Growth v. Fixed Mindsets

I’m something of a nerd. Whenever I’m faced with some sort of problem to solve, or issue to overcome, my first tendency is research the issue as widely as I can by reading as much as possible about the topic. I then try to implement the best suggestions and ideas I can find to see if they work.

Over 15 years ago, I was faced with one of those “issues.” My wife and I were about to have our first child. Of course, my nerdy brain went into full-fledged “studying” mode. I read quite a few books and articles on parenting tips.

The most impressive bit of psychology I read came from a book called Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Professor Carol Dweck. Dr. Dweck came up with the groundbreaking theory that our mindsets could be divided into two types: “fixed” and “growth.”

How to tell the difference between fixed and growth mindsets

People with “fixed” mindsets are people who believe that “you are who you are.” Fixed mindset people believe your intelligence and talent are fixed, there’s not much you can do to improve, and your fate is to go through life avoiding challenge and failure.

People with “growth” mindsets, by contrast, see themselves as fluid, a work in progress. They believe their circumstances can change, and that through hard work, struggle, and perseverance, they can become better versions of themselves.

It turns out the fixed v. growth mindset is incredibly important when you are mentoring or teaching people, and especially children. Parents with a fixed mindset tend to raise their kids one way, while parents with a growth mindset approach things differently.

What happens when you parent with a fixed mindset v. a growth mindset

For instance, if your child comes home after making an A on a hard math exam, the fixed mindset approach would involve telling your child how smart they are, or telling them “you are really talented at math.” If your child does good in a soccer game, the parent with the fixed approach would spend most of her time telling the child “you’re so talented at soccer” or “you’re just really good at soccer.”

Sounds great, right? That’s what I thought. What could possibly be wrong with complimenting your child and giving them confidence?

Well, not so fast. What happens with a fixed mindset approach when your child does bad on the exam? Or when your child has a bad soccer game? If your child attributes their success to natural talent, then they will think are bad at math or not talented at soccer when they fail. More problematically, your child will give up when they face obstacles or don’t immediately succeed, because they think natural talent or ability is fixed and there’s not much they can do about it.

A growth mindset focuses on the work and effort your child put into studying for the test or preparing and practicing for the soccer game. The compliments would look more like this: “You did awesome on that math test because you studied and worked so hard!” Or this: “You play like you practice, and you practiced super hard that past month.”

Changing your mindset changes your life

In other words, when you focus on the work and the effort, your child will stop focusing on the end result and start focusing on the work and effort.

Now, when your child performs poorly on the test, at the sporting event, etc., their mindset changes completely. They don’t think they did poorly because they are “naturally” bad at math or naturally a bad athlete. Instead, they use temporary setbacks as opportunities to work harder and smarter. They become more confident in their ability to work hard and get better. And the harder the task they confront, the more their mindset tells them to work harder and smarter. Their growth mindset tells them to put more effort into the task at hand, instead of just throwing up their arms and giving up.

The concept of “fixed” v. “growth” mindsets changed the way I parented my kids (I’ve got three kids now) and changed the way I related to others. It also changed the way I looked at success and failure in my own life. After learning about the difference between fixed and growth mindsets, whenever I experience a “failure” or temporary setback, my mind starts asking, “What can you do to get better? How can you work harder or smarter?” I no longer have that fixed mindset mentality saying, “I’m a failure.”

How to develop a growth mindset

Here are a few examples of ways you can change your perspective from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset:

  1. Instead of saying, “I’m no good at X,” say, “What am I missing about X?”
  2. Instead of saying, “I give up,” think, “I’ll try a different strategy.”
  3. Instead of saying, “I failed,” say to yourself, “I learned.”
  4. Instead of saying, “I’m not smart enough,” say, “I’ll learn how to do this.”

Try looking at your life and those around you with a growth mindset. When you do, watch how your perception of your and others’ abilities changes instantly!

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