Lose the Labels: 7 Tips for Cultivating a Growth Mindset

By Cynthia Lescalleet

Your mindset can be a powerful tool in learning, intelligence and maximizing your potential — or in motivating those around you, such as your children or co-workers.

“Most people are more capable than they think,” says Jake Neuberg, a YPO member and Co-founder of Revolution Prep, a tutoring company.

An assessment expert, Neuberg presented the importance of “growth mindset” in a recent YPO global conference call to members.

As pioneered and coined 30 years ago by Stanford University psychology researcher Carol Dweck, Ph.D., the concept of growth mindset addresses how underlying beliefs — those labels we slap on our abilities — can limit our outcomes.

Looking for ways to nurture a growth mindset? Neuberg has several guidelines to reach this goal:

Don’t discount the power of effort

There is a persistent myth that talent is effortless. Challenge that paradigm, whether with your children or with your colleagues. Acknowledge how effort = ability (effort equals ability). “Of course you can improve,” Neuberg says. “That’s why we go to school. That’s why we go to training.”

Identify the growth vs. fixed mindset

As defined by mindset research, people with a growth mindset embrace challenges, are persistent, learn from feedback and find inspiration in the success of others. Their fixed-mindset counterparts, meanwhile, avoid challenges, are risk adverse, ignore criticism and are threatened when others excel.

Labels are dangerous

Every time you slap a label on the abilities of yourself or others you limit outcome. “We’re all susceptible,” he said. Examples include such self-defined tags as “not a math person” or “not athletically gifted.” In the context of parenting, labels give children permission to follow that limitation — or rally against it.

Interestingly, even the label “smart” can limit potential outcome. In a testing experiment Neuberg shared, students in a control group were arbitrarily labeled “smart” or “hard-working” after taking an initial proficiency exam. When retested, the latter’s scores increased significantly and the former’s scores decreased slightly; they didn’t want to potentially sully their “smart” status by risking their answers.

How you praise matters

To encourage a growth mindset, highlight the process and outcome rather than solely the results, Neuberg said. As an example, don’t comment on how many points your youngster scored in a game or on a test, but rather how his or her preparation and drills paid off.

It’s OK to struggle

“We only get stronger when we do difficult things,” he said. Perseverance cascades across subjects and other areas of life.

One way to instill that approach with children, for example, is to have them come up with three ways to solve something before you step in to help.

Don’t fear failure

“The ugly underbelly of success is failure,” Neuberg noted. And yet, most successful people have failed as part of their innovation, from inventor Thomas Edison to Apple’s Steve Jobs.

Since children of business leaders might view their parents as having achieved effortlessly, talk to them about the failures that came first and importance of sticking with something, even when the outcome is not as expected, he said. However, in that message, also include how failure due to lack of effort is not OK.

The value of grit

Aptitude alone is not sufficient. Scrappiness can pay off. Companies appreciate problem-solvers. And, as entrepreneurs well know, facing challenges can be a catalyst for growth and development.

“It’s easy to stick with conventional wisdom, and use the wrong measures — because they are easier to understand and seem to be lower risk,” Neuberg says. “This will inherently limit your success.”