“Hurray! You made an A on your test! You’re so smart!”
“It’s a good thing you like to write because it’s obvious there is no math gene in this family!”
“She is such a gifted singer, but her whole family is musical, so it just comes naturally.”
“Great! Derek pitched a perfect game! Now I’ll never get a chance to be starting pitcher again.”
What do all these quotes have in common? They all represent a fixed mindset.
Growth Mindset vs. Fixed Mindset
Stanford University professor and researcher Carol Dweck coined the term mindset to reflect how we tend to think about ability. Simply stated, it is how we view potential in others and ourselves.
Those with a fixed mindset believe that talent, intelligence, and ability are set and unchangeable—genetically determined or a gift that you either have or you don’t. This was definitely the prevailing thinking of the previous generation! However, research in the field of neuroplasticity has demonstrated that the brain has the ability to strengthen synapses and change over time.
Building on the concept of neuroplasticity, those with a growth mindset believe that through effort and perseverance we have the ability to improve and grow in any area to which we set our minds. Growth does not discount the existence of innate talent. Instead, it recognizes that natural talent undeveloped due to lack of effort will never reach its full potential. In general, those with less “natural ability” that work diligently will ultimately achieve more than those “gifted” who do not cultivate their skills.
A dichotomy does not exist between those that are completely fixed and completely growth-oriented. The reality is that we are all on a continuum and are some combination of the two.
Why Growth Mindset Is Important
It has a significant impact on how we view and react to a variety of situations throughout our lives. Those with a fixed view tend to avoid challenges while those with a growth view tend to embrace them. People with a fixed mindset view mistakes as failures while those with a growth mindset view them as opportunities to learn. A fixed view causes us to become defensive when receiving criticism, but a growth view helps us learn from the feedback of others. Those with a fixed mindset feel threatened by the accomplishments of others while those with a growth mindset find the triumphs of others inspirational.
The research on the impact is encouraging to say the least! Academically, those with a growth mindset perform substantially higher, showing greater success in both math and science (Source). In the workplace, employees in growth mindset organizations feel more empowered, tending to be more innovative and collaborative (Source).
So, what is your mindset? Are you mainly focused on looking smart and talented, or are you more focused on a desire to learn? Do you praise the result of your child’s work (the grade or the medal) or the effort? As you encounter situations involving ability, try to pause and reflect on your reaction. Identifying your own is the first step toward encouraging growth in yourself and your children.