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What is Mindset – And how does it relate to motivation?

An awful lot is said about mindset these days.  You must change your mindset on this, adopt a mindset,.. ..for this, for that.

Everyone seems to have their own view of what a mindset is, and what kind you should have,

Gary Klein, writing in Psychology Today describes them as:

A mindset is a belief that orients the way we handle situations — the way we sort out what is going on and what we should do.

Dweck’s work on mindset

Carol Dweck popularised the idea of fixed and growth mindsets. According to Dweck’s research if you adopt a fixed mindset, that is if you believe that your ability is innate, you are likely to respond less positively to failure.  If you adopt a growth mindset – believing that your ability is down to effort, then you are more likely to respond well.  Dweck’s work links mindset to motivation, which we’re happy about, but it’s limited to our beliefs about ability. Dweck’s main research was also done in an educational setting, and therefore it’s applicability to adults and the world of work has been questioned.

Our view is that there’s a little bit more to mindset than fixed vs growth.


Challenge (and threat) mindsets

A view of mindset that is popular in sport psychology is that of challenge and threat. It’s somewhat similar to the idea of growth and fixed mindsets, in that one is seen as more adaptive than the other. However, a challenge mindset in one in which you are more likely to react positively to stressors or difficult situations, seeing them as a challenge. By contrast, if you see stressors as a threat you are more likely to react negatively.

Again, we think there’s more to mindset.

In fact, we could find pretty every different description of a mindset and describe it using one framework – Apter’s motivational styles.


Apter’s Motivational Styles and mindset

As our motivations changeThe Apter framework (Reversal Theory) describes eight motivational styles that can be thought of as states of mind that directly influence emotions. These motivations are organised into four oppositional pairs, like a set of binary switches that are constantly changing from one state to the other. As a means of understanding mindset Apter’s framework  is useful because:

1) Rather than labelling one or two of competing mindsets, it gives you the opportunity to explore how different motivations combine in different ways.

2) This opens up our understanding of mindset rather than closing it down. Rather than limiting the discussion to, for example fixed vs growth, it allows people to think about and manage their response in different situations.

3) The direct link to emotions provides a “so what?” factor, That is: The ability to diagnose issues by stating a problem and uncovering the motivations that are driving them. These motivations are, by definition, changeable which helps people to see that they can adapt.


Putting a label on your mindset?

The downside might be that when we describe mindset as a combination of motivations we don’t have a convenient label to put on it, like fixed or growth,  or an innovation, change, performance or whatever. But what we can show you is that innovation, change and performance, for example, all draw upon different states of mind at different times.

So, maybe we will one day describe a range of mindsets using the Apter framework. But then again, maybe it’s better that you can own your own definition, by understanding how your own motivational styles drive your emotions and behaviour in any situation.

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