How a growth mindset can help your practice


A financial adviser’s mindset can have a profound effect on their work.

Research shows it’s possible to reflect on your mindset and then make a different choice – as long as the individual is aware of the way they feel, think and any limiting beliefs, so they may be shifted or changed.1

Susan Mackie, co-founder of the Growth Mindset Institute, explains how mindsets work in practice.

“Your mind is built over a long period, during which you develop beliefs and attitudes that set your motivation, the way you learn and pursue goals. It's the lens through which you interpret the meaning of an everyday event,” says Susan.

Mindsets may trigger an automatic thought pattern, which prompts a behaviour or mood-based response that may lead to a habitual response. This defines how we navigate the world and view new situations, challenges and setbacks.2 

“We're a mixture of two mindsets - fixed and growth,” Susan adds. “Sometimes, we start in a growth mindset and slip into a fixed mindset. Or we could start in a fixed mindset and slip into growth. Much of this is automatic, but also malleable, which means, we have the ability to rewire our minds and create a new pathway.”

Growth Mindset and Fixed Mindset

Susan explains that a fixed mindset is “about wanting to be good.”

“In this framework, you may think you only have limited talents or a particular type of personality. So, you seek out situations that prove you are capable and that affirm that view,” Susan says.  

When faced with a challenge or a setback, however, people with this mindset may fear being judged as incompetent (which means, they avoid situations like these).

Keep in mind, there are two aspects to a fixed mindset; a belief system and triggers that set the fixed mindset, such as setbacks or failures. This produces behaviours like procrastination or waiting until the last minute to complete a task.

Alternatively, people with this mindset might overreact to a setback, only focusing on outcomes, avoiding feedback or self-sabotaging. For instance, if the work is difficult, we might not even try because there’s a possibility of failing, or we could fall into a rut. Alternatively, we may try to stick to the same, familiar routines, which means, we might not challenge ourselves to grow.

On the flipside, a growth mindset is the belief that intelligence, talent and personality can be developed, especially through seeking new experiences and learning from failure. Setbacks are viewed as an opportunity for growth, so when it happens, it may not feel so good, yet this the perfect opportunity to learn.

"You may think, ‘I don't have the capability to do this but let me set up a development goal to grow that capability.’ Or, ‘There's a part of my personality that's not working for me. Let me start to slowly work on it to change or alter it,” Susan adds.

“The more challenges you take on or the more you get out of your comfort zone, the more your brain will fire and wire. Through that, you become smarter, you improve, and you change and grow. That’s a growth mindset. It is important to remember we are a mixture of both.”

Changing your mindset

Susan says turning around a fixed mindset means reflecting on it. “Try to understand the situations and environments that trigger a fixed mindset and the behaviours that are linked to them.” It’s important to note, we all have different triggers and combinations of triggers which we discuss further below.

The triggers are:

Feedback: This is where you get anxious or avoid feedback. The growth mindset response is to see feedback as information and a chance to learn.

Comfort Zone: You stick with what you know and fall into a rut. The growth mindset response is to take a risk and stretch yourself to get better.

Setback and Failure: You see setbacks as a lack of ability. The growth mindset response is to see setbacks are a necessary part of learning.

High Effort: Having to work means you are not a natural. A growth mindset response is where you see effort as the path to mastery.

Success of Others: Feel threatened by others. A growth mindset response is to be inspired by the success of others and learn from them.

Challenges: You view challenges as a threat, an opportunity to fail. A growth mindset response is to view challenges as an opportunity to learn.

According to Susan, the idea is to notice your response to the situation, step back and relabel, reframe and refocus.  These reframe moments are opportunities to get better, improve and develop skills. Those with a fixed mindset, might struggle to this, as their brain typically tends to “run away from mistakes”.  Professor Carol Dweck has run numerous experiments tracking brain activity at the Brain-wave Lab in Columbia.

As they answered hard questions and got feedback the brain waves were highlighting when they were interested and attentive. People with a Fixed Mindset were only interested when the feedback reflected on their ability. Their brain waves showed them paying close attention when they were told whether their answers were right or wrong. But when they were presented with information that could help them learn, there was no sign of interest. Even when they have gotten an answer wrong, they were not interested in learning what the right answer was.

“When we are in a Fixed Mindset, we are less able to detect our skills and mistakes and recalibrate our behaviour or improve our accuracy after we’ve made a mistake. Yet we can move ourselves back into a growth mindset,” Susan says.

What this could mean for your practice

Susan believes, that a shift in mindset can benefit your practice.

“Think about how you react after a setback. Be aware that if you are in a fixed mindset, it’s likely the customer will be too. So how you manage your mindset relates to how successful you'll be in your role,” Susan says.

“If you are actively working to live a good life, there will be internal obstacles, external setbacks and plenty of success. It's part of the process. Stay the course by recognising what triggers your fixed mindset and then refocus to adjust your response to setbacks, obstacles and successes. The way you respond to life's micro-events is a combination of your psychological framework (how you make sense of life events) and psychological skills (the abilities to be calm, confident, and focused). All of which can be upgraded with a commitment to create a sturdy and flexible framework, and by developing those skills.

Susan believes, it’s also important to recognise the difference between reality and perception. “You have an inner critic that sometimes gives you a flawed view of the situation. If this is the case it’s important to recognise it. Start to understand that it's trying to protect you, but reframing may be more productive,” Susan adds.

Mindsets are an important consideration for advisers. Exploring them is an opportunity to examine how your motivation affects your thinking and your actions. Advisers are encouraged to reflect on their beliefs and behaviours to see whether there’s an opportunity to re-frame their thoughts and responses in certain situations for their own benefit and the benefit of their practice.

[1] Working Mindset Model: How Mindsets Shape Attitudes and Behaviour. 2018. Murphy, Rives, Mackie, Dweck.
[2] Working Mindset Model: How Mindsets Shape Attitudes and Behaviour. 2018. Murphy, Rives, Mackie, Dweck.

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