What is a Growth Mindset?
You may be quite familiar with the term ‘growth mindset’. However, what exactly is this frame of mind that enables people to flourish and consistently achieve success, regardless of external challenges.
What is the opposite of a Growth Mindset? Are we able to develop and implement a growth mindset? If so, how can this enhance our lives?
Let’s firstly break things down
A mindset: a self-perception or “self-theory” that people hold about themselves (Carol Dweck).
What’s a fixed mindset?
People with a fixed mindset adopt the belief that they are either “smart” or “dumb” and there is no way to change this. They tend to shy away from challenges. To them, a poor performance might either re-affirm that they cannot learn or prove that they aren’t as smart as they thought.
Interestingly, many successful people have a fixed mindset. Personally and professionally, they are consumed with having to constantly prove themselves. These people often appear gifted from a young age. They require confirmation of their talent, intelligence, personality, or character. They rigidly evaluate every situation: Will I succeed or fail? Will I look smart or dumb? Will I be accepted or rejected?
*Whilst it’s normal, in many societies, to value talent, intelligence, personality, and character, this is potentially short-sighted. Instead we are increasingly focusing more on perseverance, a bravery to learn and creative problem solving.
What’s a growth mindset
People with a growth mindset believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work. Talent is just a starting point. This mindset creates a freedom that promotes a love of learning and a level of resilience that is essential for sticking things out to realise goals.
Someone with this mindset doesn’t resign to feeling stuck with the hand they’re dealt. Metaphorically speaking, they don’t try to convince others they have a Royal Flush when they actually have a pair of tens.
Someone with a growth mindset believes their basic qualities are things that can be cultivated through their efforts, strategies, and with help from others. They would prefer to overcome deficiencies rather than hiding them. They usually seek out partners and friends who will challenge them to grow, rather than simply stroking their self-esteem.
A practical scenario from the two mindsets…
You try archery for the first time and frankly, find out that you are not particularly good at it and it’s very disappointing when you can’t even hit the outer target. Where do you go from here?
With a fixed mindset you would interpret this as you were a reject; a failure; or an idiot; and that the instructor had it in for you because you had a clash of personalities. You would be worried that everyone was better than you and you would have been put off by their success. You would resign to the fact that your talent is inadequate for sports, which you cannot change very much.
With a growth mindset you would identify that you need to try harder in future sessions. Framing this challenging activity as a learning experience, you would work harder for the remainder of the archery program to improve your skills and enjoyment. You would understand and identify that you can learn new things and always positively change your skills and intelligence around sporting activities if you desire this outcome.
*Through studies, Dweck presented that people with a fixed mindset are terrible at estimating their abilities, having inflated views of themselves, while it was found that people with a growth mindset were amazingly accurate.
BUT HANG ON… Can I be half and half as I recognise both mindsets in myself?
We are all a mixture of fixed and growth mindset. Our response to how we perform in an activity or challenge is dependant on the context of the activity we are undertaking.
Here’s the Great News
We can all positively develop our mindset if we are mindful of our thoughts and actions during activities.
In fact, although people may differ in talent and aptitude, interests or temperament, everyone can change and grow through application and experience.
To assist with instigating a positive mindset change, Carol Dweck’s famously suggested this useful self-talk line.
“I’m not good at this … yet”.
Remember, success, is about lifelong learning and not proving you are smart.
In an education context, lifelong learning is defined as ‘the ongoing, voluntary, and self-motivated pursuit of knowledge, understanding and skills development for either personal or professional reasons.’
It should be our endless pursuit for parents, educators and leaders to nurture a growth mindset ourselves, our colleagues, and our children. This focus will replace the uncomfortable feeling of results focussed anxiety with the joy of discovery, creativity, and innovation while ensuring that we can safely learn from failing and succeeding.
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Further articles, videos and resources
Open Access Paper – Carol Dweck Revisits the ‘Growth Mindset’
Academic article – The Neuroscience of growth mindset and intrinsic motivation by Betsy Ng