There are enviable individuals who acquire skills and knowledge effortlessly, others are more orderly and achievement-focused than are their peers, and still others who exhibit unusual talents. While such positive traits are not evenly distributed, they are not necessarily out of reach for those who are not "natural" high achievers. A growth mindset, as conceived by Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck and colleagues, is the belief that a person's capacities and talents can be improved over time.
In studies that examine mindset, participants are given statements such as: “You have a certain amount of intelligence, and you really can’t do much to change it.” Participants who disagree with such statements are considered to have more of a growth mindset. However, agreeing with such a statement would mean that the participant has more of a fixed mindset.
A growth mindset contrasts with a fixed mindset. The latter is the limiting belief that the capacity to learn and improve cannot be meaningfully developed. The growth mindset, conversely, is open to the effort even if it takes time. Proponents of the theory contend that adopting a growth mindset, and rejecting a fixed mindset, can help people be more open to success.
Some people get stuck in thoughts such as I’m not good at anything. I always strike out. Everyone else does better than I do. They are convinced that they can’t learn anything new, and that it’s far too late for them to try because they will fail anyway. They feel they struggle too much in their tasks, and they feel inferior by the seemingly easy success of the people around them.
Proponents of the theory propose that individuals with a growth mindset will be more oriented toward self-improvement and more likely to persist in the face of challenges and failures. They will treat obstacles as opportunities to grow rather than signs of their abilities being inadequate. However, persistence is useful only up to a point, sometimes a person has to pivot and try other things to reach their objectives and goals.
The autodidact is the person who logs onto YouTube to figure out how to fix the toilet. This person is happy to learn unsystematically and informally, with no instruction whatsoever. They are self-taught, so to speak. Conversely, formal education is big on passive learning; everything is done by rote and teaching to the test is foregrounded; kids have to score high marks on standardized tests if they want to get into the college of their choice. Yet such passive learning is hardly a way to learn or learn with excitement.
Many of history's most celebrated masters were self-taught. We can argue that Darwin, Abraham Lincoln, Benjamin Franklin, and Leonardo Da-Vinci were avid self-teachers. Lincoln learned prose from the Bible and Shakespeare, and he learned logic from books of law. In fact, many of our lauded thinkers are considered self-learners. Bill Gates, Larry Ellison, and Mark Zuckerberg are all college drop-outs. Yet they are among the world’s wealthiest individuals to date.
You can argue that people can flow from growth to fixed thinking, or maybe even the other way around. When a person is criticized, judged, or blamed, it’s easy for them to feel defensive and inadequate. That growth thinking may well give way to a fixed frame of mind, stunting the ability to learn. People who work for bullies, can move from growth to fixed thinking poste haste.
Efforts to encourage a growth mindset in students have gained traction in many schools. But does it work? Many studies have aimed to assess whether mindset interventions deliver measurable improvements in student achievement, and the results are mixed: Some researchers report positive results while others find little or no evidence that such interventions make a difference, and critique the earlier studies that established the concept.
It’s possible that growth-mindset interventions boost some students, but not others. In one of the largest experiments, which focused on ninth graders in the U.S., students were given a relatively brief intervention (less than an hour, in total) in which they learned about mindsets and how behaviors such as putting in effort and changing one’s strategy could be helpful. For lower-achieving students, the researchers reported, the intervention was followed by an average gain of 0.10 GPA points.
Educators can try these various methods:
• Pose challenges and obstacles as opportunities
• Give constructive criticism and encourage acceptance of criticism
• Encourage persistence
• Encourage failure as a part of the learning process
• Encourage a positive attitude
• Show that having goals and purpose can help
The language you use matters. If you cling to words such as always, never, forever, you are possibly an all-or-nothing thinker. Things always go wrong for me. I will never get the right equations. I am forever a failure. These are typical thoughts of a person with more of a fixed mindset. Doing away with all-or-nothing thinking may help. Also useful is using the word yet, this word implies that you will reach your goal soon.
Yes, you can live a more purposeful and meaningful existence by being open to everyday challenges through learning and development. You can put aside thoughts of what has to happen in life, and opt for acceptance of what life brings. In addition, swapping out negative framing like perfection and obstacle for positive ones such as opportunity and average will help as well.