Is your mind encouraging you to evolve, or stopping you from doing so? You might be shocked at the degree to which your state of mind may be sabotaging your progress.

I’m a certified executive coach but I’m also a certified soccer coach, and I can tell you that the roles are not that different. In both situations, the coach helps to identify the coaching subject’s weaknesses, and helps them to improve on those areas.  Most people think they are capable of change but coaches can tell you pretty quickly if a coaching subject is coachable or not.  It largely depends on that person’s mindset.

Dr. Carol Dweck is a global leader on personality, social psychology and developmental psychology, and author of the book “Mindset”. The book is about how we decide to approach tasks, and divides the world into individuals with a fixed mindset versus a growth mindset.  Those with a fixed mindset believe that their abilities, skills and knowledge will (or have) hit a peak and stop there.  Those with a growth mindset believe they can probably improve.  The fixed mind focuses on accomplishments.  The growth mind focuses on the learning process.  Believe it or not, your mindset can make a world of difference in your life.

Dweck describes numerous test showing how growth mindset individuals eventually outperform even the most intelligent and skilled fixed mindset individuals. She illustrate why, she cited a study involving the transition of students to junior high – a tumultuous time period when mindset comes strongly into play.  Her research showed that faced (sometimes for the first time in their life) with learning that was challenging to them, many of the fixed mindset students dealt with this reality by not trying, and by blaming people and circumstances for their situation.  Dweck sees this as a coping strategy to protect their egos.  We’ve all seen this with some lawyers.  Faced with challenges in areas like marketing, leadership, client service and other soft-skill areas, some lawyers will practice avoidance rather than risk looking like a failure.  Instead, they might delay tasks that require that skill; delegate such tasks (badly) to others and blaming them when it the task isn’t done properly; find an (often slimly related) excuse for why it isn’t possible for them to do the task, etc.

Imagine what would happen if that lawyer truly accepted that they can’t be naturally talented in every task, but could learn to be competent in them? In the research study mentioned above, growth mindset students realized that they were there to learn, and buckled down to it.  They weren’t afraid to show a lack of knowledge or skills in certain areas.   In fact, they usually acknowledged their weakness as a first step to opening themselves up to learning.  At least in the short term, they didn’t judge themselves on their accomplishments, but rather realized that they were on an important learning curve and judged themselves more on their determination to learn in the long-term rather than their short term marks.

In the book, Dweck provides numerous examples of individuals who started out as “ordinary”, but thanks to a growth mindset, became extraordinary: Darwin and Tolstoy, Michael Jordon, Babe Ruth and Mohammad Ali are a few of these examples.

Their differentiator, she suggests, was their growth mindset. Growth mindset individuals don’t choose the simplest path simply to show their expertise.  Instead, they specifically choose opportunities to increase their skills and knowledge by pursuing areas of weakness.  They can do this because they know from previous experience that openness to learning and discipline usually results in accomplishment.

We often hear enough about how important it is not to give up. We don’t hear often enough how honourable it is to specially challenge ourselves and to be proud of the actual learning process. Malcolm Gladwell has suggested that this is because most work environments prize natural endowment over earned ability.   By extension, he suggests, we like to see our champions and idols as superheroes instead of as ordinary people with discipline and growth.

Dweck believes that as children, we are programmed to be of fixed mindset. As we grow older, this can be particularly problematic for those who started out with more natural ability or intelligence because those traits become locked into that person’s sense of self.  Validating those traits then becomes their main source of self-esteem.  For such individuals, having to work at something suggests to them a lacking in skills or intelligence, and must be avoided at all costs.  This challenge is the very reason I loved to work with lawyers: when you can help them to get past this belief system and into a growth mindset where they suspend self-judgement and actually start to work on their challenge areas, the transformation can be remarkable.

In reality, there are fewer born geniuses than you might think. But the world is filled with remarkable human beings with great accomplishments. Chances are that most of those are growth mindset people, because they look for the ability to keep succeeding. That doesn’t take natural ability so much as character – the determination to put in the hard work that’s required to constantly learn and hone your skills.  In life’s long run, character trumps natural ability…every time.