How do you feel when you have to put in a lot of effort to accomplish something or when you have to demonstrate your abilities in front of others? Do you think your level of intelligence is something you were born with or something that can be developed? Your answer to these questions can very well define the mindset you mostly operate from in life.
Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck was curious why some people in life thrive while others struggle. She studied the foundation of success and achievement for over four decades. In her book - Mindset the new psychology of success – she says that humans can form their mindset about certain aspects of themselves as early as their toddler years when first learning basic skills. A child who, in their experience, is over and over praised for intelligence, can create the idea that what is valued in the world is talent and intellect. While a child who is praised during the process (for their effort, strategies, taking on challenges, persistence) will understand that the value is in resilience, motivation and their ability to want to learn.
By observing, engaging and doing experiential tests with thousands of children in her research, Carol found that we operate from either of two possible mindsets: fixed mindset or growth mindset.
People with a fixed mindset, believe their qualities are static and that humans are born with a certain amount of intelligence and can't do much to change that. These people focus on looking smart over learning. They see effort as a sign of poor ability and dread big challenges. Carol Dweck says: “I’ve seen so many people with this one consuming goal of proving themselves— in the classroom, in their careers, and in their relationships. Every situation calls for a confirmation of their intelligence, personality, or character. Every situation is evaluated: Will I succeed or fail? Will I look smart or dumb? Will I be accepted or rejected? Will I feel like a winner or a loser?”.
People with a growth mindset believe that intelligence can be developed. They focus on learning over just looking smart. They thrive in the face of a challenge and believe effort is the key to success. In her studies, the psychologist noticed that children – an adults – with a growth mindset have no problems in accepting assistance from others and perceive difficult tasks as an opportunity to expand their abilities. They believe it is ok to not know but definitely not ok to not try. From these observations it is easy to conclude that people with a growth mindset, even though they might have the same challenges as other people, tend to struggle less by turning their obstacles into future successes.
So, how can we take advantage of these findings? The first thing to understand about the way we see the world and ourselves is: It’s a mindset. And is something we cultivate. It is possible to change our beliefs about who we are and what we are capable of achieving at any point in life. And there are ways train our mind to develop a different approach to challenges and start developing a mindset of growth and expansion.
Start by observing your thoughts.
When you are faced with a challenge, you might say to yourself: “Can I actually do this? What if I fail, what are they gonna think? Best to stay safe and protect my reputation.”
When you fail at something: “Now I’ve gone and shown everyone how limited I am.” “ It’s not too late to back out, make some excuses, and regain dignity.”
Or perhaps when you are criticised by somebody: “Who do they think they are? They've done much worse than me before”. The person might be giving you specific, constructive feedback, but you choose to understand it this way: “I’m really disappointed in you. I thought you were capable but now I see you’re not.”
Don't feel bad if you catch yourself being negative. Just simply hear yourself and start taking steps to give yourself the chance to see things in a different way.
It is a choice how we interpret challenges, setbacks and criticism.
You might still hear that little voice in your head saying that your talents and abilities are lacking but you can still choose what to think next. When you think or say “I'm not very good at this” replace it with “Actually, I haven't practiced this much, so I haven't mastered it YET”. Yet is a powerful little word. It opens a whole world of possibility. It is ok not to know something, but whatever it is you don't know you are capable of learning. Remind yourself that intelligence and abilities can be learnt and developed and stretch yourself to expand your skills. Remember that obstacles are opportunities to grow. Talk back to that little voice in your head with a growth mindset voice every time you hear it.
Your attitude and behaviour reflect your new mindset
Over time, whichever voice you pay attention to becomes the voice your attitude and behaviour will reflect. So take on challenges wholeheartedly and don't run away when faced with a setback. By acknowledging and embracing imperfections and by viewing challenges as opportunities we can actually change what we strive for. When we change the significance, and impact of challenges, we change the deepest meaning of effort, replacing the word “failure” with the word “learning”.
Practice doing the same to others.
Once you understand how powerful this is, start inspiring others. Specially young people. Praise them for their efforts and they will develop a long-lasting love for learning.