What is a growth mindset?
‘Growth mindset’ is a psychological view, specifically developed for education by Dr. Carol Dweck; it’s the belief that one can grow to have new abilities, so long as they use strategies that work for them and put in sufficient effort. This contrasts with a ‘fixed’ mindset which says that a person is simply always going to be the same way. This theory was developed specifically for education, but can be applied throughout our lives.
To illustrate: imagine you’d like to be an doctor, but you know nothing about anatomy and you’re terrible and memorizing things – from where you stand, a career as a doctor doesn’t seem very likely. A growth mindset would say that you could eventually learn anatomy and you could even become good at memorizing things (under the right circumstances). A fixed mindset says “tough luck, find another career”.
If you were to choose the fixed mindset, you probably wouldn’t make any attempts to improve your skills and your dream would die. Why try to change what you can’t, after all? However, there’s hope with a growth mindset.
In a growth mindset, you are capable of anything you want to be capable of. No matter where you stand you will, eventually, get to where you want to be. So, in the case of becoming a doctor, you might just have a shot at fulfilling your dreams.
Having a Growth Mindset
There are a few common themes throughout discussions of the growth mindset:
- Change is possible
- A good method is necessary
- Effort is important
- The truth is important
- Mistakes are a part of the process.
Change is Possible – The Power of “Yet”
When we look to change something about ourselves or learn something new, we likely already know that we currently aren’t where we want to be. We can truthfully say “I can’t” about any new skill we hope to acquire because we don’t have the ability to perform that skill at this point in time. However, when we have a growth mindset, there’s more to the statement. Adding ‘yet’ to the end of sentence changes the meaning behind the word. We may not be able to now, but that doesn’t mean we’ll never be able to. When faced with something that feels impossible, try adding ‘yet’ to the end of the statement to see how it changes.
A Good Method is Necessary
Make no mistake that effort is important, but it’s important to acknowledge that it isn’t everything. Have an effective approach to a problem that works specifically for you is extremely important, and, without it, any amount of effort can end up squandered. Sometimes having to re-think our strategy can feel like a failure – like we just didn’t try hard enough at the previous strategy. It can especially feel like this when the method that doesn’t work for us works for a bunch of other people, but there’s really no shame in trying something different and new. Part of having a growth mindset is being willing to try new things. In fact, one might even say that a growth mindset is insisting on trying new things until we find what works best for us and our goals. Let’s get into an example.
Learn to Work with Failure
No one starts out perfectly skilled. Wanna see Salvador Dali’s first painting? Looks like the type of finger painting we all might’ve done as kids (maybe with a slightly better color palette). It probably looks like a kid’s painting because Dali was around 6 when he painted this. That’s where he started out, about the same as us, yet he eventually made detailed works of art.
Being good at something (anything) isn’t inherent. If we treat learning in such a way, we’ll never grow. As the growth mindset was researched, it was found that children whose mistakes were treated as ‘problematic or harmful’ ended up developed a fixed mindset about themselves – in other words, they didn’t grow as much.
Failure is a part of the process of learning to be great at something. As we try new things, we need to be accepting (not scornful) towards the many times when new things won’t work.
We hope that you all have a wonderful journey of growth!
– University Wellness