Are you keen to expand your mindset? Would you like to learn new ways of applying your thinking and communication skills?
You may see yourself as cautious and risk averse. But, contrary to popular belief, it is possible to change your way of thinking, by developing a growth mindset and embracing change and innovation. This will benefit both you and your practice as a lawyer, particularly in times of constant disruption and change.
The discomfort zone: changing your mindset
Our mindset shapes how we experience the world. People can be placed on a continuum according to their implicit views of where ability comes from. Some believe their success is based on innate ability; people who think this way are said to have a fixed theory of intelligence – a fixed mindset. In contrast, those who believe their success is based on hard work, learning, training and effort have a growth mindset.
You can change your mindset. Every time you push out of your comfort zone, your brain forms new neural connections. As an example, a recent US study showed a sharp increase in the grades of students who were encouraged to extend themselves beyond their comfort zone.
Leadership expert Michael Bunting believes growth can be developed through “self-awareness, self-regulation, and self-examination.” He advises identifying your “growth zone” – the areas where you need to alter your thinking and behaviour. This zone, Bunting explains, is located in “a patch of discomfort between your comfort zone and your terror zone.”
The discomfort zone, also known in psychology as the stretch zone, is the space where a person is forced to reappraise their views and their actions, but not to such a great extent that they feel threatened. Rather, they should feel safe enough to both express their anxieties and experiment with new things.
Bunting suggests: “if you struggle with anger and impatience, you might choose patience and kindness as growth values. If you constantly avoid conflict, you might choose courage and honesty as your growth values.”
The discomfort zone, or stretch zone, is the space where a person is forced to reappraise their views and their actions, but not to such a great extent that they feel threatened.
Bunting suggests: “if you struggle with anger and impatience, you may choose patience and kindness as growth values. If you constantly avoid conflict, you might choose courage and honesty as your growth values.”
The limitations of a fixed mindset
A fixed mindset can be limiting, says Professor Carol Dweck, an expert on human motivation. With a fixed mindset, we:
- Believe that our talents, abilities and intelligence are fixed
- Are fearful of making mistakes, because we want to appear clever at all times
- Avoid challenges
- Give up easily
- Feel threatened by the success of others
- Ignore negative feedback even though it may be highly relevant
- Avoid new experiences in case we fail at them
- Look for people who can reinforce our self-esteem
- Focus on outcomes, because we see results as our identity
- May cheat or deceive to maintain other people’s belief in who we [think] we are.
The growth mindset
People often confuse a growth mindset with being flexible or open-minded or having a positive outlook — qualities they believe they’ve always had. This is what we call a false growth mindset. Everyone is a mixture of fixed and growth mindsets, and that mixture continually evolves with experience. A pure growth mindset doesn’t exist, which we must acknowledge to attain the benefits we seek.
The growth mindset, Dweck says, “is based on the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts.”
Changing our beliefs can have a powerful impact. The growth mindset creates a powerful passion for learning.
“The passion for stretching yourself and sticking to it,” Dweck says, “even (or especially) when it’s not going well, is the hallmark of the growth mindset. This is the mindset that allows people to thrive during some of the most challenging times in their lives.”
‘The passion for stretching yourself and sticking to it is the hallmark of the growth mindset.’
Our mindset changes the meaning of failures and mistakes. With a growth mindset, we:
- Believe that talents, abilities and intelligence can be developed through effort and practice
- Engage deeply and process the error with a desire to correct the error
- Embrace challenges
- Persevere in the face of failures and setbacks
- Find inspiration in others success
- Accept criticism as a way to learn
- Embrace novelty with a desire to master new skills
- Look for people who challenge them to grow
- Focus on the process and learning without worrying about the outcome
- Develop skills in collaboration and innovation.
For growth as a lawyer
There are several ways in which developing a growth mindset can be advantageous for lawyers.
The first is the willingness to embrace learning opportunities. Law is a dynamic field that constantly evolves with new legislation, case law, and legal developments. Lawyers with a growth mindset are open to continuous learning and seek out opportunities to expand their legal knowledge and skills. They embrace new areas of law, stay updated on legal trends, and actively seek professional development to enhance their expertise.
A growth mindset means the ability to adapt to change. The legal profession is subject to various changes, including advancements in technology, shifts in legal practices, and evolving client expectations. Lawyers with a growth mindset are adaptable and open to change. They view change as an opportunity to learn and improve, rather than being resistant or overwhelmed. This mindset enables them to embrace new ways of working, adopt emerging technologies, and stay ahead in a rapidly evolving legal landscape.
A growth mindset offers resilience in the face of challenges. Lawyers encounter challenges regularly: complex cases, demanding clients, and other high-pressure situations. A growth mindset helps lawyers approach these challenges with resilience and perseverance. Setbacks are viewed as opportunities for growth and learning, and there is motivation to find creative solutions. This mindset enables lawyers to bounce back from setbacks, maintain a positive attitude, and persist in the pursuit of their clients’ interests.
With the growth mindset, setbacks are viewed as opportunities for growth and learning, and there is motivation to find creative solutions.
A person with a growth mindset seeks feedback and continuous improvement. Feedback is essential for growth and improvement in the legal profession. Lawyers with a growth mindset actively seek feedback from colleagues, supervisors, and clients. They view feedback as an opportunity to learn and refine their skills. By embracing feedback, they can identify areas for improvement, strengthen their legal abilities, and provide better representation for their clients.
Lawyers with a growth mindset also recognise the importance of building strong relationships with clients, colleagues, and other stakeholders. They understand that effective communication, collaboration, and empathy are crucial in the legal profession. This type of mindset helps lawyers develop their interpersonal skills, actively listen to others, and adapt their communication style to meet the needs of different individuals. Trust, teamwork, and positive working relationships are fostered.
The legal profession can benefit from innovative and creative approaches to problem-solving. Lawyers with a growth mindset are open to new ideas, diverse perspectives, and unconventional solutions. They are willing to think outside the box, challenge traditional legal practices, leverage technology to enhance efficiency and client service, and find unique solutions to problems for their clients and their own career progress.
You can learn more about the growth mindset, and how it can prepare you for change and leadership in the legal profession, in a Law Society of NSW webcast on 18 July 2023. Register here.