Cultivate a “Growth” Mindset
Want to improve your own chances of success, or that of your students or children: cultivate a “growth mindset”. Through years of study and research about achievement and success, Dr. Carol Dweck and her colleagues throughout the United States and Canada have demonstrated that internal beliefs we hold about ourselves can powerfully shape our lives.
In a fixed mindset, we perceive that our intelligence and talents are inherent, natural, and fixed. We’ve heard it before: a natural dancer, a born athlete, or I don’t do math. Being smart or appearing talented (or not) is what matters to someone with a fixed mindset. People with a fixed mindset often think if they have to work too hard, they lack talent, skill, or intelligence. Setbacks are often met with resistance too. An emphasis on intelligence or talent can open people up to fear of failure, a sense of being threatened by challenges, and an unwillingness to address shortcomings (e.g., the grade 7 student who “just doesn’t get math”, or the 67 year old who doesn’t understand the latest technology). This leads me to one of Dweck’s handiest lessons: yet. The student doesn’t understand this math problem—yet! The 67 year old doesn’t understand how to use this new camera—yet!
People with a growth mindset believe that they are a work in progress with talents and intelligence that can be fostered, grown, and developed over time. These folks perceive brainpower as malleable and that which can be developed through education and hard work. Remaining engaged in difficult problems and trying new strategies to overcome obstacles are both hallmarks of people with a growth mindset. The growth mindset focuses on effort. Our mindsets emanate from our brains, and perhaps thinking about our brains as muscles might be helpful. The more we use it; the stronger it becomes.
Praise is tricky business. On one hand, praising children’s innate abilities can reinforce a fixed mindset (e.g., you got 92 on that English essay, you’re such a smart boy/girl). On the other hand, thoughtful praise about effort, choices, strategies, and persistence can enhance motivation and confidence that ultimately lead to success (e.g., you got a 92 on that English essay, your hard work really paid off). Effort is extended in the growth mindset, because we believe it will help us develop, meet challenges, and overcome hurdles.
We can hold both mindsets about ourselves. For example, when it comes to math, my perspective might be fixed, but as for my music—well I know through experience, the more I practice, the better I become—clearly I hold a growth mindset. In the long term, adopting a growth mindset in all aspects of our lives will enhance our resiliency, optimism, and instill a love of learning bound to help us! Math, art, sport, reading—effort, practice, or belief—maybe it is our mindset holding us back!