Our Brains Get More Capable When We Challenge Them.

Growth Mindset versus Fixed Mindset… and what Leaders should know.

Our minds are powerful tools that can ignite sustainable change and unlock new possibilities throughout our lives… and for the organizations that employ us during our careers. Only when we are aware of our potential can we effect the meaningful positive change we are capable of achieving. This is where the concept of Growth Mindset versus Fixed Mindset is important for individuals and their leaders.

Dr. Carol Dweck coined the terms ‘Growth Mindset’ and ‘Fixed Mindset’ as she described what people believe about intelligence and their ability to learn. The key question is, “does an individual believe that with awareness and consistent effort that their own mental abilities like critical thinking, creativity and even curiosity can be enhanced over time… or do they believe intelligence is fixed?”

What Is Growth Mindset?

Neuroscientists have shown that when our brains are routinely stimulated, our mental capacity and abilities are not fixed. It is called growth mindset when people know their mental effort can have a positive physical, emotional and an intellectual benefit. Let’s look at these three benefits one at a time.

Physically, the brain has the ability to grow new neurons every day. Each of us can easily boost this process within our own minds by being curious, asking questions and thinking through challenges. In addition, scientists have found a growth mindset not only helps build new neuron, existing neuron networks are strengthened and/or build more insulation which speeds transmission of electrical impulses.

Emotionally, knowing our brain can grow makes most of us approach learning and difficult situations (challenges) differently including being more likely to take an active role in learning. People who believe in growth mindset see learning as an opportunity to develop new skills and are curious about what they might be able to accomplish as they challenge their brains.

In a study where students were taught the mind grows, three times as many students showed an increase in effort and motivation compared with the control group. In addition, when we believe our effort matters, we are more likely to choose a greater challenge rather than look for an easy win and, we are less likely to give up when we experience difficult mental (and physical), challenges. It isn’t only our belief in ourselves and our effort to learn new things from our surroundings that matters. There is also a correlation between our ability to grow new neurons and external influences like good sleep habits and what we eat and drink (saturated fat and how much alcohol we drink are harmful). When people recognize our mindset is not fixed – that growth is not fixed – it’s also likely to lead to increased intrinsic motivation.

Intelligence also improves when people believe in growth mindset. People get smarter because they practice / study / research… or in other words, because of the effort they apply to learning. Because of their effort to challenges (their perseverance), their investment will likely lead to higher achievement and success as they increase their experiences and knowledge. People with a growth mindset also see failures as learning opportunities – not ‘failures’. They see feedback as valuable information to consider and enjoy putting in effort because they know hard work pays off. They might say, “Even if I make a mistake, I can learn and/or experience something new – and if I keep trying, I will get better and eventually I will succeed.”

In a nutshell, our belief and confidence in ourselves and our ability to learn influences our actions and therefore our future possibilities / successes.

People who believe in a growth mindset understand that as they learn a new skill, that learning is difficult and their progress will likely be slow. They know they may even make mistakes, but by trying over and over the challenge (opportunity) gets easier. As we learn our brain is building new neurons and/or strengthening existing pathways.

What Is Fixed Mindset?

Fixed mindset is when people believe their intelligence is ‘what it is now’ and their ability to learn / to become good at something they are not good at now is limited. People with fixed mindset believe more in ‘natural talent’ rather in their ability to learn. Studies show fixed mindset believers tend to put less effort into learning than people who believe in growth mindset and less effort in personal practice / study / research. Fixed mindset believers often see mistakes as failures not learning opportunities and are more likely to give up when they experience failure rather than to try again. They might say, “I’m likely going to make a mistake, so I don’t want to try, I don’t know how to do it and I don’t have the natural skills, so I can’t learn.”

Every successful person has failed and… they have not given up. A growth mindset is especially important for people who are aware of their natural talents because ‘talented people’ can easily learn to rely heavily on their talent and give up (far too easily), when they begin to struggle. They must learn they can reach even greater success (and awareness), when they study and work through difficulty.

For most of us our mindset is reinforced by our social environments and especially by our parents and teachers. For adults our mindset is often reinforced by our leaders at work and mentors. For example; as a teacher or a leader do you encourage your students or employees to choose a project that will challenge them… or do you give them projects they can complete easily? As a teacher or a leader do you act as a mentor and a coach? Just as people with a growth mindset are motivated by other people (and their environment) to exercise their cognitive abilities, people with a fixed mindset (sadly) learn to conform and embrace status-quo from the people around them and their environment.

Fixed Mindset language you might hear at home, school or at work:

  • “I give up.”
  • “You can’t do this. Try this easier project.”
  • “I’m afraid I’ll make a mistake.”

Growth Mindset language you might hear at home, school or at work:

  • “I’m not good at this yet.”
  • “You can do better. Take until tomorrow to see what you can come up with.”
  • “When I make a mistake I will learn – at least what not to do.”


Our brains get more capable when we challenge them… when we experience new things and information.

Our mindset is a choice, it really is.

We all have beliefs about ourselves; what we are good at, what we are proud of, what we can and cannot do. The important thing to learn is that even though we may struggle at first and look like failures, the struggle is often the most important part of the road to success.

And it’s important to be clear that I am not suggesting you ignore your natural talents and strengths. I am not! Playing to your strengths is likely going to be satisfying and profitable. What I am saying is to not only do what comes easy for you – there is great benefit when you challenge yourself – including within the area of your strengths.

In today’s workspaces change is everywhere and constant. That is why today’s leaders must bring a growth mindset and language into your workplace culture; the alternative is to fall behind. If individuals and teams are not learning they are falling behind. When leaders adopt a growth mindset approach to how they lead, they apply a whole new level of motivation and excellence.

The most important aspect of a growth mindset environment (after knowing growth is possible), is to feel safe. We must feel safe to make mistakes and we must learn to learn from them. Feeling safe from mistakes isn’t a go-be-irresponsible get out of jail free card. We all have to be responsible and accountable. But when employees feel safe and experience a growth mindset environment, they begin to see every project as an opportunity to improve their skills, enhance their knowledge, make a positive difference… and as a way to show off their existing skills (all of which are especially important to Millennials and GenZ). These employees will also be more loyal.

We hope you enjoyed this post.

Bruce Mayhew Consulting facilitates courses including Generational Differences, Leadership Skills, Motivation Skills, Difficult Conversation Training, Business Email Etiquette, Time Management, Mindfulness and more.

Find answers to your Professional Development questions / needs at brucemayhewconsulting.com.

Call us at 416.617.0462.

Are you bored at work… or are you still building your career?

Remember your first week at your job? How exciting it was to learn about the new projects you’d be working on, the influence you’d have and the new people you would meet. And now you find your work boring. On Sunday evenings, instead of looking forward to Monday morning you now routinely say (or think), “Ugh, I have to go to work tomorrow.” If someone was to ask you, “Are you satisfied with your current job?” you’d almost certainly say, “No”.Are You Bored At Work?

It’s not just Millennials and GenXers who crave satisfaction, meaning and a healthy work-life balance. And yet, I believe far too many people stop paying attention to the importance and excitement of their career and get far too lost in the day-to-day tasks of their job. And when this happens they become bored. But what if:

  • You choose to approach every day as an opportunity to learn something new… to make a difference and an opportunity to meet someone who might be a mentor?
  • Instead of dreading having to update the Monthly Sales Spreadsheet yet again, you noticed an unexpected pattern emerging from one of the sectors and shared that opportunity with your boss?
  • You choose to see every meeting was an opportunity to think strategically, to consider the corporate values and to think outside the box?
  • When faced with a crisis you choose to keep your cool and stay professional and thereby come out the other side with grace and a reputation for a cool-head?

If you are feeling bored at work it’s important for your career that you take this seriously. Whether you realize it or not, bored people often drag down the mood and the productivity of the team and few companies can let that go on too long.

So, let’s look at how can you reset.

Be Curious / Say ‘Yes’ More Often

Feeling bored at work is often a natural emotional response to insufficient stimulation. Reignite the days when you were new in your job and didn’t know all the answers by looking for opportunities to take on more responsibility and to stay relevant.

Whatever you focus on you will feel. If you focus on being bored, you will be bored. If you focus on being engaged and what you can learn, that is what you will feel and that is what people will see. Your work is an opportunity to build your career, to prove yourself and to get ready for the job you might not doing yet but is part of the career you are planning.

Feeling bored may even be a sign it’s time for you to make the transition into leadership – or if you are already in a leader position to increase your responsibilities. How about taking on a special project?

Experts agree one of the best ways to prepare for your next job is to demonstrate you have the passion and the ambition to grow into that position. When you take on more responsibility your dedication and enthusiasm will also open a lifetime of opportunities as the economy and workforce changes around you.

Get Clear On Your What You Want To Feel When You Are At Work

If you are dealing with meaningless assignments, unreasonable bosses who don’t care or never-ending politics, then maybe it is time for a new job. But, jumping from one job to another is never a good solution to boredom. If you don’t have a clear idea of why you are leaving and most importantly what you want for your future, you will find yourself bored again soon enough. 

Get clear on what you want. Purpose isn’t found in a job description, it’s found in how you approach the work you do and what value you feel from your contribution. Aside from money (which is an extrinsic motivator), everyone strives for their own personal balance between four (4) intrinsic motivators no matter what type of work they do. From doctor to plumber, you will be motivated by some combination of:

  1. Learning new things
  2. Being seen as an expert
  3. Making a difference
  4. Having flexibility / control of what you do and when you do it

These four intrinsic motivators may seem high-level, but I assure you exploring your motivators is important to understand what matters to you and your career.

Take Pride In Your Work

If you are like most people, when you are bored at work you get careless and start making mistakes. If you think this is you, be careful, your reputation is on the line. One quick hack is to start exploring how can have greater impact? For example, can you use your vast experience to re-write all of the current templates your department uses or begin training / orienting new employees? The trick is to turn up the challenge on your day.

I am channeling my mother as I write this tip (she will be so proud when I tell her). Don’t appear to be lazy or negative. If you start coming in late and leaving early your coworkers will notice and it might sour the mood of your team and begin to isolate you. If this happens it will only amplify the unpleasant feelings you have.

Sometimes, getting motivated is as easy as remembering the people whose lives you change – whose lives you influence every day. Your smile, your compassion and your expertise give you great power – power you should be proud of.

I have one more suggestion for you to bring life back into your work and your career. If you know me you will not be surprised when I ask you to take care of yourself and your energy. Get plenty of exercise, sleep and eat well. Also, consider speaking with a career or leadership coach or mentor. When we are bored at work we can sometimes let important parts of our lives slip. This will only push us further into the hole. Live your life in a healthy and sustainable way.


Be curious. Believe in your future. As Wayne Gretzky said, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”

We live in a world of quick fixes but it’s important to remember that many of the things that matter most and will have the greatest impact need time and require our commitment. Show that you value your work and the people around you.

You are the one who has to create the life you want. Work is not a place or a job unless you choose it to make it onlya place or a job. Take pride in your work and your career. Your reputation matters. Show everyone you have both talent and passion.

I hope these tips help you find work-life balance if you are feeling bored at work.


Happy communicating, mentoring and learning.

We facilitate courses including email etiquette, time management training, leadership skills, generational differences training… and more.

Find answers to your Professional Development questions / needs at brucemayhewconsulting.com.

Call us at 416.617.0462.

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4 Ways To Help Your Employees Motivate Themselves

Wouldn’t it be nice to have employees motivate themselves?

Helping your employees motivate themselves is easier than you might think – and it starts by helping them feel good about the work they do. A powerful approach I teach in my Leadership Training or Executive Coaching is called Intrinsic Motivation. At a high level, Intrinsic Motivation is about helping employees feel one… or all of the following 4 things:

  1. Making a difference – working on something important
  2. Learning something – growing – developing
  3. Demonstrating an expertise they have
  4. Exercising independence – over what they do, when and how they are do it

Helping employees exercise independence (point #4 above), is a scary concept for some organizations; they fear no work will get done. On the contrary… most of the time. Of course, a balance between autonomy and accountability must be outlined and agreed upon. Once that balance is agreed upon, when employees are Intrinsically motivated they will be engaged, work harder, work longer and be more creative. When employees are Intrinsically motivated they will be happier. When employees are Intrinsically motivated no one needs to be worrying about work quality.

Personal pride is a wonderful motivator.

Here are 4 ways you can help your employees motivate themselves.self-motivation

  1. The first opportunity is a best practice that is as old as the hills (as my dad would say), but it works. Encourage employees to break projects and/or long-term goals into smaller manageable chunks.

Why does this work? Breaking projects into smaller projects lets people feel they are accomplishing things frequently. Big projects can feel overwhelming… especially when we are working on multiple big projects / priorities at the same time. Smaller chunks of work also have the wonderful advantage of helping us mentor junior employees; for example, smaller projects can be explained and delegated to Millennials who want to gain experience.

A word of caution, do not lose sight of the main project goals. We can sometimes get too involved in the details of the smaller project and this might compromise the success of the large project.

  1. See mistakes as learning opportunities. A positive and supportive work environment will always improve employee effectiveness. We all make mistakes. Let me say it again… we all make mistakes, and we have a choice to point fingers at who may be to blame (if there ever is only one person), or we can see mistakes as opportunities to be even more creative, to try something different and/or learn a new approach. Trust and respect are huge when it comes to self-motivation and group motivation.

Why does this work? When we are scared to try something new – when we blame ourselves or others for mistakes, we risk locking ourselves into ‘how we’ve always done it’. If you stand still you can be sure there is some other organization that will innovate right past you. Positive thoughts inspire us – negative thoughts can pull us down… so, evaluate mistakes as learning opportunities.

The Best Dreams Happen When You Are Awake.

  1. Surround yourself with positive people. This doesn’t mean you have to spend time with happy, bubbly people 7/24; that would be annoying.

Why does this work? When we stay positive we feel better and are often more creative and more productive. When we stay positive we evolve. The more you focus on being positive – in life and at work, the more you will motivate yourself to passionately focus on your goals. Even during difficulty, positive people are looking for solutions – not holding a grudge.

People who see the glass as half-full are so much easier to be around. Negative thinking is unpleasant to be around and your best employees might quit just to get away from it. This means you might be losing valuable talent for no good reason. By encouraging a positive approach you’ll soon see your work environment will become a happy, creative and productive place!

  1. Write in a Journal. I know – I know… you just rolled your eyes. Please try to write in a journal every day – even if it is only a short paragraph while you sit having breakfast, on the Go-Train or when you have a private moment.

Why does this work? By writing you get to explore feelings you might be holding back… and I bet you will come up with the best solutions. You’ll also begin recognizing how many wonderful experiences you have each day and that some of your challenges aren’t so big – or aren’t so important. By keeping a journal you’ll be building a more positive mindset and you’ll find yourself more motivated and look forward to what’s in store for you.

Keep track of your thoughts and feelings. Most importantly, each day write down two things you are happy or excited about.


If you are looking to create change in your organization – lasting change – look to how you can help your employees motivate themselves. In fact, when people experience self-motivation they will likely do more… do it better… and finish earlier. You and your employees will not be able to adopt these habits overnight… but with consistent, positive attention, before you know it these 4 ways will start making a difference. I promise.

Happy communicating, mentoring, motivating… and training.

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If you enjoyed this post we think you’ll like:


Bruce Mayhew Consulting facilitates courses including Business Writing, Email Etiquette, Time Management and Mindfulness.

Bruce Mayhew on Canada AM

Click on the image to watch us on Canada AM.

Find answers to your Professional Development questions / needs at brucemayhewconsulting.com.

Call us at 416.617.0462.

View Bruce Mayhew's profile on LinkedIn

Bruce Mayhew Consulting

I’d enjoy reading your comments on this post.


What Leaders Should Know About Intrinsic Motivation & Extrinsic Motivation

Intrinsic motivation and extrinsic motivation are important engagement opportunities that have very different results.

Extrinsic motivation is what many of us are familiar with; it’s the primary way Boomers and Gen Xers have been rewarded throughout their working career. It’s how we most often motivate children as well. Extrinsic motivation is based on earning a reward (like money $$ or praise), or avoiding something undesirable. It’s motivation by carrot or stick. Extrinsic motivation is also often the most expensive and the least effective way to motivate employees over long periods of time. As a good friend and Chief Financial Offices (CFO) says, “Money is an external reward and a lousy motivator, it’s good for a week or two and then forgotten.” screen-shot-2016-10-19-at-10-16-16-am

Intrinsic motivation is when we find doing something personally satisfying. It’s the engagement that often leads us to choose our career in the first place. Intrinsic reward supports long-term motivation and professional development that is rooted in taking pride in our work – not making your boss happy so he/she will give you a raise. It’s why many of us volunteer, or paint, play a musical instrument or garden. It’s why we enjoyed curling up with a good book when we were a kid… and still do now.

The easiest way to ruin a persons satisfaction and pride in their work (intrinsic motivation) is to monetize it (give them money $$ for doing something they enjoy). Studies have shown that intrinsic motivation will decrease when external rewards (extrinsic rewards), are given.

Example 1: I know a lady who loved to bake cookies and cakes – she took great pride in them and they were delicious and beautiful. So she started a bakery business and soon had an employee and lots of clients. She felt stress in keeping clients happy, and managing the employee, and there were deliveries and… and… and. Worst of all she no longer baked to relax and enjoy herself. She closed her business.

Example 2: In an experiment to test motivation, psychologist and professor Edward L. Deci studied two groups of students who enjoyed playing puzzle games. The 1st group was paid whenever they solved a puzzle; the other group played for no monetary reward. Deci noticed that the 1st group stopped working on the puzzles when they stopped being paid. The 2nd group continued to solve puzzles because they continued to enjoy the game. By offering extrinsic motivation, the 1st group were trained to see puzzles as work.

All too often our parents, leaders, coworkers… and even ourselves focus only on…or mostly on extrinsic rewards. This begins to cause problems as we disconnect with what feeds our heart… our spirit… our humanity. Instead, we are trained to ignore our natural spirit and instead focus only on (mostly on), physical – short-term recognition / respect. So, what is the real benefit and what can we do?

Benefit: Intrinsic Motivation Increases Pride

The impact of intrinsic rewards on an employee’s self-management is great. An intrinsically motivate employee will likely stay late to finish an important project – not because they have to… or want to please their boss/customer. Because of this pride, they will routinely go the extra mile because it makes them happy and… this pride makes them want to be loyal… a win/win.

Benefit: Intrinsic Motivation Increases Employee Loyalty

Employees who are self-motivated, proud of their work and feel they are making a difference often also demonstrate greater employee loyalty. BMC have seen this in our Millennial At Work study.

If employees are intrinsically motivated they will not quit to go to a company that pays a bit more – they stay with a company that respects them and gives them greater autonomy. Their loyalty will be largely derived from work life balance and how much they enjoy their work – and the company. Pride makes a difference; they stay with the company that feeds their spirit.

Intrinsic rewards mean people feel good about feeling good about what they are doing / thinking.

Benefit: Intrinsic Motivation Increases Professional Development

Extrinsic motivation isn’t all-bad – it actually plays an important part in the learning / teaching process – especially helping learners overcome the frustration of acquiring new skills. Positive reinforcement and praise (extrinsic motivation), helps people keep trying – keep learning. Unfortunately, we all-too-often only reward professional development on extrinsic motivation. We don’t include motivation that helps people feel a sense of personal pride and accomplishment in their newly acquired skill. Ultimately this means that the learners will not fully invest in adopting new skills. Instead they feel pride in getting praise for their work… and will need it again and again. This is a problem I hear all the time from Baby Boomers when I give Generational Differences training.

What Can We Do? How Can We Use Intrinsic Rewards?

Intrinsic rewards help individuals find satisfaction in ‘doing’ of their work or task as much as the end result. The journey is as important as the destination. I’ve mentioned in other posts, there are 4 very effective ways to develop intrinsic motivation in others. From your children to your employees, help them see and ‘feel’:

  1. C – Competence / Mastery… learning new things – gaining  and/or using an expertise.
  2. A – Autonomy / Choice… what to work on, when and how
  3. R – Relevance / Purpose… why the work is meaningful – important
  4. P – Progress… what they are doing is adding to the greater good or perhaps they are gaining experience.


The last 50 or so years we got used to extrinsically rewards but we forget to help people feel good about feeling good about their work or what they are learning. As leaders we’ve underestimated the importance of intrinsic rewards and its low-cost… and instead have got used to thinking of financial rewards as the primary way to motivate.

Intrinsic rewards are a strong win/win for organizations that want to stay innovative and retain great, inspired, happy and proud employees. Research has shown that when people are proud, feel like they are making a difference and feel some ownership of how they structure their time at work they stick around… and they do great work.

Happy communicating… and mentoring… and training.

Click here to join our priority list to receive our latest Business Communication blog posts.

If you enjoyed this post we think you’ll like:

Bruce Mayhew Consulting facilitates courses including Business Writing, Email Etiquette, Time Management and Mindfulness.

Bruce Mayhew on Canada AM

Click on the image to watch us on Canada AM.

Find answers to your Professional Development questions / needs at brucemayhewconsulting.com.

Call us at 416.617.0462.

View Bruce Mayhew's profile on LinkedIn

Bruce Mayhew Consulting

I’d enjoy reading your comments on this post.


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