The Growth Mindset

Posted on October 19th, 2018 5:43pm
By: adrian

Growth Mindset is written by Nick Mehring



I want you to take a moment and think about the most critical factors that define someone’s success. Go ahead — think hard about this. I think that for most, your answer is probably a complicated mixture of varied and diverse factors; a person’s past, their genetics, their financial background, their intelligence, their race, gender and many, many more that I’ve failed to mention. While these are all important, I do believe that there is one thing that could be the most important long-term factor in the level of success that a person achieves. Mindset.

That’s right — that one thing that is almost certainly shared by successful people is a mindset. Specifically, they have what Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck has termed a growth mindset. To summarize, Dweck has spent years researching the idea, mostly in students and young people around the world, that people’s mindsets essentially fall into one of two categories: fixed or growth. In a fixed mindset, it’s common to believe that one’s abilities, talents, and intelligence are fixed traits. In students, this translates to a fear of learning, fear of challenge by not wanting to look or feel inferior compared to their peers [1,4,5]. On the other hand, someone operating with a growth mindset believes that these things can develop. Meaning that a student with a growth mindset is more willing to take on challenges and truly believes that their abilities can grow. By learning a growth mindset, student’s can change their perception of effort and difficulty which leads to an understanding of self-improvement through hard work, persistence, and resilience [1,4,5].

As Dweck highlights in multiple studies, a fixed mindset is detrimental to a young person’s level of success both within and outside of the classroom. In one of these studies, Dweck and a team of researchers conducted a survey of growth mindset with every Gr. 10 students in the country of Chile. Their results showed that at every income level, students who had a growth mindset vastly outperformed those with a fixed mindset [5]. In a series of studies published between 2007 and 2008, Dweck and other researchers found that students with a fixed mindset were more likely to cheat instead of research for a test, deflect their shortcomings by finding someone who performed worse on a test, as well as merely disengage entirely from difficult academic situations [4]. Indeed this is not the type of behavior we hope for in our students.

Chances are, you know a child or student in your life who demonstrates some or all of these behaviors. If this applies to you, do not worry, there is a silver lining here that should excite you. That is the fact that a growth mindset can be learned! As teachers and parents, we can teach and cultivate a growth mindset within the minds of students so that over time they begin to believe in the idea of their success [1,5].

How is this possible? An excellent place to start is to ask ourselves, “how are we raising or teaching our kids?” As Dweck asks, are we teaching them to focus squarely on the “now” — to worry only about the next test score instead of thinking towards broader, grander goals [4]? Beyond this, there are many good strategies to use if you are planning on making an intentional push to cultivate growth mindset within a student or child in your life.

Praise! But Do So Wisely…

Ensure that you praise this person often, but you do it, be aware of falling into the trap of praising their result, talent, or intelligence. Empty remarks such as, “I knew you’d get an 80 on that test, you’re such a smart student,” can lull our kids into a position of vulnerability [1,2,5]. When you praise be sure to do so by honoring the entire process of learning. Focus on their strategies, qualities of character such as their resilience and perseverance, and how they deal with failure.

2) Make Sure To Use Language Intentionally

Language is one of the best ways to get students thinking in growth mindset terms. When you hear students using a word like “I can’t” interrupt by reminding them of the power of “yet.” Very soon a comment like, “I can’t understand this math problem” will turn into “I can’t understand this math problem yet.” Linguistically, the difference is minor; however, the change in mindset from training the brain in this way can be drastic [1,4].

3) Teach them The Science of Growth Mindset

No, you don’t need to be a Stanford psychologist or have a Ph.D. in Neuroscience to understand and teach this concept. Explain to your child or student how research on growth mindset has shown us that when you’re pushed into a situation that you find difficult, that if you stick in this space and don’t give up, the neurons in the brain actively create new pathways that will get stronger over time. Let them know that they can become smarter or more skilled at the thing they are doing [1,3,4]!

4) Be Cognizant of Our Reactions Around Our Kids and Students

Parents who commonly react with anxiety, concern, frustration and sometimes anger at their kid’s failures and shortcomings are not teaching them a growth mindset. For some, this can be a tough habit to break but is essential if you want your child to learn from a growth mindset point of view. On the other hand, parents who react by seeing setbacks and failures as a stepping stone on the path of learning set their kids up to adopt the growth mindset over time. By having real conversations about inability with kids, it teaches them to use failure as an opportunity for growth instead of as an excuse to shut down [1,5].

There you have it; four strategies that you can use to teach your child to think with a growth mindset. If you believe that your child or student would benefit from learning the growth mindset, please don’t hesitate to continue to educate yourself and them about the concept. Below is a list of sources and resources that will help to get you started.

[1] Dweck, Carol S. Mindset. Robinson, an imprint of Constable & Robinson Ltd, 2017.

[2] Gross-Loh, Christine. “How Praise Became a Consolation Prize: Helping Children Confront Challenges Requires a More Nuanced Understanding of Growth Mindset.” The Atlantic, 16 Dec. 2016, consolation-prize/510845/.

[3] Ng. B. (2018). The Neuroscience of Growth Mindset and Intrinsic Motivation. Brain Sciences, 8(2), p. 20.