“Mom, I got a 97 on my engineering test, the best grade in the class.” To which I replied, “That’s awesome! It must be that great math brain of yours.”
“No mom, I just didn’t give up. Most of the other kids just quit.”
I—after feeling a little humbled—stated, “Oh, well, great job persevering then.”
It seems my daughter knew something about tackling challenges that I didn’t.
Only days later, I discovered the work of Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck. As I sat through a presentation on ‘growth mindset’, it occurred to me I had placed too much value on intelligence and talent, and not enough on effort and perseverance.
Carol Dweck’s research on growth mindset changed my view on what it means to be “smart”. In my studies on child development, I had learned that the brain is malleable. In fact, I often told parents that they could help their children increase IQ. However, I had not realized the critical role mindset plays in everyone’s life.
In her book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Carol Dweck presents her decades of research on the importance of mindset. Her book presents her findings in an understandable, yet powerful way. Through years of study, she found that mindset profoundly influences peoples’ behavior.
Dweck explains that there are two basic mindsets: growth and fixed.
Fixed Mindset: People with a fixed mindset believe that they are born with a preset combination of intelligence and talent that can’t be altered. Achievement, for those with a fixed mindset, is attained because of their skill, having little to do with effort.
Growth Mindset: People with a growth mindset believe that intelligence and talent can be developed through hard work. They practice, persist, and work toward improving memory, skills, and intelligence. The focus for growth-minded people is effort, not winning.
As a teacher and a parent, I admit I had a fixed mindset. Although I knew intelligence is not static, I did believe that people were born with special skills and talents unique to them. I praised kids for being smart, artistic, athletic, etc.
I now realize fixed mindsets decrease self-esteem. For example, if children are led to believe they’re gifted—say in math—and then fail in that area, they question their ability. They often quit difficult challenges out of sheer frustration. Children begin to equate failure with a lack of intelligence, thinking only people who are not smart struggle.
If, on the other hand, children are taught to view perseverance and effort as the key to success, then experiencing failure becomes an opportunity to improve and grow. A growth mindset allows children to view success through the lens of determination and work, which is more manageable.
Emphasizing effort gives a child a variable that they can control. They come to see themselves as in control of their success. Emphasizing natural intelligence takes it out of the child’s control, and it provides no good recipe for responding to a failure. ~ Carol Dweck
Teaching children to have a growth mindset is the secret to self-esteem, resiliency, and motivation. It is the key to sustainable success.
What are some ways you encourage a growth mindset?