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The Growth Mindset

By June 3, 2015Blog

If you’ve ever conducted a job interview, you’ve heard a common response to a popular question:

“What’s one area where you’re weak?”

“Well,” goes the scripted line, “….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.

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