28 Sep Believe that you CAN Change…
My earliest memories of my journey of personal change are peppered with a sense of awe at the magnitude of the task ahead of me. How could I possibly learn to be different from the person I was used to being? Would my conviction about who I wanted to become, be enough to drive the changes I was seeking? Was it really possible to mould oneself into a different version, one that was happier, more fulfilled, and more in harmony with myself?
Many of these doubts lingered, until I learnt that letting go of the rigid image I had of myself could help me believe in the possibility of a new ‘me’. As we go through life, our upbringing and experiences shape our beliefs and behavior, which in turn builds our unique sense of self. We hold on to this self-identity possessively, guard it almost jealously, because it gives us our ‘raison d’etre’ and differentiates us from other people. As we get older, this self-concept becomes more embedded, and we begin to believe that we cannot change it, even when we discover that some parts of it are causing conflict within our world and our relationships.
The good news is, that there is enough evidence and research to suggest that our beliefs actually shape our reality. And that what we believe about our ability to change, has a profound impact on whether we actually do change. The underlying principle is, that when we believe in our ability and end goal, we are more likely to notice and seek out opportunities to help us get there. So when we start on our change journey, if we orient ourselves to believe that we can transform ourselves, that in itself, becomes a strong driver of real change!
In her book ‘Mindset : the New Psychology of Success’, renowned Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck introduces the idea of ‘growth mindset’ – the idea that we can grow our brain’s capacity to learn and to solve problems. According to Dweck, “The passion for stretching yourself and sticking to it, even (or especially) when it’s not going well, is the hallmark of a growth mindset. This is the mindset that allows people to thrive in challenging times”.
(View Carol Dweck’s amazing TED Talk on ‘Growth Mindset : The Power of Believing that you Can Improve’ in the link provided at the end of this article.)
Neuroscience research offers a logical explanation for how belief and a positive ‘growth mindset’ can impact the change process. Our thought and behavior patterns are formed through neural pathways in our brain that are constantly evolving. The pathways that are used often, get stronger; and those that are under-used, eventually die out. Being in a ‘growth mindset’ encourages the growth of new neural pathways, forming new connections that weren’t there before. This means that focussing on new thinking can actually help us change our behaviour patterns and eventually our belief systems as well.
When clients come to me with a sense of helplessness, and the feeling that they have reached a dead-end on some aspect of their work or life, my priority as Coach, is to bring them into a ‘growth mindset’. When faced with significant challenges, we tend to forget our strengths and abilities, and focus only on what is not working, ending up blaming ourselves and others. Being in a ‘growth mindset’ with people means focussing attention on their strengths, encouraging their efforts, and opening up their minds to new possibilities. This instils a sense of hope and belief in their minds that they have a lot more potential to explore in themselves, which starts to change their orientation towards the challenges they are facing.
As change gradually becomes visible to us in small ways, our brain can actually help us snowball the process. The aura of positivity generated when we ‘feel’ different, opens up our mind to greater possibilities, and our brain learns to do more of the newly learned behaviour. This phenomenon is termed as ‘neuroplasticity’, ie the ability of the brain to change and adapt in response to experience. So in effect, our brain tunes itself to meet our need for motivation and creates the forward momentum on its own! Isn’t that amazing?
The concept of ‘growth mindset’ and ‘neuroplasticity’ of the brain is relevant in our personal lives as well, in particular, in bringing up our children. Focussing attention on their effort and helping them believe that they can achieve goals, results in individuals who believe in the power of possibilities, and strive to better themselves. In contrast, a ‘fixed midset’ that holds the premise that talent and abilities are fixed, with an upper limit, can lead to high fear of failure and inability to take on challenges in unknown areas. So instead of telling our children how smart and accomplished they are, we should encourage their effort and invite attention to their areas of growth and development!
The same principles are applicable in the organisational context as well. It is possible to help employees adopt a ‘growth mindset’, so that they constantly strive for betterment in everything they do, resulting in a more creative, agile and resilient organisation. And if we encourage the leadership to view employees as ‘work in progress’ rather than defined individuals with ‘strengths’ and ‘weaknesses’, we can harness more of our employees’ true potential.
Thomas Edison once famously said, “If we did all the things we were capable of, we would literally astound ourselves.” Believing in our ability to transform ourselves is a great way to start on this journey of realising more and more of our unlimited potential.
View Carol Dweck’s TED Talk at : https://www.ted.com/talks/carol_dweck_the_power_of_believing_that_you_can_improve?language=en