Leadership

This simple shift in thinking can make you more successful, professor says

Carol Dweck
Charles Sykes | NBC | NBCU Photo Bank
Carol Dweck

Career gurus have written extensively about what it takes to be successful, but according to Stanford University professor and author Carol Dweck, a simple shift in the way that you think might make all the difference.

It's very simple: Ask for help.

"You don't know what your abilities are until you make a full commitment to developing them," she said.

Dweck stressed that paying attention to the way you think about your abilities can be a game-changer. The psychologist described two default mindsets: fixed and growth.

In the fixed mindset, people think their talents and abilities are fixed. If you think this way, then you worry about them and try to validate them, limiting you. When you operate with a fixed mindset you're afraid to ask for help, she said.

"It’s a big factor between success and failure." -Carol Dweck, Psychologist

In contrast, when you embrace a growth mindset, you believe that your talents and abilities can be developed through hard work, good strategy and mentoring, she said.

"Everybody who's been successful has gotten lots of help and input from many, many people," she told CNBC.

Still, believing that your abilities are malleable doesn't guarantee that you'll be successful, but it takes away the other worries, the author of "Mindset" said. She explained that a growth mindset encourages risk taking, which in turn takes away worries about your abilities.

While people are a mix of both fixed and growth mindsets, it's crucial to understand what triggers a fixed mindset or the belief that one's talents and abilities are inherent, she said.

Change the way that you think

Dweck identifies failure as a common trigger for the fixed mindset. A great example is when "you try something, it doesn't work and maybe people even criticize you. In a fixed mindset, you say, 'I tried this, it's over.' In a growth mindset, you look for what you've learned," she explained.

To change this thought process, "You have to start by finding your fixed-mindset trigger. Listen to the situation; when you start feeling your ability is fixed or limited. Just accept it at first, just listen to it. Then you start working with it. You can give your fixed mindset a name; it could be your father or your aunt. Who is that person [that discourages you]? Start talking to that voice. Reason with your persona: 'Thank you for looking out for me, but I'd really like to try this,'" she said.

The mindset theory is just as important in the work environment, Dweck told CNBC. The self-conception expert has worked with many companies where she helps identify what the corporate culture is and whether it is an environment that is conducive to growth.

"We did a study of a group of Fortune 500 and Fortune 1000 companies, and we found that the companies that embody more of a growth mindset had employees that felt empowered and committed to the company," she said, adding that those companies also fostered creativity.

"The managers saw much more growth potential in their employees," she said. Dweck recalls visiting a financial company in Chicago that endorses a growth mindset, and she noted that "everyone felt empowered."

Culture of genius vs. growth mindset

"When someone endorses a fixed mindset, it can limit them, even if they're successful at the moment, because if they start struggling and tumbling they can lose their confidence, but also, they may not create a growth mindset environment for others," she said.

"They may create a culture of genius where people compete with each other to look smart, instead of learn," she added.

But the problem of a culture of genius is more than looking smart, Dweck said. The difference is that "a growth mindset company really values teamwork. A culture of genius, there's a lot of competition and a lot of keeping secrets from each other, because everyone wants to look good."