Changing your mindset can completely affect they way you lead your life. It can be the difference between stopping at a plateau of accomplishment or continuing to flourish throughout your life. The good news is that by understanding how mindsets work, you can change your mindset and help teach others how to be more effective. According to Stanford Psychologist Carol Dweck’s book “Mindset” people fall into two primary groups: having a fixed mindset or having a growth mindset.
What is a Fixed Mindset?
Someone with a fixed mindset has learned that their basic qualities, like intelligence and talent, are fixed traits. They are focused on demonstrating their existing skills instead of improving them. They believe that they don’t need to put in effort because they are naturally good at some things and bad at others. However, this is not true.
What is a Growth Mindset?
Someone with a growth mindset believes that their abilities can be developed with hard work. They may have some initial strengths, but those are just a starting point which can be built upon. This mindset encourages the learning process. Failures are seen as part of the path toward achievement and motivation to work harder. Virtually all great people have these qualities.
How Your Mindset Impacts You
Once you understand the two mindsets you will start to see them in yourself and others. I immediately remembered back to Math class in high school. I received low grades in Math because I just assumed that I wasn’t good at math and didn’t want to put in any extra effort and fail. I had been told that I was really talented with art and computers which tends to ingrain thoughts of all skills being fixed.
Carol Dweck has done a number of studies on the affects of the two mindsets in children. In one study, she gave 5th graders three consecutive tests. The second test was purposely so difficult that every child would fail it. This way she could see how they’d bounce back on the third test based on differing feedback. She found that when students were praised for their ‘effort’ on the tests, they finished the 3rd test with scores that were 30% higher than the first test. Students praised for their ‘intelligence’ were discouraged by their failure and had scores that were 20% lower. This is why it’s so important to praise others for the work they’re putting in rather than their innate brainpower. Instead of being devastating, failure becomes a learning experience.
Another issue with the fixed mindset is that it prevents people from trying things and reaching their full potential. Dweck did another study with children and found when offered the option of redoing an easy jigsaw puzzle or moving onto a harder one, those with a fixed mindset wanted to re-do the puzzle they already solved. These children told researchers that smart kids don’t make mistakes and thus were afraid to make one. Children with the growth mindset thought it would be strange to do the same puzzle again and wanted to learn something new. The growth mindset is focused on becoming smarter rather than the immediate gratification of success.
How to Develop a Growth Mindset
A growth mindset is something that you can nurture and cultivate within yourself. People may argue that we are all predisposed to certain skills based on our genetics. While it is true that at top performance levels genetics may be a limiting factor, that doesn’t mean you can’t improve upon where you’ve started and even excel beyond most people. Richard Branson (founder of the Virgin Companies) struggled in school as a child because he is dyslexic. Instead of viewing this as crippling, he learned to work around it and built one of the largest companies in the world. Ultimately, a person’s potential is unknowable.
To develop a growth mindset, begin by listening to your internal voice. Fixed mindset thoughts are things like: “What if I fail”, “I’m just not good at this”, “It’s not my fault”, or when receiving feedback “They don’t know what they’re talking about”. Realize you can interrupt this voice and change it. Start to catch these thoughts and change them to a growth mindset by saying: “How can this help me?”, “This is an opportunity to improve”, “I just need to keep at it and work harder”.
Additional Growth Mindset Tips
- Adopt a passion for learning rather than a hunger for approval.
- Don’t ignore feedback that can help you improve, ask for this feedback.
- Think of life as a continual process of learning. Just because you are good at something doesn’t mean there isn’t room for improvement.
- Own your mistakes and failures. Learn from them and stick to it rather than running from them.
- Look for friends, partners, and experiences that will challenge you to improve.
- Focus on your dreams and set goals that you’ll need to work at to improve on your current position.
How to Teach a Growth Mindset
Once you’ve established your own growth mindset, you can also encourage this mindset in others. These are really important skills for parents and teachers to ingrain in their students. You can also be an example to others by responding to comments about how talented you are by telling them how much effort and practice you’ve put into your skill.
Additional Growth Mindset Teaching Tips:
- Explain the mindsets and how they work.
- Teach children that as you practice and learn new things, your brain makes new connections which makes you smarter.
- Dweck mentions schools using a grade of “Not Yet” instead of “Fail” to show that knowledge is a growth process.
- Praise others for their focus, work, and improvement rather than their talent. Instead of “You’re so smart!” say “Good job. You must have worked really hard!”. You might think praising someone’s intelligence helps their self-esteem, but it actually jeopardizes it and increases the fear of failure.
- Instead of deflecting a failure by saying “You were great” or “You deserved to win”, encourage any progress and point out there is an opportunity to continue to grow and find future success.
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