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6 principles of a growth mindset for professional development

Katherine McBeth | March 23, 2020

March 8 marked the global celebration of International Women’s Day. At Intuit’s Boise site, we celebrated with an inspiring fireside chat with Dr. Marlene Tromp, Boise State University’s first female president. Dr. Tromp’s presentation first focused on women in leadership roles. As of 2016, only 30% of university and college presidents were female. And in the boardroom, women hold only 16.9% of seats, globally. 

How women achieve these roles comes down to grit and perseverance. Despite constant setbacks, many of these women kept getting up and trying again. As researcher Carol Dweck found, grit is not an innate quality. It’s a learned behavior. And developing grit comes down to having a growth—versus a fixed—mindset. 

No matter your gender or circumstances, having a growth mindset can benefit you tremendously. “[A growth mindset] does not change the hurdles you have to jump over,” Dr. Tromp explained. “It just changes the shoes you’re wearing when you take them on.” 

Here are the six principles that make up a growth mindset. 


1. Don’t put limitations on your intelligence

Developing a growth mindset requires a new frame of mind. We’re taught that IQ is the ultimate factor in determining someone’s intelligence, but that’s not true. Intelligence is not fixed. Your mind is like a muscle. And just like any other muscle, you can exercise it and develop it over time. And although your brain might not grow physically, you develop new neural networks when you challenge yourself or learn something new. 

“You expand your brain so much when you have to push [yourself],” said Dr. Tromp. 

The more you try to learn something new or challenge yourself, the more your neurons fire, creating new thought patterns. Don’t limit your potential by limiting what you think you’re capable of knowing. 


2. Embrace challenges

Taking a chance can mean taking a risk for unknown outcomes. But you need to embrace those challenges to grow and achieve your true potential. Fear of failure often forces us to avoid challenges. But failure itself presents some of our greatest learning opportunities. 

For example, your boss might turn you down for a job you wanted. But you learned more about what that business was looking for in the position. You might also fail at something with lower stakes, like putting together a desk. Through failure, you learned how important it is to follow directions or ask for help when you’re confused. 

People fail all the time, but that can lead people to their biggest revelations. Embrace failure and the lessons it teaches you. Even when those lessons sting. 


3. Persist in the face of setbacks

“What determines what you’re cut out for is what you do after you fail,” Dr. Tromp explained. 

Every famous and successful person has failed, but they kept going. You should, too. Setbacks can often feel like impassable barriers. The easy way out is to stop trying. But setbacks don’t mean you don’t belong. They only mean you’re still learning and growing. The trick is to keep trying until you succeed. 


4. See effort as a path to mastery 

“People with a growth mindset also see the labor they invest as a pathway to success,” Dr. Tromp said. 

Essentially, working hard is how you achieve success. The more setbacks and challenges you face, the harder you have to work. And that can wear you down. But your effort is a sign of your strength. No matter how insignificant your efforts might feel, any effort is better than none. When you change your mindset and perceive your effort as a pathway to mastery, your potential is limitless.


5. Learn from criticism

Criticism is always a bitter pill to swallow, and it can devastate your ego. Instead, approach criticism like it’s a learning opportunity. Dr. Tromp, for one, publishes work and receives criticism regularly. 

“It sucks,” she explains. “I may lose sleep over it for a night. But the next day I think ‘Ok, what can I learn from this?’” 

Days after Dr. Tromp started at Boise State, she received a letter from the state of Idaho’s House of Representatives. Idaho’s lawmakers criticized her predecessor’s “diversity, equality, and inclusion initiatives” and asked Dr. Tromp to reconsider them. Instead, Dr. Tromp used the letter as an opportunity to speak with the people of Idaho directly. She listened to their concerns, got feedback, and addressed each concern

It’s never easy to face and accept criticism, but it will always be worth it. 


6. Be inspired by the success of others 

“If you can be inspired by [others’] success instead of threatened by it, that is transformative,” explains Dr. Tromp. 

Instead of seeing someone as a competitor, try to see them as a role model and share in their success. Dr. Tromp used the example of two colleagues vying for a promotion. Even if someone else gets the promotion you were hoping for, you can learn from their experience. By observing the other person’s journey—their education, experience, attitude, and network—you can better qualify yourself in the future. Again, use setbacks as teachable moments, and don’t shy away from learning through challenges.  

As Dr. Tromp suggested, congratulate the person who got the promotion. Then ask them to share more about the choices they made and the qualities they possess that made them ideal for the position. This approach can be especially powerful for your professional development. 


The outcomes of a growth mindset 

Adjusting your mental framing to that of a growth mindset can be transformative. It changes what’s possible for you. You’ll see challenges as stepping stones. You’ll have a greater sense of free will. And you’ll feel empowered to set goals and work towards them. 

To round out her talk, Dr. Tromp offered this short exercise. Consider at least five responses to the following questions: 

  • What are you an expert in? 
  • What are you curious about? 
  • What are you passionate about? 

“If you keep these lists and continue to let them grow, this can be your fuel to take the next great step in your life.” Dr. Tromp concludes. “If you really pay attention to these lists, there is nothing that you will do that won’t connect back to them. If you can find your anchors, it’s a lot less scary to make that jump.” 

A little about Katherine McBeth

In a previous life, Katie was a freelance writer for various blogs on the web, and prior to that, she was a bookseller at a small indie bookstore in Boise. She loves reading, listening to podcasts, and walking the foothills with her rescue pups. On a typical weeknight, you can find her snuggling with her three cats, two dogs, and partner while watching professional wrestling. She’s proud to be a member of the TSheets by QuickBooks team and is determined to keep all the plants in the office alive and healthy.

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