Adopting a growth mindset: The key to lifelong success

Why changing your perspective can help you thrive in veterinary medicine, plus tips for practicing positive thinking.

Achieving a growth mindset allows you to turn failures into advantages which can help nourish an improved sense of self, according to Ellen Lowery, DVM, PhD, MBA, director and clinical professor at Purdue University Veterinary Hospital.

“Having a growth mindset is really important and I think it’s one of the most critical things that we can do to set us up for professional and personal success and live a life that fills us with happiness,” she added.

At the 2021 virtual Veterinary Meeting & Expo (VMX), Lowery delved into the main differences between a fixed and growth mindset, ways to adopt a growth mindset, and the personal and professional benefits of achieving this mental state.

Fixed versus growth mindset

Lowery generally defines those with fixed mindsets as “judgers” and those with growth mindsets as “learners.” She explains that when those who have adopted a fixed mindset don't succeed, they typically assume they’re destined for failure and can’t learn from the experience. Conversely, those with growth mindsets confront failure and opt to learn from it and use it as an opportunity to grow.

Another distinction between these 2 mindsets is that learners tend to look inward and reflect on how they can better themselves, while judgers often blame others or external forces for their failures.

Lowery highlighted the following characteristics of each mindset:

Learner (Growth mindset)

  • Makes more thoughtful choices
  • Flexible and adaptable
  • Win-win attitude
  • Believes it’s possible for them to achieve

Judger (Fixed mindset)

  1. Reactive and automatic
  2. Blame focused
  3. Win-lose attitude
  4. Limits their capabilities

“Rather than shutting down and withdrawing and making the assumption that it’s not going to get better and nothing [you] can do is going to make it better, flip that to the growth mindset,” advised Lowery. “It really does become this ‘I can get better,’ and ‘what is my accountability in this situation and how can I work with myself and others to make this better?’”

Choosing a growth mindset

To help attendees better understand which “path” to take, Lowery uses the metaphor of a “choice map” and explains that everyone starts at the same place and it’s up to you to decide whether you’ll go down the learner or judger route.

She also mentions that it takes deliberate practice to choose the growth mindset. Some ways to exercise this at your veterinary practice and in your personal life include replacing old beliefs with new ones, adopting the fail-forward mentality, practicing mindfulness, and being reflective.

“We have the opportunity to change lanes. We can switch that once we invested into understanding what the difference is between a fixed versus a growth mindset, once we’re willing to learn how to ask ourselves learner questions and not judger questions,” Lowery explained. “And most importantly, recognize when we’re going down that judger path and make that conscious, purposeful effort to change lanes.”

Benefits of a growth mindset

Lowery describes having a growth mindset as a lifelong journey and adopting it can maximize your potential for the future. She insists that a growth mindset nurtures motivation, achievement, and ultimately your happiness in both your personal and professional life.

She assures attendees that it’s okay to have bad days. Life is filled with fleeting moments and some factors can have a negative impact on your mindset. For those experiencing rough patches, she recommends prioritizing their own well-being and recognizing that these periods are temporary and won’t last forever.

“It’s about learning how to cultivate that [growth] mindset and those behaviors that have scientific proof to fuel greater success and fulfillment,” she expressed. “The more you believe in yourself, in your ability to succeed, the more likely that you will.”