The trick to having a growth mindset is knowing when to throttle down. How we learn, problem-solve, and just generally think effectively is a process. Sometimes we respond impulsively, making quick decisions based on assumptions, past experience, and urgency of the matter at hand. This can work out fine. Often it doesn’t. Gnarly problems and challenging issues require deeper concentration and prolonged effort. 

People may try to truncate the time it takes to go through this process by pushing through moments when they are feeling exhausted or frustrated. They can experience decent results early on, but when they start to see diminishing returns on their effort, they double-down—increasing their effort and trying harder, hoping to improve efficacy. The result is inevitably disappointment and frustration.

People who are effective problem-solvers and learners know that powering through when you hit a wall is counter-productive. They know that when you feel depleted, the worst thing you can do it is try to push through it. Instead, they take a beat, walk away, reenergize. And then they come back and try again.

Claude Debussy famously said, “Music is the space between the notes.” This is true of innovations and discovery, too.

When we’re learning something new that is completely foreign to us or trying to solve a problem that we have no experience or context to apply to finding a solution, we can hit that fatigue line pretty quickly. People with a what Carol Dweck calls a fixed mindset will take that early fatigue or frustration a sign that they just can’t do it. When they hit the fatigue line, they quit altogether. Or, they keep trying when they don’t have any more fuel in the tank, and use their inability to function as evidence that they are incapable of the task at hand. They give up on the whole thing.

People with a growth mindset, recognize that early frustration is normal and part of the process. They step away and come back later, gradually building up their tolerance as they make new neural connections and increase their skill level. Eventually, they may even reach a state that Mihaly Csikszentmihaly calls Flow, that almost transcendental intersection where highly challenging work meets highly skilled effort, and you experience intense focus and even joy.

This counter-intuitive approach to productivity is true for organizations and teams, too. If there is not capacity for a team to throttle down to digest the data or content they are consuming, there will be no progress. Moreover burnout is commonplace and turnover is high. Management might make the mistake of thinking it’s just the nature of the business to burn through people quickly or that good help is hard to find. It’s more likely the organization itself has a fixed mindset. Leadership has not developed a structure that fosters a growth mindset.

Claude Debussy famously said, “Music is the space between the notes.” This is true of innovations and discovery, too. The notes and silence exist in unity. They are nothing without each other. The process of thinking, learning, problem-solving, need those spaces in between. Without them, it’s just noise.

Build in those moments of contemplation and wonder, for yourself and your whole team.Take a moment. Give a moment. It makes all the difference between a fixed mindset and a growth mindset.

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