Perpetual Beginner Mindset

What is your goal? How do you view exerting more effort than usual to finish your work? Do you seek challenges? How do you respond to setbacks? How do you respond to criticism? How do you view others’ success? What do you attribute wrong-doing or mistakes to? What is your response to wrong-doing or mistakes? How do you feel when you face life challenges?

As you reflect on your answers to these questions, notice whether you are using positive or negative words. If you find that your answers are mainly negative, you are not alone. Thousands of individuals, regardless of occupation, answer more of these questions with negative responses than they do with positive responses.

Stepping away from the “Fixed Mindset”

If this was a reality check for you, then keep reading. If this wasn’t a reality check for you, keep reading. Even if your responses aren’t mainly negative, someone around you did respond negatively.

Negative responses to these questions show patterns that coexist with having a fixed mindset—and if your mindset is “fixed”, then it certainly isn’t malleable. So, what kind of mindset are we striving to have for ourselves or encourage for others? A growth mindset.

A “growth mindset” is the state of mind in which you are fueled by positivity, willingness to learn, and belief that you can develop your qualities and abilities.

Belief drives Behavior, which drives Results.

In fact, studies show greater neural activity and allocation of attention to mistakes in those with a growth mindset, rather than those who focus on how well they did (fixed mindset). Studies also tells us that individuals with a growth mindset achieve superior accuracy after making mistakes than their counterparts.

To ensure growth, we must bounce back and forth between two different zones and encourage others to do the same. The zones are designed in such a way that allow us to continuously propel ourselves forward—focusing on both learning and performing, without losing momentum or concentration.

The Performance Zone

This is the zone where you integrate your skillset into your day-to-day workflow; the goal here is to do the best you can. Most individuals reside in this zone majority of the time, if not all the time. Don’t get me wrong here, the performance zone is crucial, but if you stay in this zone for too long, you are ultimately failing to reach your full potential, and here’s a few reasons why:

  1. You aren’t allowing yourself time to reflect on feedback or past work and therefore, cannot develop strategies to improve current and future work.
  2. You may be attending mandatory trainings, but you aren’t actively looking for strategies that fit your personal learning style.
  3. The world is constantly changing; however, you are not. You have become complacent because maybe you know everything about your current position or maybe you don’t want a promotion, or maybe, you just flat out don’t want to add to your already-full plate.
  4. You aren’t in an environment that encourages learning but does encourage results, and maybe rewards those results.

The Learning Zone

This is the zone where we can spend time improving our skill-sets to gain knowledge that will later create efficiency and drive results in the performance zone. It’s hard to spend a lot of time in the learning zone because of deadlines, meetings, family life, etc., but if we took a little time out a few days a week to refine a current skill, or learn a new one, we may have better performance. Unfortunately, most of the business world does not operate on, or adhere to, two different zones. The business world is about numbers, dollar signs, and results. We are constantly striving to meet the deadlines at hand, maybe even exceed them, but we aren’t taking time to learn material that could improve the quality of our work and the time it takes to actually perform said work.

When we are learning, we are concentrating on skills we haven’t yet mastered. The skill doesn’t necessarily have to be large, in fact, it could be something as small as improving handwriting, or becoming better with Excel formulas. A lot of individuals associate learning with formal education, but it doesn’t necessarily take a classroom setting or a college course to learn. You can learn from browsing the internet, doing repetitive tasks, or reading a book.

You’re probably thinking “when do I have the time?” Let’s face it, we are all busy, but we are also all great at seeing a task through when we either:

  1. Want to
  2. Have to

Deciding that you want to learn a new skill is not sufficient enough to make it happen. You must make it a priority and schedule the learning, much like you’d schedule anything else—and if your calendar is already full, just think of the last time you had to find the time to do a task. Think about a time when maybe you had to make an insurance claim or repair a flat tire. Earlier in the week you probably would have said that you didn’t have the time to do either of those things and attempted to find alternate solutions. However, the fact is, you couldn’t find alternate solutions because you didn’t know these events were going to occur in the first place. Yet somehow you managed to find the time and it didn’t drastically alter your day-to-day routine.

Schedule time for learning when the stakes are low, accept that you may make mistakes, and understand these potential mistakes will be made because you are challenging yourself.

A prime example of applying the learning zone to my life goes back to a late Friday evening. I was trying to determine where to store a large data-set so it could be opened and manipulated by others without the need for lengthy, additional training. I spent a few hours performing internet searches, reading articles, etc. to ultimately find out that I could use Excel add-ins to dump upwards of 50 million rows into a worksheet and create working pivot tables that wouldn’t slow down my computer. While I could have thought about several other ways to spend my Friday evening, instead I thought “what if this saves me a lot of time over the next few weeks and relieves part of my workload? If this is true, maybe I can stop working a little earlier than the norm the next three Fridays.”

Not only did I leave work that evening having learned a new skill, but I also left feeling accomplished and energized for the week ahead. While we would all like to think we can just block work out of our minds during the weekend, that tends to be a lot easier said than done. The short amount of time I spent in the learning zone actually fueled me for the weekend—enough to where I didn’t have to dwell on what I was going to do with that data-set come Monday morning.

Key Take Away

While alternating between the performance zone and the learning zone is beneficial to your own growth, it’s important to cultivate an environment that allows the same. Your team’s success ultimately fuels your success. So, how do you know if you are creating and maintaining an environment that not only welcomes, but promotes both zones?

  1. Reflect by looking at your own calendar. How much time do you spend learning and how much time to you devote to your employees? To be an effective leader, you need to make changes too.
  2. Inquire by asking your team how they learn best and what they’re interested in learning about. Part of this whole concept rests in wanting to learn and therefore, you need to determine what excites your employees. Not only will you learn more about your team, but you will also encourage open lines of communication.
  3. Plan how you and your team can carve out time for learning. How much time can you afford to allow yourself and your employees to improve current skills or learn new ones? What is the budget for this learning? Are you going to host workshops, encourage online learning, or harness an array of learning styles? How are you going to measure the effectiveness of this shift?
  4. Implement the new learning plan (and stick to it). Don’t allow meetings or assignments to deter the learning schedule. Treat the time spent learning just as you would any other meeting.
  5. Measure the results of the new system. Are you and your team more productive, happier, etc.?
  6. Feedback is essential and needs to be a collective effort. How do your employees feel about this new approach? Are there any ways you could improve the new schedule?  
  7. Encourage everyone. Don’t just encourage your own team but encourage others. The only way this approach works is if everyone is on board. It can be very difficult to maintain a schedule of learning if your own leadership team doesn’t agree. This may be the most difficult part to maintain, but with patience and encouragement, everyone can reap the benefits.  

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