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A Growth Mindset

Updated: Nov 19, 2021

As seen in APeeling in October 2020

The pace of change, the uncertainty of outcome, the complexity of decision making and the ambiguity of facts are making it harder for leaders to make an impact. One of the best ways to face these interesting times with confidence is to take on a growth mindset. What is a growth mindset? Let me illustrate with a story.

About 12 years ago, my family and I went on vacation to a lake. One beautiful morning, the lake was placid. Completely still and calm. You could see the reflection of the sky and trees perfectly in the water.

My 4-year old picked up a pebble and threw it in the water and he was immediately in awe. That rock that he threw in made ripples that seemed to go on forever. My 2 boys and I must have spent 2 hours at the lake that day throwing pebbles and trying to make bigger and bigger ripples. It was a glorious day. A memorable day.

Two years later, our family was driving to the Oregon Coast for vacation. We had booked a place on Cannon Beach. The whole drive up, my sons couldn’t stop talking about throwing stones into the water. They remembered that wonderful day we had had together and could not wait to recreate it. So, the next morning, we headed to the beach. It was a beautiful day but the water was volatile. There was a wind and the waves were crashing.

My boys had been collecting rocks for days. But what happens when you throw rocks into rough waters? That is right, nothing. My younger son looked at me for direction. I didn’t know what to say while I tried to think of a back-up plan so that the day could be salvaged.

Then he looked at me again, with a glimmer in his eye. Something had clearly changed in his brain. I wasn’t sure what he was thinking, but I recognized by his facial expression that he was looking to me for permission for something. With a slight nod, I gave it to him. With that cue, he ripped off his shirt, backed up about 10 feet and ran into the crashing waves. Of course he was knocked down right away, but that didn’t stop him. He did it again and again and, within 20 minutes, he had figured out how to ride the waves.

He was demonstrating a growth mindset. He had created a plan, based on his past experience, and was ready to execute. He was going to throw his stones and create ripples. He was going to make his impact. But there is a difference between the ocean and a lake. The weather also created different conditions in the water. He could have given up and decided instead to build sand castles or fly a kite. Those would have been good options. Instead, he re-assessed and found another way to make an impact in the water. In the process, he learned a new skill, riding waves, which he continues to enjoy to this day.

So what to do to live a growth mindset every day? Here are two ideas for you.

First, recognize that taking a fixed or growth mindset is a choice, not a foregone conclusion. It requires a conscious effort for most of us.You can choose to:

Take on more challenging goals and difficult problems.

1) Be conscious about embracing constructive criticism, no matter how difficult it might be.

2) Ask for help, when faced with an obstacle, instead of giving up.

3) Find inspiration in a colleague’s success. Try and learn what they did right.

4) Learn from failure instead of being embarrassed by it.

If it all sounds uncomfortable, you are right. It is. You will need to cultivate your ability to reflect on your own performance in real-time, if possible.

Real Time Reflection

When I was a kid, the Bobby Orr hockey card was coveted. He was a legend. What you may not know is that he was a master of real-time reflection. Bobby Orr was said to have an incredible ability to be able to be in the game, on the ice, in the middle of the action, while at the same time being able to jump in and out of the stands. This ability meant he could monitor his performance and change his behaviour in real-time as things shifted.

Believe it or not, this ability is available to all of us. When we are delivering a presentation, and we notice the audience disengaging, or checking their phones, we have the ability to reflect on what we are delivering and change our approach.

When my son jumped into the crashing waves, over and over again, he kept changing his speed, his stance, his angle in an effort to get the perfect ride. He was constantly reflecting and adjusting.

When we are in the middle of a conversation, perhaps receiving criticism, we know when we are getting uncomfortable. We might even say a few defensive words. When we hear ourselves say those words, we have the ability to pause and reset our approach in the conversation.

It’s also important to establish even a short, daily practice of reflection. Ideally, at the end of the business day and ideally in the form of handwritten notes, because handwriting helps the brain process. The types of questions to ask yourself are:

What did I learn today?

What would I do differently if I had the chance?

What was I doing when I felt the most energized? Why did that energize me?

What was I doing when I felt drained? Why did that drain me?

This simple act of daily reflection is part of being fully aware of who you are and what you have to learn from the people and experiences you come across in your day.


Shakeel Bharmal is a business coach who works with executives to find clarity. To learn more visit his website at

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