Posted August 28, 2017 by Mark Perna
What we believe affects our performance—a fact that advances in neuroscience are confirming. The various studies on what is called “growth mindset” provide a fascinating look at why some people are able to learn faster, rebound from mistakes, and achieve at a higher level than others.
Dr. Carol Dweck, who coined the term, defines growth mindset as “the understanding that abilities and intelligence can be developed.” Fixed mindset, on the other hand, is the belief that intelligence is inborn and cannot be changed. Dr. Dweck writes,
To briefly sum up the findings: Individuals who believe their talents can be developed (through hard work, good strategies, and input from others) have a growth mindset. They tend to achieve more than those with a more fixed mindset (those who believe their talents are innate gifts). This is because they worry less about looking smart and they put more energy into learning. When entire companies embrace a growth mindset, their employees report feeling far more empowered and committed; they also receive far greater organizational support for collaboration and innovation. In contrast, people at primarily fixed-mindset companies report more of only one thing: cheating and deception among employees, presumably to gain an advantage in the talent race.
She goes on to explain that a growth mindset is not simply being flexible, positive, or open-minded. What’s more, we all possess both fixed and growth mindsets in different areas, so it’s a constant effort to identify the areas our mindset is fixed.
The exciting thing is that people’s mindsets can be changed from fixed to growth, and this creates a measurable significant increase in motivation and achievement. In one study, 7th graders who were taught that intelligence is malleable and shown how the brain grows with effort went on to significantly improve their math scores. They now believed they could do better—so they did.
So how do we encourage a growth mindset versus a fixed mindset? It isn’t always intuitive. Praise is important, but not the way we might think. According to Mindsetworks.com, we shouldn’t tell people they are smart as that actually encourages a fixed mindset. Instead we should praise hard work, effort, and persistence. Dr. Dweck further clarifies, “It’s critical to reward not just effort but learning and progress, and to emphasize the processes that yield these things, such as seeking help from others, trying new strategies, and capitalizing on setbacks to move forward effectively.”
As professionals in education and business, we have a simple goal of helping people perform at a higher level. Whether they are students or employees, the people in our circle of influence can benefit from the awareness that their intelligence can be developed. Fixed mindsets are often held unconsciously, and so often our young people are limited not by their innate abilities and potential, but by the fixed mindset they carry.
I’ve written before that today’s young people will meet the expectations we place on them—whether those expectations are high or low. This is why I encourage educators and businesses around the country to raise their expectations for the younger generations. If we persist in a fixed mindset about our students’ or employees’ abilities, we will limit their own view of themselves and cap their performance. But a growth mindset will only open up the opportunities.
I think this extends beyond just the younger generations in our circle of influence. We can also benefit from asking ourselves the question that titles this blog: do we have a growth mindset? Do we believe that our own intelligence and understanding can be improved by effort? Or have we limited ourselves—and our performance—by the belief that our own level of achievement is already set and will not change?
I believe the young people around us will pick up the mindset we model. Being conscious of our mindset, fixed or growth, is just one more way we can help them increase their performance as we rethink our assumptions about intelligence and potential.