Navigating the Sandwich
The 6 Roadblocks to Success (and How to Remove Them)
When it comes to achieving, mindset is everything. And you can change your mindset
Your Mindset Determines Whether You Succeed or Fail
In my work with women seeking to advance in their careers and find greater joy in life, I’ve discovered there’s one key attribute that makes all the difference — your mindset. As Henry Ford famously said, “Whether you think you can or think you can’t — you’re right.”
The field of mindset, pioneered by Carol Dweck at Stanford, has changed the way organizations like schools and workplaces operate. Through her research, Dweck has observed that the mindset you choose can have a profound impact on how you live your life. Personally, I’ve found that nothing great arises while I’m in my comfort zone. It’s when I stretch a bit, strive for loftier goals, put myself out there, risk failure (and, yes, perhaps even achieve it!) that I find my finest accomplishments and inner sense of joy.
Sure, taking risks and “failing” isn’t fun. But by reframing my “failures” as opportunities for growth, I’m able to see them as opportunities to learn. Many great leaders will tell you that cultivating a growth mindset is their secret sauce!
You Can Cultivate a Growth Mindset
Have you ever felt uncertain about trying something because you’re afraid you’ll fail? Do you turn down new assignments because you don’t have the confidence to get the job done? Are your perfectionist tendencies holding you back from tackling a difficult project? Do you wish you could receive feedback without bristling and feeling insecure? Dweck’s research shows that people who persevere and persist through failure have a tendency to be happier and more successful than those who give in when challenges strike.
Dweck’s interest in mindset began when she was in 6th grade, back in the late ’50s. She observed that students were seated by the teachers in order of their IQs. Students with the highest IQ scores would then be chosen to erase the blackboard, carry the flag, or take a note to the principal’s office. She noted that the highly gifted kids were recognized early on and their success was continually reinforced. But it made her wonder — could the kids that weren’t identified with strong IQs still be successful? She questioned whether high test scores correlated with success, and subsequently embarked on decades of research to determine whether one’s mindset influenced outcomes. Her 2006 book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success lays out her findings.
Let’s look at two hypothetical individuals — Taylor and Reilly. Both work on the same team at a fast-growing tech company. Their boss has challenged them to develop new marketing strategies for their upcoming product launch. Taylor gets right to work, taking pride in “getting it right.” Because Taylor relies on data to make decisions, Taylor spends a few months conducting research and compiling reports. Taylor believes there is one best launch strategy and doesn’t want to fail. Taylor methodically works on a plan, rarely consulting with others out of fear that the ideas may be discarded or challenged. Taylor wants to look smart. Taylor prepares a single, well-researched solution and in a meeting will proudly defend its merits.
Reilly approaches this exercise differently. Reilly loves to brainstorm and isn’t afraid to take risks. Reilly does some research and rapidly prototypes a few solutions that are trialed in the market. Some work, some don’t. Reilly learns from the failures and continues to refine them over the months that follow. Reilly actively seeks constructive feedback and incorporates it into a plan.
When it comes time to present to their boss, can you guess who presented the plan that won? And can you guess who was subsequently promoted? And can you guess who enjoyed their job more? Yes, Reilly’s approach led to greater innovation, personal advancement, and success in the marketplace. What Reilly demonstrated was a growth mindset.
What Kind of Mindset do You Have: Fixed or Growth?
According to Dweck, individuals can be placed on a continuum based on their mindsets about where ability comes from. The primary question is: do you believe success springs from innate talent or from effort? If you believe it’s talent, then you are said to have a “fixed” theory of intelligence, or a fixed mindset. People who believe that success is based on hard work, learning, and determination are said to have a “growth”mindset.
Of particular relevance is how you react to “failure.” Those with a fixed mindset, like Taylor in the story, dread failure because it is a negative statement about their basic abilities. Those with a growth mindset, like Reilly, don’t mind failure as much because they realize their performance can be improved and see failure as providing an important opportunity to learn.
These two mindsets play an important role in ALL aspects of your life, ranging from work, to parenting, to personal fulfillment. Dweck argues that a growth mindset will allow you to live a less stressful and more successful life. This motivation to find a workaround is so important that in 2017, Dweck won the Yidan Prize for Education Research in education circles, which awarded her $3.8 million to continue research on the ability to learn.
With a growth mindset, you fundamentally believe you can change your trajectory, continually grow, and positively impact your situation. Because of this, you will have a vastly larger array of options to choose from. You believe the locus of control is WITHIN you. You don’t blame others for your situation or setbacks. You believe you’re in the driver’s seat and that you control the outcome. You believe that with continued effort, you can grow and improve your life and increase your impact on your environment. A fixed mindset focuses on PROVING. A Growth mindset focuses on IMPROVING. Can you see how a growth mindset is hugely empowering?
What Mindset Does Your Organization Have?
It’s important to note that organizations have mindsets as well. When a company encourages risk-taking and celebrates failure, they’re embracing and encouraging a growth mindset. In these organizations, employees are highly engaged and innovation abounds. Loyalty to the organization is strong and people typically stick around. In fixed mindset organizations — or even those that SPEAK about a growth mindset but actually penalize risk-taking and failure — people are reluctant to try new things, to innovate, and to suggest improvements, with the sense that they may fail and they may personally be penalized.
Even worse, Dweck’s research suggests that individuals in fixed-mindset organizations regularly keep secrets, cut corners, and cheat to try to get ahead. She found that employees in organizations with growth mindsets are 47 percent likelier to see their colleagues as trustworthy; 34 percent likelier to feel a strong sense of ownership and commitment to the company; 65 percent likelier to say that the company supports risk taking; and 49 percent likelier to say that the company fosters innovation.
Reward systems can impact organizational mindset too. Think about how employees are rewarded, and what happens when calculated risks fail. At X, Alphabet’s moonshot factory, Astro Teller leads the organization by publicly celebrating failures. He says that “If you want a culture of innovation, your organization must visibly and repeatedly reward employees whose projects fail.”
Six Roadblocks to a Growth Mindset
I just finished teaching an online class on Growth Mindset for Udemy, an online learning platform, and in it I discuss the six roadblocks I observe that hold people back from adopting a growth mindset. These six roadblocks include lack of confidence, fear of failure, fear of success, perfectionism, inertia, and just plain feeling stuck. Both lack of confidence and fear of failure are supported by a healthy dose of impostor syndrome — that feeling that you’re actually a fraud — undeserving of success. You feel that it’s only a matter of time before people figure it out! Most of us struggle with at least one of these roadblocks and some people wrestle with all six! The good news is that there are proven strategies to overcome each roadblock.
You Can Remove Your Roadblocks
Many strategies for removing these roadblocks begin with self-awareness. I often ask the clients I coach to start with a journaling practice. One of my favorite techniques is “5 Why’s.” Start by writing about your roadblock, and then ask yourself WHY you feel this way. As an example, I may get a pit in my stomach when I contemplate an upcoming talk I’m giving. When I ask myself why, I may write that I worry about what people will think of me. Asking why again, I may write that I want to be respected and people may not think my delivery is good. Asking a third why, I may say that I want to be respected because my message will be more impactful. By the time I ask my fifth why, I may uncover that what I REALLY fear is that I will waste my audience’s time and my message will be lost. This turns out to be the root cause of my fear — now I can address the REAL issue. I will focus my energy on making my message impactful and my ask of the audience clear. By doing so, I actually subdue many of my public speaking fears because I’ve moved beyond worrying what the audience thinks of ME. I’ve let go of my ego and embraced my message as the key priority.
Here are some specific ideas to try for each roadblock:
Lack of Confidence
It’s important to address those gremlins in your head. What are you telling yourself? Can you change the script? When you’re telling yourself you’re not good enough, rephrase it as a positive. Try adding the word YET. I’m not a good presenter YET. Or adopt a new, more positive voice. Turn “Am I?” into “I AM!” I AM good enough. I AM capable of doing this. Or I may not do it perfectly, but I’m going to learn from it. Or my goal is to go on this adventure. Congratulate yourself for adopting a positive stance. You may have to “fake it ‘til you make it.” Saying “I am a confident, caring and effective leader” will help manifest your innate leadership skills. I recently fretted about a keynote I was giving, so on the hour-long drive to the site, I posted a stickie on my mirror that said “HAVE FUN!” This little reminder reinforced that I don’t have to be perfect and that by being relaxed and interactive with the audience, I will likely be most effective at delivering my message.
Fear of Failure
Try reframing and even celebrating failure. As Thomas Edison famously said: “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” Oprah opines that failure is a stepping stone to greatness. She says it’s not failure if you enjoyed the process. I say, if you learned something, did you really fail? In improv theater, aspiring actors celebrate failure by taking what’s called “the failure bow.” It sounds crazy, but it’s actually a cathartic way to acknowledge that an approach didn’t work, and even have a little laugh about it. I frequently take the failure bow in the privacy of my own bedroom before bed. It’s a way to acknowledge I tried something new but hey, it didn’t work this time. It helps me not be so hard on myself.
Fear of Success
Fear of Success sounds counterintuitive but is very real. We inadvertently sabotage our own success because we are scared of what will be different if we actually succeed. It can look like procrastination or insecurity. Athletes, performers, and musicians often have this. They want success, but also fear how much their life will change. If you try something and fail, you go back to what you know. You return to your comfort zone. If you actually succeed at this new thing, you are in uncharted territory. This can be scary and uncomfortable. So in the end, it’s easier to not step up. If you fear success, journaling is a great way to get in touch with deep feelings, especially those that may have been formed during early childhood experiences. Write about what success really looks like. Is this an accurate picture? For instance, is success getting a standing ovation? Having 100k followers? Perhaps redefining success would help. What exactly makes me uncomfortable about success? What is keeping me from pursuing what I want? Is there someone who could help me in my journey? Ask yourself what’s the worst that could happen? Try the “5 Why’s” technique mentioned earlier in order to go deeper. This iterative process can sometimes expose the root cause of your fear.
This seems to be a very common attribute women battle. They pride themselves on doing things to the nth degree. But it’s important to ask yourself how this trait is serving you? In what ways is perfectionism holding you back, or what are you MISSING doing because of the time you spend getting it absolutely right? In many cases, perfectionists are afraid to take risks because they are so afraid of failing and NOT being perfect. If this is you, try asking what’s the worst that can happen? Is it really that bad? Chances are you could muster the courage and resources to deal with the worst case, and the best case may be a huge career or life opportunity! Also contemplate how your perfectionist tendencies may be impacting your coworkers. In Liz Wiseman’s best-selling book Multipliers, she describes perfectionism as a diminishing trait to those around you. When others feel they can never do it well enough, they often give up or stop trying. I certainly experienced this in the kitchen with my perfectionist mother. It’s likely the reason I don’t enjoy cooking today — nothing I did was ever right or good enough, and she was always redoing my work. In the workplace (and in life), this can lead to frustration and lack of innovation on behalf of your team. Is this what you want?
Many individuals I coach have no idea how they want their life to look. They’re not clear about their core values, and they have no idea what impact they seek to have. I always encourage them to take time for self-reflection. As Yogi Berra said, “If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll end up somewhere else.” We often feel stuck when we don’t know what we want. It’s important to spend time getting in touch with our talents, passions, and goals. Oftentimes other people can identify these strengths. Someone suggested I’d be good at teaching technology since I always enjoyed sharing favorite apps with friends. Little did I realize that recognition would propel me to cofound ReBoot Accel, helping women get current for today’s workplace. Our Personal Inventory 2-pager is a good starting point. In this, we ask you to reflect on what fills you up, what drains you, what peak experiences you’ve had, your nonnegotiable values, and even helps you craft a personal vision statement for your life. Go on a personal retreat, even for just a few hours. This time you spend in self-reflection will serve you greatly.
Many people find it difficult to get started on anything. They have tons of ideas, but are challenged to take the first step. My favorite suggestion is to break a large task into many small tasks. Create small, achievable goals and reward yourself for meeting them. Then embark on your next goal. I like to play a game with myself to see how many items I can check off my task list in 30 minutes. When I have finished a task I dread, I take myself to my favorite coffee shop and find enjoyment through a good latte. I also suggest creating disciplined work time. Cal Newport writes about “deep work” — that work you do when you’re hyperfocused and undistracted. This work is proactive and strategic, not reactive (like checking emails). Many people schedule unwelcome tasks into their day as a meeting with themselves. Figure out your peak energy time and complete it when you’re fresh and strong. Morning is often a good time to check off tasks, as the feeling of mastery can propel you through the rest of the day. And who knows, that early win may provide the impetus to attack yet another task!
Take the ONE YES challenge
Over the next week, take the ONE YES challenge. Choose ONE strategy or roadblock and see if you can push yourself to try something well out of your comfort zone. Then reflect on how it worked. Did a new opportunity present itself? Did you discover a new skill or talent? Did someone recognize you for your effort? Did you learn about something you never want to do again? Whatever the outcome, a growth mindset is all about new experiences, taking risks, and assessing the consequences. With a focus on IMproving over proving, you will slowly but surely discover a life of greater joy, possibilities, and career advancement.
If you’re interested in more proven strategies to try for each roadblock, I’m happy to supply. Simply click here and I’ll get them promptly to your inbox. And for at least the next 30 days (until May 2020 for now), you can sign up to take my Udemy course Growth Mindset: The Key to Greater Confidence and Impact for free. It’s one small thing I can do to help people during these challenging times.