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Building the *Other* Productivity- and Resilience-Boosting Mindset.

Aug 29, 2023

Growth mindset gets all the love, but there’s another productivity- and resilience-boosting mindset that you should also be cultivating in your life and organization. It’s called the stress-is-enhancing mindset, and learning to develop and maintain it can offer significant performance benefits – particularly in demanding times and challenging environments.

Most everything we know about the power of mindsets builds on the pioneering work of Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck, and research on the stress-is-enhancing mindset (starting with Dweck’s colleague, Alia Crum) is no exception. As Crum reminds us, a mindset is “a mental frame or lens that selectively organizes and encodes information.”

In the case of the growth mindset, that mental frame is the simple but powerful idea that we can get better at things, that our abilities and talents are not fixed but rather, can be developed through hard work and persistent practice. That frame proves highly beneficial when we’re attempting to learn and do new things – especially when we are struggling to learn. The growth mindset helps us to organize and encode that experience of struggling as a valuable part of an ultimately fruitful process, which in turn makes it easier for us to remain committed, stay engaged, and not be put off by “failure” along the way to success in learning.

The stress-is-enhancing mindset (as opposed to stress is debilitating) affords an analogous set of benefits in a different domain. The paradox of stress, of course, is that it can be very harmful (particularly over the long term, poorly managed) but can also boost performance and productivity – temporarily increasing focus, pro-activity, cognitive aptitude, and memory. Both are true, and although we tend to hear much more about the former, most of us have experience of the latter – the upside of stress – as well. Reconciling our own experiences of stress and the conflicting information can be difficult, and this is where mindset comes in.

Over the past decade, experiments in lab settings, classrooms, and the workplace have confirmed that individuals primed with a short training intervention (sample) to support a stress-is-enhancing mindset – the idea that stress can promote growth, enhance performance, and foster transformation – are able to change the way that their bodies and brains respond to stress for the better. They do, in fact, experience improved performance and productivity and of course, significantly less “stress about stress.”

The research (well worth a read in either academic or more accessible form) is fascinating and actionable. What’s more, it suggests a hopeful and adaptive path forward in a world where continuous transformation and high-performance pressure are increasingly likely to be the norm. (via Jeffrey)