The idea of “growth mindset” has been popping up all over the education and personal development worlds. The term, coined by Stanford psychologist, Carol Dweck, describes the belief that ability and knowledge aren’t a fixed set of traits, but something that can be... well, grown. Instead of thinking that you just aren’t good at math, you think that you can’t do algebra YET. Whether you are good at playing the violin or reading has less to do with a natural aptitude, and more to do with your ability to stick with something hard so that you can improve. And while this might sound like simply a nice thought process, research shows that it actually has tangible impacts.
Growth mindset helps first year students
In a 2017 study, researchers at the University of British Columbia found that first year university students felt more optimistic and were more motivated and engaged if they reported being more self-compassionate. This self compassion worked if they recognized that failure is an inherent part of the learning process. It wasn’t about going easy on themselves, it was about whether they could see a difference between having failed and being a failure.
“Did I win? Did I lose? Those are the wrong questions. The correct question is: Did I make my best effort?”– Dr. Carol Dweck
Carol Dweck believes that it’s critical to start instilling this mindset early. Showing kids that failure is a learning opportunity boosts their resilience, and lets them move on from failure in a positive way more quickly. As the researchers at UBC point out, starting university can be a time of a lot of change, setbacks, and failures, but it’s not the only time that this can happen. Starting a business, moving to a new country, or any combination of big life events can shake us up, and a growth mindset can help us learn and move forward with new information and confidence.
Learning from mistakes can make you better at spotting them
Research from Michigan State University focused on whether a growth mindset actually makes students better at identifying mistakes in the first place. They looked at 123 kids who were identified as having either a growth mindset or a fixed mindset and then had them play a computer game that was designed so the children would make some mistakes. The children with growth mindsets not only caught the mistakes more quickly, they were more likely to improve as they played the game. Seeing mistakes or failures as an opportunity to learn, eventually makes us better at identifying them and implementing what we have learned. The skill of being able to identify mistakes more quickly can be a huge asset in the workplace, no matter your field or role, which makes developing a growth mindset a good career move.
So what can you do to practice growth mindset?
The good news is that anyone can cultivate a growth mindset, it just takes a bit of practice. Here are three ways that experts say you can get started on practicing your growth mindset.
Get self-aware about your gifts, talents, and weaknesses. Mindset expert, Angelina Zimmerman, says that self reflection can be complemented by asking others for feedback “as they can offer slightly different views and give you an overall perspective on what to focus on and areas for development.”
Make your growth and learning visible. Education Consultant, Emily Diehl, says that one of the things that really shifted things for the educators that she works with was behaving differently in meetings and trainings. “We spoke up when we didn’t understand something. We started saying, “Can you tell me more about that?” instead of pretending to (at least sort of) know things already.”
Embrace challenges. Psychologist, Sherrie Campbell, says that embracing challenges can be one of the best ways to build growth mindset. “Confronting our challenges makes for a smaller ego and brings the humility of realizing there are some things we still need to learn. When we take action in the face of challenge, we develop a sense of personal responsibility, instead of looking to others as a source of blame or help.”
Read more about these studies here!