G is for Growth Mindset
Updated: Dec 10, 2021
“The hand you are dealt is just the starting point for development.” Carol Dweck
People have opposed underlying beliefs about learning and intelligence that affect their achievements in life. Our mindsets exist on a continuum from ‘fixed’ to ‘growth’ therefore we can ever only be stationary at a point or actively on a journey to a growth mindset. To be on the journey, we need to recognize restrictive thought patterns in ourselves and then reflect on strategies to improve and move forward. Everyone has a fixed mindset sometimes. When we find ourselves stuck we need to challenge ourselves to re-frame our thoughts. E.g. ‘What if you fail? You’ll be a failure’ versus ‘What if I succeed?’ or ‘Most people have failed at some time and at least I will have tried and I will also learn something during the process’.
To understand a growth mindset it helps to recognise what the opposite is.
Fixed Mindset: “In a fixed mindset, people believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits. They spend their time documenting their intelligence or talent instead of developing them. They also believe that talent alone creates success—without effort.” Carol Dweck
Growth Mindset: “In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment.” Carol Dweck
What is the essential difference between the two types of mindset?
“In the fixed mindset, everything is about the outcome. If you fail—or if you’re not the best—it’s all been wasted. The growth mindset allows people to value what they’re doing regardless of the outcome. They’re tackling problems, charting new courses, working on important issues. Maybe they haven’t found the cure for cancer, but the search was deeply meaningful,” Carol Dweck
A growth mindset creates a passion for learning rather than a hunger for approval. It acknowledges that human qualities like intelligence and creativity and even our ability to form relationships can be cultivated through effort and deliberate practice. There is no such thing as failure apart from to stop trying. To fail is considered as a First Attempt In Learning
What are the main differences between a ‘fixed’ and a ‘growth’ mindset?
The effort and energy expended. Those with a fixed mindset may attempt to get others to do the hardest parts of a task thereby expending as little effort as possible. Those with a growth mindset believe that results will only come with personal effort.
The attitude towards challenges. Those with a fixed mindset often seek to avoid new challenges and responsibilities for fear of failure. Those with a growth mindset embrace challenges as an opportunity for learning and achieving. They don’t see failure as “evidence of unintelligence but as a heartening springboard for growth and for stretching our existing abilities.” Carol Dweck
Openness to mistakes and feedback. Those with a fixed mindset hate making mistakes because they find it embarrassing and often blame others or are defensive when criticized. Those with a growth mindset are open to criticism and welcome new perspectives. They don’t take things personally and know it can help improve their ability to do better next time.
Plasticity of the brain
It has been shown that the brain is far more malleable than we originally thought. Research on the ‘plasticity’ of the brain has shown how connectivity between neurons can change with experience. With practice, neural networks grow new connections, strengthen existing ones and build insulated pathways that speeds transmission of impulses. i.e. we can increase our neural growth by the actions we take, the questions we ask, practice, and the development of good habits.
The question is therefore not whether or not change is possible, but how we can change.
“Believe you can and you're halfway there.” Theodore Roosevelt
Beliefs are self fulfilling prophecies and shape our reality and therefore our eventual achievements (or lack of them).
There are numerous examples of people who have believed that they can achieve something that others considered impossible. They held on to their belief despite so-called evidence, lack of support etc and achieved anyway. One example is Roger Bannister who was repeatedly told by everyone that running the mile in less than 4 minutes was impossible but he believed that he could and on the 6th May 1954 he was the first person to achieve this with a time of 3:59.4. As part of his training, he constantly visualized the achievement in order to create a sense of certainty in his mind and body. Just 46 days later, on 21 June 1954, John Landy ran the mile in 3:58.0 and others have followed since e.g. Herb Elliott reduced the time to 3:54.5 within 4 years
The breakthrough by Roger Bannister meant that those others whose subconscious mind had been limiting them beforehand, where they didn’t really believe that it was possible, were no longer held captive to their limiting thoughts about whether it could be done and could now concentrate on working on how they were going to achieve it too.
“We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts we make our world.” Buddha
There is potential inherent in everyone, once we appreciate that potential, the potential will appreciate and we will make progress. People who do not see the full potential in others or themselves are not seeing the full reality or possibilities.
“It is not for happiness alone, it is for self-perfectioning that destiny calls us”.
Benjamin Constant de Rebecque (1767-1830) Cours de Politique Constitutionnelle, vol. ii, p. 559.
It is our role to change and grow. Our flaws and weaknesses do not define us, our mindset does. Growth happens exponentially and is about transformation as opposed to external information and success
How can we develop a growth mindset?
We need to explore and appreciate our strengths but also identify our weaknesses and work to improve them. If we do not acknowledge and embrace imperfection in ourselves we will never see the need to change and we will remain static. It is important to spend regular time on self-reflection.
Be authentic. Pretending to be someone we are not, disrespects who we really are and diminishes what we have to offer.
We need to pay attention to our thoughts and our words as they create our beliefs and our beliefs create our outcomes. We shouldn’t engage in negative self-talk e.g. when we make a mistake or fall short of a goal we need to regard it as a lesson in learning rather than as a failure and remember the little word ‘yet’. Within this small word ‘yet’, there is a lot of power as it is full of opportunity and potential. There is a big difference between ‘I can’t speak French’ and ‘I can’t speak French yet’.
We need to relish challenges as opportunities for self-improvement and learn to reframe a situation in our mind that we find difficult. By seeing something new as an opportunity for growth rather than something fearful we step out of our comfort zone and discover new abilities that we perhaps didn’t even know we possessed. We shouldn’t allow fear of failure and the desire to get everything 100% correct stop us from trying something new as this will restrict us achieving everything we potentially can.
When we prioritise approval over learning, we sacrifice our potential for growth. We do not need approval from others. We need to learn to trust ourselves. We are the only person who will always be there throughout our life so the only person we need to impress is ourselves.
It’s the journey that matters, not the destination so we need to value the learning process over the end result. We should experiment with different learning techniques and approaches until we find what works for us.
The brain is like a muscle that needs exercise, just like the body. We should look for opportunities to continually learn new things and maintain a growth mindset. Growth-minded people constantly create new goals to keep themselves stimulated. Our brain has the capacity to learn something new every day. We should make it our mission to create the brain we want, which in turn has a direct affect on the life we experience, by feeding it with positive and uplifting learning and reflective experiences.
It is essential to cultivate a sense of purpose and keep the ‘bigger picture’ in mind particularly when overwhelmed with different choices. We shouldn’t allow our goals to be so fixed however that we can’t adapt and change our course should the need or opportunity arise
It is essential to be realistic about the time and effort it takes to learn a new skill. If we really value having a growth mindset, then we need to make the time and effort to develop persistence and resilience. The more we continue, the more changes our brain will make to help us achieve our goals.
“Why waste time proving over and over how great you are, when you could be getting better? Why hide deficiencies instead of overcoming them? Why look for friends or partners who will just shore up your self-esteem instead of ones who will also challenge you to grow? And why seek out the tried and true, instead of experiences that will stretch you? The passion for stretching yourself and sticking to it, even (or especially) when it’s not going well, is the hallmark of the growth mindset. This is the mindset that allows people to thrive during some of the most challenging times in their lives.” Carol Dweck
It is important to share our progress and celebrate the efforts of others. Acknowledging our progress will be encouragement to keep going when things become difficult. We should always take a moment to celebrate our successes. It is too easy to move onto the next thing without really acknowledging the hard work we have put it and the achievements in growth and learning we have made.
The feedback that others (teachers, parents, peers etc) give can have an important impact on our growth. Their response will encourage us to choose a new challenge or to look for an easy way out. The words we use are important when encouraging others. Studies on different kinds of praise have shown that telling children they are smart (have ability) encourages a fixed mindset, whereas praising hard work, effort and progress before inherent talent or results cultivates a growth mindset.
“The ability praise pushed students right into the fixed mindset, and they showed all the signs of it, too: When we gave them a choice, they rejected a challenging new task that they could learn from. They didn’t want to do anything that could expose their flaws and call into question their talent.”
This was in contrast to students who were praised for their efforts; 90% of them were happy to try the next challenging task that they could learn from. When, during the same research, Carol Dweck and her colleagues gave the students a subsequent set of harder problems, on which the students didn’t do so well, the ability-praised children lost confidence in their abilities and thought they weren’t so smart or gifted after all.
“If success had meant they were intelligent, then less-than-success meant they were deficient.” Carol Dweck
The children who were praised for their efforts, however, did not suffer this level of loss of confidence; they saw the difficulty as simply an indication that they had to put in more effort next time and it was not a sign of failure or a reflection of their poor intellect.
Few people like criticism, but we need to appreciate criticism as something positive. We need to disassociate the idea of ‘room for improvement’ from failure. The purpose of criticism is to aid improvement. Others can see what we are doing from a different perspective and may have some useful suggestions and information that could help us expand our existing knowledge and skillset. We can also learn from other people’s mistakes. We should also spend time reflecting by ourselves as to how we could approach things differently next time. By listening to ourselves and others, reflecting and observing, we open ourselves up to the possibility of growth. Our priority should always be learning not the binary trap of success or failure.
“Treat a man as he is and he will remain as he is. Treat a man as he can and should be and he will become as he can and as he should be.” Goethe
To develop a growth mindset means we need to embrace challenges, persist in the face of setbacks, take responsibility for our words and actions and acknowledge that continued effort is the key. By choosing to make this effort our brains mental processes will start to aid us and growth will be exponential and the resulting plasticity means that there is a greater likelihood that we will achieve the goals we are striving towards and we will be able to live our lives optimally.
Some questions to think about/or discuss below:
Where are you on the mindset continuum?
What do you consider as your strengths?
What do you consider as your weaknesses?
How are your beliefs about yourself holding you back? If you take the time to dissect your beliefs, are these beliefs rational?
Are you open to change? Do you believe that you can change your thoughts and ideas? Are you prepared to make the effort to do so?
Have you failed at something recently? What did you learn from this failure? Did you try again or give up? If you gave up what were you afraid of? Can you think of someone that could help you resolve your dilemma?
What are you doing to continually maintain the plasticity of your brain?
Do you value yourself enough to invest time to improve your mindset?
What are you passionate about learning? How are you sharing this passion with others?
Do you encourage and praise others enough?
If you want to explore this subject further, here are a few links to get you started:
Mindset diagnostic tool
‘Mindset’ Changing the way you think to fulfil your potential – Dr Carol S Dweck