Career Managing Self Monday Morning Practice Wellness

Monday Morning Practice – The mental key to resilience is growth mindset

Written by Allison Wolf

This Monday morning I am thinking about resilience, and specifically what can we do to become better at facing up to life’s challenges.  While there are many resilience to do’s ranging from being physically fit, taking breaks for recuperation, eating well, sleeping enough, and making sure you get values-aligned experiences every day, what I have learned is critical is something called “mindset” and specifically “growth mindset”.

Here are some excerpts from the article I wrote for about Growth Mindset:

Late last year I moderated a Grit and Growth Panel with three partners and one associate from large law firms in Vancouver at the Canadian Bar Association’s Leadership Conference for Women Professionals.

Grit and Growth… truth be told, when I first learned of the American Bar Association program for women lawyers of the same name, I shuddered, thinking “the last thing we need to be doing is telling women lawyers they need to work harder.”

I conflated the concept of Grit with nose to the grindstone effort, and was mistaken.

Grit is a personality attribute that Dr. Angela Duckworth at the University of Pennsylvania discovered that helps people succeed in life. I highly recommend her TED Talk.

Dr. Duckworth says, “Grit is perseverance and passion for long-term goals.”

“Grit is not just having resilience in the face of failure, but also having deep commitments that you remain loyal to over many years.”

“Grit is having stamina.”

“Sticking with your future, day in and day out.”

“Living life as a marathon not a sprint.”

How gritty are you? You can take Dr. Duckworth’s free on-line assessment here.

Most important for legal professionals Grit predicts achievement in law above and beyond other metrics such as GPA, or rank in law school.

This finding came from ground-breaking doctoral research by Milana Hogan, director of recruiting and professional development at Sullivan Cromwell in New York city and further research she conducted with Katie Katherine Larkin-Wong, associate at Latham & Watkins in San Francisco and President of the valuable organization for the advancement of women lawyer Ms. JD.

Hogan found that “gritty women lawyers” work harder than peers, are more likely to engage in deliberate efforts to improve performance, are more likely to “stay the course” and make it through challenges.

Hogan also took great pains to explain what Grit is not.

Grit is NOT:

Working hard, hard, hard, motivated primarily by fear, stress, anxiety.

Hogan stresses that having Grit does not mean that lawyers have to work harder. But what is essential is feeling “good and passionate” about what they are doing because it is that passion that allows them to sustain grit.

Grit IS:

Motivation by passion and perseverance for long term goals.

Hogan also stressed that passion doesn’t always precede grit, she noted, but often follows it. “So if you don’t have it at the outset,” she says, “you don’t need to panic.”

I would also add, with a nod to this recent New York times article about resilience, that Grit is not about accepting the status quo, but indeed can be about having the ability to persevere with a course of action towards long term goals for cultural, socioeconomic, and societal change and transformation. Writes New York Times journalist Parul Sehgal:

“It’s not just the strength to stay the course but to question it and propose others, not just to survive but to thrive.”

On the gritty path, what is also key is the idea of living life as a marathon, not a sprint. This means taking breaks. It means learning to take care of yourself as you would a loved one. It means being clear about what goes on your plate, and what does not.

How do you get Grit?

The answer to this question brings us to Growth and the work of Dr. Carol Dweck, currently with Stanford University.

Dr. Dweck discovered that people generally hold one of two mindsets, a fixed mindset or a growth mindset. And these mindsets have a strong influence on how we approach challenge.

With a fixed mindset, people believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits. They spend their time documenting their intelligence or talent instead of developing them.

Dr. Dweck says that with a fixed mindset every situation is evaluated: Will I succeed or fail? Will I look smart or dumb? Will I be accepted or rejected? Will I feel like a winner or a loser?

With a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities are things that can be cultivated through effort.

Grit is a by-product of a growth mindset.

She explains in her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success:

“The passion for stretching yourself, and sticking to it when it is not going well, is the hallmark of a growth mindset. This is the mindset that allows people to thrive during some of the most challenging times in their lives.”

Dr. Dweck has found that when people with a growth mindset are faced with challenging situations they ask themselves:

What is there to learn?

What do I need to do differently?

And are able to tell themselves – this is hard, and I am going to make it through.

When I was preparing to facilitate the Grit and Growth panel for the conference, I knew that I would be speaking in front of over 250 women lawyers, and I caught myself stuck in a fixed mindset, thinking in terms of my success or failure, looking good or looking bad.

This fixed mindset made me stress about the conference. This mindset caused me anxiety, which mounted as the day of the event approached.

A conversation with a fellow coach alerted me to the fact that even as I prepared a presentation about Grit and Growth I was still stuck in a fixed mindset. She asked “what are you doing to get yourself in a growth mindset?”

My answer was “nothing”.

Fixed or Growth – these mindsets are powerful beliefs, but they are in the end just thoughts in your mind, and you can change your mind.

Once I realised I was in a fixed mindset about the conference I took it upon myself to change my mind.

I focused on the panel presentation as a learning opportunity for me and all those women attending the conference. I turned my emphasis from “how would I look” to “what could I do to teach the material really well?”

The morning of the conference when the keynote speaker Ritu Bhasin presented her opening address, I caught myself thinking, “I won’t present as well as her”, and again shifted my mindset to one of opportunity to observe a brilliant presentation and to learn instead of envy.

With this mindset in place I was able to connect some of Bhasin’s core teachings with my materials in the afternoon, making the learning experience all the more valuable for the audience.

What is your mindset?

What can you do to change it?

Start by beginning each day with this thought: What are the opportunities for learning and growth for me today? For the people around me?

Notice during the day as your stress level starts to rise, what mindset am I in?

Read and Ted Talk up on Grit and Growth.

Visit the ABA on-line Grit and Growth toolkit to access all their free resources.

I am also currently running a pilot  in-depth Grit and Growth on-line training program that you can learn more about here.  The course will reopen for new students this summer.

Share what you learn with your friends. Get them to nudge you, just like my colleague nudged me, “what are you doing to get yourself into a growth mindset?”

Discover your own inspiring goals. This can take time, sometimes years, to uncover, but tracking your values, your inspirations, and what truly motivates you can help you to uncover what you are passionate about. Sometimes your goal can be as simple as “being open to the opportunities that present themselves.”

Is there something you always wanted to try, but haven’t because you are afraid you won’t be good at it? Make a plan to do it.

Take the next step to shift from a beating up mindset to a mindset that will support you when the going gets tough.

Men and women, the growth mindset is the most powerful resource you have in your personal and professional toolkits.

About the author

Allison Wolf

I am the founder of AWAL and one of the most senior coaches for lawyers in North America. I have helped countless clients over the past fifteen years, develop thriving legal practices and before that served as director of marketing for award-winning law firms. My specialty is uncovering the thinking traps and gaps holding clients back and helping them acquire the mindsets, skills, and habits for growing successful and rewarding legal careers. After a career in legal marketing and business development with law firms in Beijing, New York, and Vancouver, I was trained as a coach in 2004 at Royal Roads University and now coach clients from across North America. You can reach me at or learn more about my coaching practice from the coaching section of the Attorney With A Life Website.

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