“In the 1950s, Curt Richter, a Harvard graduate and Johns Hopkins scientist, did a series of experiments that tested how long rats could swim in high-sided buckets of circulating water before drowning. Dr. Richter found that, under normal conditions, a rat could swim for an average of 15 minutes before giving up and sinking.
However, if he rescued the rats just before drowning, dried them off and let them rest briefly, and then put them back into the same buckets of circulating water, the rats could swim an average of 60 hours. Yes, 60 hours. If a rat was temporarily saved, it would survive 240 times longer than if it was not temporarily saved.
This makes no sense. How could these rats swim so much longer during the second session, especially just after swimming as long as possible to stay alive during the first session?
Dr. Richter concluded that the rats were able to swim longer because they were given HOPE.
A better conclusion is that the rats were able to swim longer because they were given energy through hope. The rats had a clear picture of what being saved looked like, so they kept swimming.”
What does hope mean to us? Most of us do not swim in high-sided buckets, but we do often find ourselves swimming in big buckets of change. Does hope help us to change?
As Jenn and I begin to write our next (6th) book, I have re-read Carol Dweck’s seminal work, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, and am reminded of Dweck’s contention that there are two specific mindsets from which we can choose… the FIXED mindset and the GROWTH mindset.
“In one world (FIXED mindset), effort is a bad thing. It, like failure, means you’re not smart or talented. If you were, you wouldn’t need effort. In the other world (GROWTH mindset), effort is what makes you smart or talented.” –Carol Dweck
What if your true learning potential was unknown, or even unknowable, at best? What if it were impossible to foresee what you could accomplish with a few years of passion, toil, and training? According to Carol Dweck, this isn’t some hypothetical situation, dependent on any manner of factors from genes to environment; it’s a mindset. And it’s one you can cultivate at any point in life.
Dweck’s “growth mindset” is pretty much exactly what it sounds like: a tendency to believe that you can grow. In her writings, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, she explains that while a “fixed mindset” assumes that our character, intelligence, and creative ability are static givens which we can’t change in any meaningful way, a growth mindset thrives on challenge and sees failure “not as evidence of unintelligence but as a heartening springboard for growth and for stretching our existing abilities.”
Carol Dweck maintains that real change starts with a growth mindset. This mindset focuses on opportunity, on future development, on seeing failure and disappointment as part of our process to get better. The growth mindset believes that, with effort, we can achieve more, we can adapt… we can change. Without realizing it at the time, the growth mindset is what enabled me to play 1003 games in the NHL
We need hope to change. If we wish to help our people change, we must pay attention to, and reward, the actions and attitudes that give them greater hope. Here is a practical action that you can use this week to increase hope (other than pulling your people out of the water bucket):
Examine what you are rewarding with your people and in your culture.
Are you increasing your people’s fixed mindset by cheering on traits like personal intelligence, or developing their growth mindset by praising and rewarding their effort? Do you focus on fixed traits that people feel they were born with or growth opportunities that they are learning? Do you talk about your people’s natural talent or get excited about their developed resilience?
Are you increasing or decreasing your people’s hope?
The things we reward will receive greater focus from our people. The things we recognize consistently will grow in importance for our people. The things we focus on “as important” accelerate our people’s energy to do more of what we deem to be important.
More hope or less hope? The choice is ours.