either a 10-punch card or a 12-punch card with two holes already punched. Though the free car wash prize required the same amount of attendance from both groups, the latter was more than 30% more likely to complete the task. Believing you’ve already started helps make the journey seem shorter.
How is the student already successful? In the previous example of completing homework, we can show the student how yesterday’s work applies to today’s assignment. (“You’ve done this before…”)