Understanding and developing growth mindset to achieve greatness

Growth mindset

“You are a superstar”

“You are so smart”

“You are brilliant”

Ever heard of those phrases? I am sure we all have. Some more often than others. And what happens when those words are said to us. We feel awesome, we feel great, and sometimes, we even feel a little special.

I am guilty of using those words often. Especially to my loved ones and to my team members. My reason is pretty simple, I care about them and I want to support them and acknowledge them when they do a good job. However, I didn’t really understand what other side effects those words could have until I participated in “How to lead by enabling growth mindsets” workshop by Associate Professor Peter Heslin the other day.

So what effects those phrases exactly have. Researched have shown that when we are often told that we are brilliant or awesome, we start to think we possess innate abilities and skills in those areas that we are good at. We start to think we were born with talents that help us achieve great results.

One might argue that there is nothing wrong with thinking we were born with talents. But the thing is, as we believe we are amazing, we become scared to lose our special status of being brilliant or amazing that we become risk adverse. We are reluctant to take risks. I can so relate to this personally because I always knew I was afraid of failure. I wanted to get things right the first time. And while it is possible to get things right the first time, it limits possibilities and opportunities. It limits the amount and level of risks I was willing to take. That’s when I suffer from fixed mindset, where I consider skills and intelligence to be innate, things that we were born with. If I wasn’t good at a task, I didn’t want to take on the responsibility of doing it because I was afraid of failure.

So now with my new understanding and belief that anything can be learned and one can become great at most things as long as there are correct strategies and processes in place for learning, I feel quite empowered. I feel less disappointment. I feel energetic. I feel ready to be challenged even if the chance of success is slim.

Having a growth mindset has a profound impact on anyone’s life and I would like to share how I plan on applying my learning from the workshop to develop and cultivate growth mindsets.

When I am saying you’re brilliant/amazing to others, I will remember to add “because” and give reasons. This is very important to me as a parent and a leader in encouraging growth mindset. For example, I usually tell my daughter that she is great at gymnastics. But from now on, I will tell her that, “you’re great at gymnastics because you went to every training class without fail and followed instructions from teacher”.

When I feel frustrated with myself or someone else for not getting things right the first time, I will remember that nobody was born with any skills and it is probably because we are not as far ahead in the learning journey that we haven’t mastered it. I will encourage myself and others to learn from failures and think about how we can do things differently to get them right.

When I see myself or other being scared to take on a challenge, I will remind myself and others to think of something we are good at and reflect on how we become good at it. For example, I’m good at time management and this is because I have actually studied and taken courses on time management and getting things done, have a clear system that works for me and apply what I have learnt in my day to day life.

When I find myself saying “I can’t do X because I’m not good at it”, I will remember that I am probably not good at X because I haven’t learned how to be good at it and I haven’t put enough time and/or effort. For example, I often say I am not good at networking but the reality is that I have never tried to be good at it. My excuse was that being an introvert, I am just not good at mingling and connecting with others. However, deep down I knew it’s not true. The reason why I am not good at networking is because I don’t learn how to network, I don’t expose myself to situations requiring networking, hence, no practice and it is not a priority for me as I’d rather spend my time and energy elsewhere. So now, rather than saying I can’t do networking because I’m not good at it, I will say I don’t enjoy networking and I prefer not to do networking.

And last but not least, when I find deficiency in my capabilities and face setbacks, rather than taking the easy way out and quitting, I will remember that hard work, dedication and strategies are necessary to achieve greatness in any area and it’s actions we take that will help us learn and grow and become better versions of ourselves.

Being present and living in the moment


I was your typical type A personality – I like to be productive, achieve goals and win in life. I plan ahead, I set goals, I make lists and I tick them off. Even to a day to day level.

This all served me well until one day. That day was the day I brought home my tiny little princess, my daughter. You see, I worked until 2 weeks before my due date and then I quit my job to become a full-time work-at-home mother. I had a grand plan of starting my own empire aka working for myself while looking after my child. So naturally for me, I had already set out a plan of what I wanted to do, what I needed to achieve, how many hours I needed to spend per day, a breakdown of daily tasks and so on. Little did I know that a small baby requires constant monitoring, feeding, changing, petting, carrying and when they are sleeping, you can’t really do much expect to sleep or eat too. And maybe go to bathroom.

So all my plans went out the door and I was feeling very confused and frustrated. Of course, I love my daughter unconditionally but the lifestyle change was hard for me to adapt to. Very hard. To make matters worse, I blamed myself for it because I thought if I did a bit more research about parenting, I could have done a better planning.

But at the same time, I knew something had to give. And the very thing that I had to change was my mindset. I talk about mindset a lot and it’s true; when you can control your mind, you can conquer anything.

As a result, instead of trying to accomplish many things every day, I decided to make a change. Besides looking after my daughter, my only goal then was simple – to have at least one shower a day. It may sound silly but it worked for me because it helped me from going insane and feeling like a failure. I set a realistic goal for me at that time. It was then I was able to enjoy being a new mother and everything that came with it. It was then I really learned how to be present in the moment and enjoy what is in front of me, instead of thinking about the past or worrying for the future.

Learning to live in the moment is a wonderful thing and I have to admit I had been goals-oriented to a degree that I forgot to be present. It is not to say I didn’t know how to enjoy life or that I lived a miserable life. To me, the difference between being present or not changes our perspective on how we look at things and our ability to enjoy and be grateful for daily moments, however small it may be.

Now, I would like to share three things that helped me to stay in present and enjoy small moments.

Be grateful
There is always something to be grateful about. To give you a simple example, when I am having a hard time getting my daughter to eat nutritious food, I am grateful that she is healthy and we have a lot of choices so she can be choosy. When I am at work having to do mundane boring tasks that get the better of us, I’m grateful of learning opportunities. When I am faced with difficult people or rebels, I’m grateful because without them, the world would be boring otherwise. So you see, there is always something to be grateful for, and when we are seeing things from a different perspective, there are more reasons to enjoy what we have right now, the present.

Stop comparing
There is a saying that comparison is a thief of joy. It’s our human nature to want to compare and we have been doing it for generations. When we were young, our parents would compare us with children of their friends or relatives. When we went to school, we compared ourselves with our peers and even if we didn’t, teachers would do. When we got older, we compared ourselves with everyone we knew or even those we have just heard about, siblings, friends, colleagues, neighbors, celebrities and the list goes on. It wasn’t easy to simply stop comparing, but I now make a conscious effort to stop myself and move on whenever I catch myself comparing. Because in the end, everyone is different, we have our own strengths and weaknesses and we never really have a complete picture of others because we only know what others want us to know about them.

If you’re not happy, do something about it
As I mentioned earlier, when I was very frustrated and feeling like a failure, I knew something had to change. There may be times when being grateful alone doesn’t work. I was grateful to be a mother, but I was still unhappy with my lack of productivity work wise. By resetting my goals, it helped me move on and embrace my new role as a mother. It is hard to be present in the moment and enjoy when we have so many things in our minds that are bothering us. So my advice is to take control and do something about it so we don’t have to compromise on our happiness. This may be as simple as accepting the truth, or acknowledging that there are things beyond our control, to a more radical approach like resetting our priorities, or leaving some things behind to make room for bigger better things. But if we don’t do anything or if we don’t take action, it is unrealistic to expect anything to happen for us, in our favour.

The joy of being able to appreciate and live in the moment is amazing, and I believe it also brings health, well-being and performance benefits. But we must remember that there is no better time to start being present than now and only we can take the action for ourselves.

Tips to becoming un-busy

We like to tell others how busy we are. When asked how our weeks or days have been, we often answer, “crazy busy”. We think that if we aren’t busy, we aren’t worthwhile.

When my husband (then boyfriend) and I were dating, we used to eat out a lot. I remember there was one time we were looking for a restaurant to eat and we were both very hungry so we went to a restaurant with not so many patrons inside. We sat down and then thought we will be served pretty quickly as there weren’t many people there. The waitresses were looking very busy and they took a while to take our order. The waitresses were literally running from one end of the restaurant to the other, in a hurry. My husband and I looked at each other and said, why were they such in a rush and so busy while we could count with one hand the numbers of occupied tables in the restaurant. The food also took longer than average to arrive and by the end of our meal, we were more than ready to leave the place with one question in our heads; why were the waitresses acting so busy?

For a restaurant, being busy should equal to one thing; more customers and therefore, more profit. Similarly, at work or in life, when we are busy, it should mean we are working towards our goals, becoming a better version of ourselves and making a difference. Therefore, it is important to a step back and think about why we are so busy when we are busy. Are we busy for good reasons; are we making an impact, are we following our dreams, are we serving our customers better, are we growing and expanding?

If we answer no to all of the above questions, then perhaps, we don’t need to be busy and we are actually not busy. In that case, we can do a few things to become un-busy so that we can use our time and energy to do things that matter.

Let’s have a look at a few things we can do to become un-busy or less busy in our lives.

1. Practice mindfulness
Every one of us has the power to decide whether we want to be busy or not, and the first and most important step is to be aware of what we are doing, hence, being mindful about them. For example, we may have the habit of checking our Inbox or social media feeds every 10 minutes and then we might end up not achieving much after a day work because we were too “busy” checking emails. Then we ask ourselves, why do we check our Inboxes or social media feeds so often, and then we realise that we actually didn’t think about why as it has become a habit.

2. Priortise
Yes, we may be doing something every minute of our waking hours, but we do really need to be doing them? By prioritising our activities, we can be intentional about how we spend our time and return our focus to what matter to us. If you are a busy executive, you might find opportunities to delegate and develop your team which will help you become less busy. Or there might be a few things that you can eliminate from doing altogether because they no longer add value. After all, being busy is the result of misplaced priorities.

3. Change our mindset
As I mentioned earlier, we tend to think being busy equals being important and as long as we think that, we will unconsciously find ways to be busy. Therefore, we need to shift our thinking in order to make the decision to become un-busy. Look around us, we can see that the most successful and the happiest people that we know are never the busiest people. They are the ones who are productive with their time and those who also find time to sit back, relax and just be.

4. Schedule “Me” time
Michael Jordan, an American Athlete has once said that “Some people want it to happen, some wish it would happen, others make it happen.” It is a very powerful statement. We may say that we want to be less busy or we wish we would be less busy, but without any action from our part, nothing is going to change. We can schedule “Me” time by blocking time out in our calendar to do things that we like, for example, baking, taking a walk or just doing nothing. It might seem unproductive at first, but researches have shown that “me” time or “idle” time is essential to our overall well-beings and enables us to become more productive and think better afterwards. As a result, we don’t feel the need to rush or have a false sense of urgency and think and act like we are busy. And really, we don’t need to reply to every email or every message the minute we receive them. The world is not going to stop if we just take an hour break to unwind.

5. Learn to say “No”
Most of us have the desire to please others and help others. While I think it’s absolutely wonderful to help others and to be at the service of others, we need to be mindful about whether we are spending too much time pleasing other people and saying Yes just because. One of the reasons why we don’t like saying no is because we don’t want to seem rude or appear selfish. I used to be like that, until I truly understood the art of saying no. Remember, it’s about quality and not quantity, ie: it’s about how much value we add or bring by helping others, rather than how many times or how much time we spend helping them.

By applying the above tips where possible and becoming more mindful of how we spend our time, I believe that we can all become less busy and yet make an even more impact to things that matter to us.