Spare a thought for those returning to work to face a pile of to-do tasks after a long summer break.
Although it seems like summertime blues are to blame, feeling frustrated or stuck in a job you don’t like is hardly limited to this time of the year.
Career coach Jarrod Siegertsz says he spends much of his time helping those who feel listless and dissatisfied with their job — even those who seem as though they have it made.
“Even the people that you would say have a dream job talk about feeling frustrated or feeling stuck, and even sometimes anxious and stressed about what’s going on,” he says.
Siegertsz and others have spent their careers trying to answer the question: is there any way to make work something we love doing?
Professor Jill Klein, a social psychologist from the University of Melbourne, believes this is a possibility for everyone.
The answer, she says, is not simply about getting a new job, it is about realising that our mindset determines how satisfied we are at work.
It’s a discipline known as mindset theory.
Towards a growth mindset
The theory places our mindsets in one of two categories: fixed or growth.
The difference between the two determines whether we perceive our talents and intelligence as fixed, and how we recover from mistakes or failure.
Those with a fixed mindset believe they cannot change their abilities, while those with a growth mindset believe they are adaptable and can improve over time.
“[When] people with a fixed mindset face a setback or a failure, [they] are likely to tell themselves it happened because they’re just not good at it, they don’t have what it takes, or they might blame the situation,” she says.
The alternative—a growth mindset—can have profound effects on motivation, learning, and achievement, according to Professor Klein.
She says paying attention to the difference between these can make difficult situations easier to deal with.
“If you’re in a challenging work situation and you have a fixed mindset, you’re going to consistently feel threatened,” Professor Klein says.
“When someone has a fixed mindset, they tend to avoid challenges, because you want to avoid a situation where you might get knocked back, because that might be too threatening.”
Jill Klein’s growth mindset tips:
- Listen for the fixed mindset internal voice when responding to criticism
- Stay in the ‘struggle zone’, even if it is uncomfortable
- Know that the brain is plastic and can create new neural pathways
Growing the mindset theory
Mindset theory is based on the research of Stanford University professor Carol Dweck, who has spent 40 years developing the concept.
Dweck’s theory views talents and intelligence as malleable, able to be developed through grit and effort.
But it is not without its detractors.
Some researchers dismiss the theory as just feel-good platitudes, and others report that attempts to apply the theory in classrooms had shown no measurable benefit to students’ achievement.
Writing for the Conversation last year, Assistant Professor Brooke Macnamara, from Case Western Reserve University, says there is “scant evidence” that growth mindset interventions have worked for students, despite being applied in classrooms across the United States.
In response, Carol Dweck says the disagreement rests on finding the right way to test whether the growth mindset is effective.
“Approaches to cultivating a growth mindset are in their infancy. Much remains to be learned,” she writes.
Working with your values
For Jarrod Siegertsz, it is not necessarily the type of work that brings most people happiness, it is how they connect to it and whether it aligns with their values.
He says taking time to work out what those values are can be very important.
“When I say values I’m really talking about the kind of things that make you smile,” he explains.
“Those moments that bring you joy or vitality or happiness, the things you can look back at the end of the day and say ‘I’m really thankful to be that way’.”
Professor Klein says a key to improving our outlook is to recognise when we’re thinking fixed mindset thoughts when receiving negative feedback at work.
“If we have a setback or we hear some criticism, and we hear ourselves saying ‘this means I don’t have it’, or ‘I’ll never get good at this’, we need to replace it with growth mindset thinking,” she says.
Ultimately, she says, it is about having the approach and determination to learn from our mistakes.
“[A growth mindset] means practising, and when you make a mistake you go back and do that part over and over again until you have it right.”