On the recommendation of my good friend and fellow triathlete, Mark Oakes, I recently read a book by Dr. Carol Dweck, called “Mindset”. In it, she explores the differences between a “fixed” mindset and a “growth” mindset. I thoroughly enjoyed the book and subsequently was the unsuspecting beneficiary of a mid-life epiphany.
Throughout my life, I idolized sports figures that embodied toughness, grit, and a Spartan approach to sports and life. Men like, Vince Lombardi and Bobby Knight. These men were the epitome of all things right, or so I thought. They relentlessly sought perfection through a winning at all costs attitude coupled with a take-no-prisoners mentality. In fact, I have a Vince Lombardi motivational speech that is framed on a wall in my home.
In truth, these men were/are solid human beings. In my opinion, they were misguided in their approach to coaching and teaching. In the case of Lombardi, his players from the glory years with the Packers went on to become productive citizens in society. For Knight, he always graduated a high percentage of his students. Both men are considered successes in the sporting world because Lombardi won five NFL Championships and two Super Bowls and Knight won three NCAA Championships. However, both were limited by their fixed mindset.
A fixed mindset avoids challenges, gets defensive, sees effort as fruitless, ignores useful negative feedback, and feels threatened by the success of others.
In short, both Lombardi and Knight motivated through fear. They would lose self control, lash out at players, and ridicule referees incessantly. They routinely killed their players’ spirit in exchange for victory in order to validate their own insecurities of success. Often times they would tear a player apart emotionally and sometimes physically to create a “tougher” player.
On the other hand, the growth mindset embraces challenges, persists in the face of setbacks, sees effort as a path to mastery, learns from criticism, and finds lessons and inspiration in the success of others.
The gold standard for a growth mindset was John Wooden. Wooden captured ten NCAA Championships during his lifetime, but he never once worried about outscoring the opponent. Instead, he lived by the rule: “You have to apply yourself each day to becoming a little better. By applying yourself to the task of becoming a little better each and every day over a period of time, you will become a lot better.”
Winning was certainly enjoyable for Wooden, but it was the testimony of his players that gave him the greatest satisfaction. Former player Bill Walton said, “Of course, the real competition he was preparing us for was life. He taught us the values and characteristics that could make us not only good players, but also good people.”
For a glimpse into Wooden’s mindset and philosophy of success, watch this TED Talk from 2001. http://bit.ly/bK7Iz8