Most people tend to have one of two mindsets: fixed or growth. Those with a growth mindset believe they can always improve and change their personality or level of intelligence through feedback and hard work. They believe, accurately, that the brain is a muscle that can be built up over time. Those with a fixed mindset believe your personality and intelligence is more or less given to you at birth, and you can only tinker around the edges. You want to adopt a growth mindset.
Developing a Growth Mindset
Why is the growth mindset important? First, because the research suggests it’s true, and second, because adopting this mindset leaves to whole host of behaviors that have been shown to lead to academic and other types of success, most notably “grit” and the willingness to stick with things when the going gets tough. People with a fixed mindset tend to think their abilities, personalities, and intelligence is given at birth, and can’t be changed. They may tend to avoid activities at which they fear they’ll fail, since this will expose a lack of ability which of course, can’t be changed. This creates a truly unfortunate cycle.
Because the student believes they simply, for example, aren’t good at math, but recognizes that it would be nice if they were good at math, they avoid situations in which their poor math ability will be exposed. They make the choice to avoid raising their hand, for fear of looking dumb. So, they don’t ask questions to clarify their understanding in class. They may even avoid doing their homework, since it’s somehow easier mentally to do poorly because you didn’t study than to try your best and fail, thus confirming your belief that you may just not smart. Ultimately, and over time, a student with a fixed mindset starts to try far less hard, do much less homework, falling farther and farther behind, until the evidence seems to confirm that yes, other people “have it” and they don’t when it comes to math (or, insert any other common skill).
People with a growth mindset believe that abilities and talents are built up over time through hard work, persistence, feedback, and ultimately learning. They’ll ask a question in class in the honest pursuit of feedback and learning, without being too worried about sounding dumb. They have no fear of being exposed as lacking math skills, because they believe they can and will just build up their math skills if they lack them today.
Growth vs. Fixed Mindset
There are a variety of interesting studies which support the importance of the growth vs. fixed mindset distinction. For example, in one long term study, Dr. Dweck interviewed and analyzed and ultimately placed 7th grade students into one of two categories: a) those that seemed to have a fixed mindset and those that seemed to have a growth mindset. At the beginning of the study, both groups had earned an average grade of 74% in math. Over the course of two academic years, however, the average math grade of the fixed mindset cohort steadily declined, while the opposite occurred for the growth mindset group. In sum, a 4% point change in math grades was attributed directly to having a growth vs. fixed mindset over the course of two academic years (C – average vs. C+).
Why do we see positive results from adopting a growth mindset?
I think there are likely three related reasons: 1) the most common explanation is the brain really is like a muscle that you can build (see next chapter). As you try harder and ask questions, you learn and become smarter. 2), knowing that it’s possible to learn and grow, you work much harder, displaying more grit, and stick with difficult tasks for a long time. 3), what is discussed less but is very important, in my view, is that the growth mindset also leads to a sense of accountability, ownership, and control over your education or academic or professional performance. If you truly believe you can learn and grow, then you feel responsible for making positive changes happen.
What can you do to encourage a growth mindset in yourself and others?
The answer here is relatively simple. Place value and praise on displays of effort and learning, not natural intelligence and talent (whatever those concepts might actually mean).
How to learn more about building a growth, ownership oriented mindset?
- To learn more about the Growth mindset -
- Visit MindSet works, the company Carold Dweck co-founded
- Read Dr. Dweck’s book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success – How We Can Learn to Fulfill Our Potential
- To learn more about the Importance of grit and persistence –