Every now and then, you hear or read something that makes a piece of life’s great puzzle fall into place. Mindset- the New Psychology of Success was such a book for me. In it Carol Dweck talks about an experiment she did with kindergarteners where she brought in a series of actual puzzles for each child that increased in difficulty. She then watched how some kids were eager to conquer the next level while others chose to repeatedly do a puzzle that they already knew they could master. From this experiment she went on to explore fixed mindsets versus growth mindsets.
In this short column I will try to lay out for you the premise. Basically if you have a fixed mindset you believe your qualities are carved in stone, that you only have what strengths you have to get through life, which creates an urgency to prove yourself over and over– to yourself and others. The growth mindset, on the other hand, is based on the belief that your basic qualities are things you can improve through effort. The growth mindset creates a healthy space for learning and a freeing optimism that you can learn to do better and be better at whatever it is you are trying to achieve.
Not surprisingly, with a fixed mindset, failure is the enemy. Failure threatens to show you and the rest of the world that the qualities you have are not enough to succeed. People with a growth mindset don’t relish the thought of failing either but they don’t take it as personally. They know that in their quest to achieve they are going to experience set-backs, as well as victories and, what’s more, they can learn something from both failure and success.
An interesting point in this book is that you might have a fixed mindset in some areas of your life and a growth mindset in others. For example you might think artistic ability or talent is fixed (you only have what you were given) but believe you can increase your intelligence through study and effort — or vice versa. You might think that ones athletic ability is fixed while at the same time believe that it is in your power to cultivate personality traits that you admire in others. Dweck has a whole chapter on how athletes with a growth mindset surpassed those with way more inherent talent and the same goes for artists, intellectuals and those with incredible people skills.
One other thing I got from this book is how important it is to praise effort in children instead of labeling them with a quality. When your child brings home a straight A report card instead of saying, “You are such a smart girl!” It is far better to say, “You must have worked so hard to earn such awesome grades!” The ‘smart’ girl could agonize over the possibility of not being ‘smart’ enough next time thereby not wanting to risk failure, while the hard worker knows she can choose to work hard for anything she cares about.
May we all find the freedom in knowing that effort goes a long way towards growth and growth goes a long ways towards happiness!
Janen Wright, Director of Faith Formation