7 Ways to Unlock the Power of the Growth Mindset | by Dr. Sarah Evans MCC

Sarah Evans Growth Mindset Child Next to Graph

 "The hand you are dealt with is just the starting point for development." Carol Dweck

A growth mindset is a coaching mindset

The International Coaching Federation's second of eight competencies, Embodies a Coaching Mindset, invites us as coaches to "develop and maintain a mindset that is open, curious, flexible" and to be engaged "in ongoing learning and development" as well as "ongoing reflective practice."

So, take a moment to reflect on how you're embodying a coaching mindset. And how do you know when you're not?

Two approaches to learning

Carol Dweck, researcher and author of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success 1 outlines two approaches to learning based on her extensive research: 1) a fixed mindset and 2) a growth mindset.

1) Fixed mindset

Dweck states, "Believing that your qualities are carved in stone—the fixed mindset—creates an urgency to prove yourself over and over. If you have only a certain amount of intelligence, a certain personality, and a certain moral character—well then you'd better prove that you have a healthy dose of them. It simply wouldn't do to look or feel deficient in these most basic characteristics" (p. 6).

From this perspective, it's easy to let ego be your motivator and to shy away from challenges for fear of failure or appearing "less than." Who wants to feel embarrassed or humiliated in front of others? Yet these fears or concerns can lead to avoidance of challenges and new experiences that could support growth and development.

2) Growth mindset

The growth mindset is "based on the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts. Although people may differ in every which way—in their initial talents and aptitudes, interests, or temperaments—everyone can change and grow through application and experience" (pp. 6-7).

From this perspective, new skills and competencies can be learned through effort and determination; wisdom and intelligence can be developed with each new experience; and ideas, beliefs and ways of being can evolve. We are human beings after all.

To me, a coaching mindset is a growth mindset—one that we can cultivate. We can also support our coachees in cultivating their own growth mindsets.

Reframe "fail fast, fail often"

Perhaps we can also reframe what it means to "fail." The aim of the mantra popularized in the agile space of Silicon Valley's start-ups—"fail fast, fail often"—is not to fail, but rather to be iterative.

But we need a psychologically safe space for deliberate reflective, creative and critical thinking, otherwise learning through the iterative process can't take place.

Often what happens when there's a time element involved, especially a requirement to "get a product to market", is that the learning piece gets missed.

Yet "failing" in the positive sense is all about learning and growth—learning from mistakes as you tweak, recalibrate and redo as required.

I don't know about you, but I've had quite a few of these moments over the last number of months.

Questions to consider:

  • What might be possible if you gave yourself permission, and the opportunity, to learn through an "epic fail"? What epic learning could you then access?
  • How could you lean into Brené Brown's FFTs 2 (effing first times)—normalizing the discomfort and uncertainty, embracing vulnerability—and put yourself out there to learn all along the way?
  • What if, instead of "fail fast, fail often" the approach became "learn fast, learn often"?

Here are 7 Ways to Cultivate a Growth Mindset

  1. Learn fast, learn often. Make it a habit to engage in reflective practice to learn from, and through, your experiences.
  2. Shift your thinking by embracing the concept of yet. For example, what do you notice shifting in yourself when you reframe "I can't do this" as "I can't do this—yet"? Or "I don't know _______" to "I don't know _______ yet"?
  3. Embrace the concept of 'beginner's mind'—a term from Japanese Zen philosophy that refers to young children whose minds are open to all possibilities. Children are learning new things daily. Try channelling your inner child's curiosity by asking yourself "I wonder what could be possible if I _______?"
  4. Become more aware of when you "should all over yourself". This is when you say something like "I should be able to _______". Such a stance is evaluative and somewhat fixed.
  5. Shift your focus from challenges to benefits. This means focusing on how you will benefit from less appealing tasks as a way to increase your motivation to do less appealing things.
  6. Regularly challenge your biases, assumptions and beliefs.
  7. Acknowledge and embrace imperfection. We each have flaws, weirdness and peculiarities that make us uniquely us.


A growth mindset requires openness, aspiration (a hope or ambition of achieving something), self-awareness, curiosity, and vulnerability.

Action: What is one thing that you can do more purposefully to cultivate your growth mindset? 


1 Dweck, C. S. (2006). Mindset: The new psychology of success. Ballantine Books.

2 Brené Brown, March 20, 2020. Unlocking Us podcast: Brené on FFTs. https://brenebrown.com/podcast/brene-on-ffts/

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Sarah Evans, MCC Guest Author

Contributing Author:

Dr. Sarah Evans, PhD, MCC, Dip. CS is passionate about working with visionary decision-makers and influencers inspired by the transformative potential of coaching. She is an executive leadership & team coach, facilitator, OD consultant, coaching supervisor, and mentor coach at Evans Leadership Group. Sarah is dedicated to cultivating resilient leaders—supporting individuals, teams, organizations and coaches lead and thrive in complexity. Her goal is to maximize human capacity, organizational capabilities, and contributions to societal well-being. Her key working themes are relationships, resilience, results! Visit her website here and connect with her on Linkedin. Sarah is a member of the International Coach Federation, where she holds a Master Certified Coach (MCC) credential.

Learn more about Sarah & see all their articles here >>

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