Laura White




United States





By Laura White

How to apply a growth mindset to your MBA experience

“If the hat factory runs for 6 months, the cycle time is 7 minutes, and there are 800 hats made per day, how many hats are waiting in inventory?”

Every day, I’m confronted with questions like this one: questions that force me to think differently than how I’ve thought before. As a former early childhood teacher, I’m much more comfortable with analysing student learning or keeping 17 three and four year-olds excited about studying bread for six weeks (true story!).

At times, especially when I’m tired, I have felt unsure about my ability to learn certain skills. I believe the Oxford MBA program was anticipating these feelings when they decided to include a growth mindset session in our launch. Developed by Psychologist Carol Dweck, growth mindset is the belief that your most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work. The growth mindset launch speaker, Greg Searle, emphasised being confident and remembering that failure is a key part of learning.

I found Searle’s talk entertaining and inspiring. Nevertheless, I left wondering, “How do I make myself feel confident?” This is especially hard for me in maths, where my aversion comes from a habitual doubt about whether I can become good at it.

However, in these moments of discouragement during the MBA classes, I have had a lot of success drawing on 3 specific strategies to kick fixed mindset thinking to the curb and maintain a growth mindset instead:

1. Keep a portfolio

I once had a student who was very upset with the way her lower-case “e’s” looked when she wrote her name. As a result, she became anxious about writing her name or any other word that included an “e.” Showing her examples of when she wrote her name in the beginning of the year allowed me to point out how much she has learned already from dedication and hard work. Continually revisiting this old work, combined with praising her hard work when she tried to write e’s really helped.

I do the same for myself with skills I struggle with here. I keep all the work I’ve done on the practice exercises so that when I feel discouraged about learning something new, I can go back and see how far I have come. This makes me feel empowered and hopeful about the new challenges I am facing.

2. Get a growth mindset buddy

Since I am fighting a habit of fixed-mindset thinking with respect to maths, it has been hugely helpful for me to have a “growth mindset buddy” who provides me with the positive encouragement I fail to give myself.

I’m fortunate to sit next to someone who is very familiar with the business finance concepts we are learning. Not only does he study with me, he is a great teacher because he gives me growth mindset-oriented feedback. Just as I am starting to think, “I shouldn’t ask this question, it’s too basic, this is clearly out of my league,” my growth mindset buddy says, “Now this problem is really interesting…the maths are simple, what you need to do is teach yourself to think this way and ask these questions…” He also helps me connect the concepts we have learned to see how my hard work has paid-off so far, and he reminds me that he messes up, too, and that he needs practice as well (Shout-out to Jared Bainbridge!)

3. Use WOOP

In such a fast-paced MBA program, making a plan for getting work done is absolutely essential. But a plan for overcoming the obstacles in your head is just as important.

Enter WOOP, a mental strategy to help people meet their goals. There is a lot of great information on the WOOP website, but the key elements of WOOP are:

  • Wish: Make sure you choose a wish that is challenging but can be reached in the next four weeks. Mine: Stay on pace with the business finance content such that if I were to take an exam on the course content during the first exam period, I would be able to do the problems.
  • Outcome: What would be the best possible outcome in four weeks, and how would you feel? For me, I would know the content so well, I’d be able to teach it to others and be able to do any new exercise introduced in the time expected by the professor. I would feel very happy about my hard work and about helping others.
  • Obstacle: What is your main inner obstacle keeping you from achieving your wish? For me, it’s a fixed-mindset bias that I am not good at math, which causes me to be anxious about complex problems involving quantitative data.
  • Plan: What is one, high impact thing you can do to overcome that obstacle? Again, for me, if I start to feel anxious about a complex problem involving quantitative data, then I will take a deep breath and visualise the hard work I’ve done to prepare and the success I had preparing. Then I will read the problem again slowly, underlining key information.

If you take anything away from this blog post, I hope you remember that you are not the only one feeling uncertain with challenging material, and that with dedication and hard work, you truly can master the content. I hope that this blog post will help you maintain a growth mindset during your MBA.

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