How we learn, think, are motivated, are creative, and how we as human beings develop and innovate, has been heavily researched at an accelerating pace over the past decade. The body of evidence about learning and motivation not only informs educators and parents about human behavior and development, but it also helps us reshape our approach to parenting and education. For example, praise to a child about something they achieved, it was assumed, built confidence. In fact, we now know that such praise can inhibit creativity and learning, and that the kind of praise or feedback given to a learner strongly impacts their “mindset” about themselves for the better or worse. (see my previous blog about motivation)
Stanford University psychologist Dr Carol Dweck presents in her groundbreaking book Mindset, years of research about how people achieve and succeed. Each of us carries around a mindset about ourselves in many different areas of our lives. Some of us have great confidence in our math abilities (growth mindset) or conversely don’t think we’re good at mathematics at all (fixed mindset). Each of us have formed mindsets about our various abilities in each of our endeavors, whether it be in the world of work, school, or personal relationships. These mindsets have a profound impact on what and how we achieve or don’t achieve. Here’s how Dweck herself describes in an interview the differences between a fixed and a growth mindset.
“In my book I identify two mindsets that play important roles in people’s success. In one, the fixed mindset, people believe that their talents and abilities are fixed traits. They have a certain amount and that’s that; nothing can be done to change it. Many years of research have now shown that when people adopt the fixed mindset, it can limit their success. They become over-concerned with proving their talents and abilities, hiding deficiencies, and reacting defensively to mistakes or setbacks–because deficiencies and mistakes imply a (permanent) lack of talent or ability. People in this mindset will actually pass up important opportunities to learn and grow if there is a risk of unmasking weaknesses.”
“What is the alternative?”
“In the other mindset, the growth mindset, people believe that their talents and abilities can be developed through passion, education, and persistence. For them, it’s not about looking smart or grooming their image. It’s about a commitment to learning–taking informed risks and learning from the results, surrounding yourself with people who will challenge you to grow, looking frankly at your deficiencies and seeking to remedy them. Most great business leaders have had this mindset, because building and maintaining excellent organizations in the face of constant change requires it.”
Edge in Education
The parent group, Edge in Education, at the International School of Prague meets regularly to discuss important trends in twenty-first century education. During our last gathering we discussed the concepts of mindsets and their impact on parenting and schooling.
To spark our thinking we viewed a TedX presentation about the concepts and research of mindsets.
Briceno uses the example of the prodigy chess master Josh Waitzkin, who discovered that having a growth mindset about so-called failure had a surprisingly powerful and positive impact on achieving his subsequent goals.
The moment we believe that success is determined by an ingrained level of ability as opposed to resilience and hard work, we will be brittle in the face of adversity.Josh Waitzkin (Psychology Today)
Waitzkin’s words, which reflect Dweck’s research findings, should have a profound impact on how we, as parents and educators, treat our children, as we try to facilitate learning and creativity. Schools that support a growth mindset empower children to be resilient learners, capable of achieving their goals and adapting well to change.
As we discussed the findings of Dweck’s research with ISP parents, it became apparent to me that we need to make the concept of mindset more explicit to our students and teachers. We need to teach our students and teachers that we don’t have to be trapped in a fixed mindset. We have the power to move our fixed mindset about our abilities to a growth mindset. The scientific evidence clearly shows that those of us who assume we are ‘no good’ at math, or art, or languages, are mistaken.
Briceno points to three steps each of us can take to develop a growth mindset:
- Understand that the concepts of a growth mindset is supported by science.
- Learn about deliberate practice and what makes for effective effort.
- Listen for your fixed mindset voice, and when you hear it, talk back with a growth mindset voice. Simply put, if you hear “I can’t do it”… Add “yet.”
The point about the mindset research is not that we all have the same abilities or gifts. The point is that all of us are capable of achieving much more than we think we can, if we can learn how to apply a growth mindset to what we want to master. Believing that success is possible fosters resilience and motivates us to keep trying. Unfortunately, when it comes to achieving our goals, we are often our own worst enemy.