The Growth Mindset

Your mindset has a big impact on your impact. There are some people that live life with the belief that they have a lot of influence over it and there are other people that live life in a way where they believe they have very little influence over it. 

We all know that achieving goals involves hard work, focus and persistence but there is some research that tells us that these elements of success may in fact be byproducts of something else. The growth mindset was discovered by Stanford professor and Mindset Works co-founder Carol Dweck, Ph.D. Dweck  (4.8) discovered that some people see intelligence or ability as fixed (a “fixed mindset”) while other people see them as qualities that can be developed (the “growth mindset”). More importantly, Dweck discovered that these two mindsets lead to different behaviors and results. In a study she did with Dr. Lisa Blackwell several hundred seventh graders were surveyed to determine which mindset each student had and then they were tracked for two years. The results showed that the students with the growth mindset, those that thought they could change their own intelligence, increased their grades over time while those with a fixed mindset did not. 

Eduardo Briceño is the Co-Founder and CEO of Mindset Works, an organization that helps schools and other organizations cultivate a growth mindset culture. He says that other studies have shown similar effects regarding mindset for other abilities like problem-solving, playing sports or managing people. He says that the key to success is not simply effort or focus or resilience but the growth mindset that creates them. 

How many of us think that we are not good at several different things but think we are “naturals” at other things? Briceño says that, if we were to fulfill our potential, we have to start thinking differently. We have to realize that we not chained to our current capabilities and that the neuroscience shows that the brain is very malleable and we can change our own ability to think and to perform. 

How does a growth mindset work? Brain scans of people that have a fixed mindset showed that the brain becomes most active when receiving information about how they’ve performed (such as a grade or a score). However, the brain scans for people with a growth mindset became most active when receiving information about what they could do better next time. Therefore, it appears that people with a fixed mindset worry most about how they are judged while people that have a growth mindset are more focused on learning. 

Briceño says that there are other consequences of mindset. People with a fixed mindset see effort as a bad thing, something that only people with low capabilities need. Those with a growth mindset see effort as the thing that makes them smart and the thing that allows them to grow. When encountering setback or failure people with a fixed mindset tend to conclude that they are incapable but people with a growth mindset understand that setbacks are part of growth so they look for ways to avoid them when they try again. 

In another study completed by Dweck and Dr. Claudia Mueller the researchers told some children to do a set of puzzles then praised them when they completed the puzzle. For the first group of kids they said, “That’s a good score, you must be smart at this”. This is fixed mindset praise because it portrays intelligence or abilities as a fixed attribute. For the second group they said, “That’s a really good score, you must have tried really hard”. This is growth mindset praise because it focuses on the process. Then they asked the kids what kind of puzzle would you like to do next, an easy one or a hard one? A high majority of the kids that received the fixed mindset praise chose to do the easy puzzle while a high majority of those that received the growth mindset praise chose to challenge themselves. Then the researchers gave the hard puzzle to all of the kids then had the kids do the easier puzzle again. The kids that received a fixed mindset praise performed significantly worse than they did originally while those that received the growth mindset praise performed better. Further, when the kids were asked to report their scores the kids that received the fixed mindset praise lied about their scores over three times more often than the kids that received growth mindset praise. 

It’s obviously extremely common to praise kids for being smart or for being great at something. We have been told that this will raise their self-esteem but it actually puts them in a fixed mindset. Briceño  says (4.9) that they become afraid of challenges and they lose confidence when things get hard. However, mindsets can be changed. Dweck and Blackwell completed another study that shows that we can change mindsets. It involved a workshop with seventh graders to instill a growth mindset in them. As a result of the workshop the students gained more interest in learning and they worked harder and, as a result, their grades improved. 

Briceño says that other studies have shown that when we teach a growth mindset, not only does it improve achievement for students generally, but it also narrows the achievement gap because the effects are most pronounced for students that face negative stereotypes such as minority students and girls studying math. 

Briceño says that there are three things that we can do to instill a growth mindset in ourselves and those around us:

1. Recognize that the growth mindset is not only beneficial but it’s also supported by science. Neuroscience shows that the brain changes and becomes more capable when we work hard to improve ourselves.

2. Learn and teach others about how to develop their abilities. Learn about “deliberate practice” and what makes for effective effort. When we understand how to develop our abilities we strengthen our conviction that we are in charge of them.

3. Listen for your fixed mindset voice and when you hear it, respond with a growth mindset voice. If you hear “I can’t do it” add – “yet”.

Next article in this series: “How To Change”

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