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The Qualities of the Growth Mindset: Do You Have One?

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“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 S. Dweck

We tend to look at ourselves as fixed – fixed in our careers, fixed in our routines, fixed in our abilities and fixed in our intelligence. We think that because we didn’t go to an Ivy league school we can’t be as successful as those who did – that we don’t deserve prestige or praise.

We think that because we weren’t first in our class we won’t amount to the Elon Musks and Bill Gates of the world.

According to Carol Dweck, however, “it’s not always the people who start out the smartest who end up the smartest.”

“People may start with different temperaments and different aptitudes, but it is clear that experience, training, and personal effort take them the rest of the way.”

Carol Dweck, a researcher at Stanford, has spent her life studying motivation. In her book Mindset, Dweck introduces the idea that the most important factor for success is the way you think about learning.

Carol Dweck, uses the term “mindset” to describe the way people think about ability and talent. Dweck delineates between two different mindsets that exist on a continuum. The Fixed Mindset suggests that your abilities are innate and unchangeable. The Growth Mindset views it as something you can improve through practice.

All those standardized tests and IQ tests measure nothing but your ability to process information at a specific point in time. Dweck calls bullshit on judging your ability and your intelligence on a single test. To her, the determinant if someone is going to be successful or not in life is if they have the growth mindset.

According to Dweck, “studies show that people are terrible at estimating their abilities.” We think because something doesn’t come naturally to us the first time that we must not be “gifted” in it.

While there definitely are some talents some of us are born with more than others, we’re all born with the ability to stretch and expand our brains. The problem begins, however, with the mindset that our brains are fixed. In order to expand your brain and your capabilities you have to change the way you look at problems…and the way we talk to ourselves.

Using “Not Yet” Instead of “No”

Dweck studied a high school in Chicago where students had to pass eighty four units to graduate and if they didn’t pass they got the grade “not yet’. She remembers thinking, “Isn’t that wonderful, if you get the grade “not yet” you’re on a learning curve. “Not yet” gave them a path into the future. And “not yet” also helped me understand a critical experience early in my career.”

Next time you encounter a problem or you haven’t gotten where you “think you should be” on your career path, don’t tell yourself you failed. Just simply tell yourself “not yet.” It’s that simple. Success isn’t impossible. It just hasn’t come yet.

Getting Excited About Challenges, Not Running From Them

“Picture your brain forming new connections as you meet the challenge and learn. Keep on going.”

To figure out how kids cope with challenge, Dweck gave ten year olds some problems that were a little too difficult for them. Some of them reacted in a shockingly positive way. They said things like “I love a challenge! or “I was hoping this would be informative!” They understood that their abilities could grow through their hard work. They had what she calls a “growth mindset”.

But for other children, for them it was tragic, catastrophic, from their more fixed mindset perspective their core intelligence had been tested and devastated. Instead of the power of ‘yet’ they were gripped by the tyranny of now.

So what did they do next?

In one study, after a failure on a test, they said they’d cheat next time instead of study more. In another study they found someone who did worse than they did so they could feel better.

And in many studies we found they run from difficulty.

So, how are we raising our kids. Are we raising them for now or for “yet”? Are they focused on the next “A” instead of dreaming big? Instead of thinking about what they want to be and how they want to contribute to society? And I they are too focused on ‘A’s” and test scores, are they going to carry this with them into the future? Maybe. Because many employers are saying we’ve already created a generation of young workers who can’t get through the day without an award.”

So what can we do? How can we build that bridge to yet?

Praising Our Attempts, Not Our Outcomes

“No matter what your ability is, effort is what ignites that ability and turns it into accomplishment.”

Research shows that when we praise kids for the processes they engage in – their hard work, their strategies, their focus, their perseverance – they learn that challenge seeking, they learn that resilience.

“After seven experiments with hundreds of children, we had some of the clearest findings I’ve ever seen: Praising children’s intelligence harms their motivation and it harms their performance. How can that be? Don’t children love to be praised? Yes, children love praise. And they especially love to be praised for their intelligence and talent. It really does give them a boost, a special glow—but only for the moment. The minute they hit a snag, their confidence goes out the window and their motivation hits rock bottom. If success means they’re smart, then failure means they’re dumb. That’s the fixed mindset.”

Research has also shown that praising talent and intelligence makes kids vulnerable.

“In fact, every word and action can send a message. It tells children—or students, or athletes—how to think about themselves. It can be a fixed-mindset message that says: You have permanent traits and I’m judging them. Or it can be a growth-mindset message that says: You are a developing person and I am interested in your development.”

In fact, even NASA believes in this concept. When they were soliciting applications for astronauts, they rejected people with pure histories of success and instead selected people who had had significant failures and bounced back from them.

Enjoying Unfamiliar Situations

“I derive just as much happiness from the process as from the results.”

Dweck’s research has proven that we also can change students’ mindsets directly. In one study, they taught students that every time they pushed out of their comfort zone to learn something really, really hard and they stuck to it, the neurons in their brains could form new, stronger connections and over time they could become smarter.

Those who learned this lesson showed a sharp increase in their grades. Those who did not showed a decrease.

They have done this with thousands of students now across the country with similar results. Especially for struggling students.

One teacher took her Harlem kindergarten class, many of whom couldn’t hold a pencil for the first moth, threw daily tantrums, she took them to the 95th percentile on the national achievement test.

That same teacher took a fourth grade class in the South Bronx – way behind – she took them to the top of the New York State on the state math test.

Learning a growth mindset transformed the meaning of effort and difficulty. It used to mean they were dumb and now it means they have a chance to get smarter. Difficultly just meant “not yet”.

Last year Dweck got a letter from a thirteen year old boy. He said…

“Dear Professor Dweck, I read your book. I liked the fact that it was based on sound scientific research. That’s why I decided to test out your growth mindset principles in three areas of my life. As a result, I’m earning higher grades, I have a better relationship with my parents, I have a better relationship with the other kids at school. I realize I’ve wasted most of my life.”

Let’s not waste anymore lives because the more we know that basic human abilities can be grown, the more it becomes a basic human right for kids – all kids, all adults – to live in environments that create that growth. To live in environments filled – overflowing- with yet.

Some quotes about famous people with the growth mindset:

“I was intensely curious because Cézanne is one of my favorite artists and the man who set the stage for much of modern art. Here’s what I found: Some of the paintings were pretty bad. They were overwrought scenes, some violent, with amateurishly painted people. Although there were some paintings that foreshadowed the later Cézanne, many did not. Was the early Cézanne not talented? Or did it just take time for Cézanne to become Cézanne?”
― Carol S. Dweck, Mindset: How You Can Fulfil Your Potential

“Many of the most accomplished people of our era were considered by experts to have no future. Jackson Pollock, Marcel Proust, Elvis Presley, Ray Charles, Lucille Ball, and Charles Darwin were all thought to have little potential for their chosen fields.”
― Carol S. Dweck, Mindset: The New Psychology Of Success

“They’d had no interest in proving themselves. They just did what they loved—with tremendous drive and enthusiasm—and it led where it led.”
― Carol S. Dweck, Mindset: How You Can Fulfil Your Potential

“Character, the sportswriters said. They know it when they see it—it’s the ability to dig down and find the strength even when things are going against you.”
― Carol S. Dweck, Mindset: The New Psychology Of Success

“Yes, he was depressed, but he was coping the way people in the growth mindset tend to cope—with determination.”
― Carol S. Dweck, Mindset: How You Can Fulfil Your Potential

Lauren Martin

Just another girl in the world…and founder of Words of Women

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