I was recently introduced to a book called ‘Mindset’ by Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D., by a friend who works in education.
The premise of the book is a breakdown of two different mentalities or ‘mindsets’; one being a ‘growth mindset’ and the other a ‘fixed mindset’. The way that these two mindsets are defined according to Dweck’s theory is:
“Some believe their success is based on innate ability; these are said to have a “fixed” theory of intelligence (fixed mindset). Others, who believe their success is based on hard work, learning, training and doggedness are said to have a “growth” or an “incremental” theory of intelligence (growth mindset).”
Carol Dweck’s bio reads: “Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D., is one of the world’s leading researchers in the field of motivation and is the Lewis and Virginia Eaton Professor of Psychology at Stanford University. Her research has focused on why people succeed and how to foster success.” and she has spent decades of research on the concepts of achievement and success.
As I was talking to my educator friend, she expressed her passion for instilling the ‘growth mindset’ into the children that she works with because she feels that it sets them up to be more successful as a student and in life.
If a child were to have the belief system that because they experience a failure or a set back, that is who they are forever, it will immediately stop the process of growth and learning because they are ‘fixed’ in the failure mentality; they failed once, so they must thereby be a failure both now and always.
My friend (who wishes to remain anonymous) brought up the example of Thomas Edison who said “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” when speaking on his invention of the light bulb.
In fact, Edison’s mother, Nancy Matthews Elliott must have herself been of the ‘growth mindset’ population because after educators described her son Thomas as “addled” after only a few months in a formal classroom setting, she took him out of the school system and educated him herself. If he had been brought up by a ‘fixed mindset’ personality then he may have perceived his first failed attempt at the light bulb as an absolute and never again attempted at his invention.
As my friend passionately pointed out during our conversation together it’s so important and timely as we begin this new school year that educators and parents are on the same page when it comes to guiding the minds of our children in the way they perceive their attempts as failures or successes.
She wishes to see any child who experiences failure to perceive that as a stepping stone along their path to ultimate success.
In fact, the work with mindset is so very important because the internal dialogue we hold with ourselves has the power to either make or break our experience with anything and everything ranging from school, work, relationships, to any other skillset that is essential to becoming an adult.
I must admit this seems to me a no brainer. I can’t believe anyone would damn their child or themselves to eternal failure based on one hiccup in the journey but apparently there are plenty of people who adopt this philosophy or else Carol Dweck wouldn’t have written a book about it.
As the school year begins, it’s a great time to sit down and have a dialogue with your children and explain to them that growth and success sometimes comes in the form of failure. Also, it’s a good idea to set up a time to discuss with your children’s teachers to see if they are approaching their grading system from a ‘fixed’ or ‘growth’ mentality. And thirdly, take a look at the way you discuss your children’s set backs with them. She says that words like “You’re smarter than that.” may reinforce a feeling of failure that they’re more than likely already experiencing, and may be better phrased as “I believe you are capable of success and this is just one step in the learning process.”.
It’s important to set our children up for success in any way we can and mindset is only the first step. If you’d like to read more on the ‘fixed vs growth mindset’ there is a lot of information online or you can pick up a copy of the book ‘Mindset: The New Psychology of Success’ by Carol S. Dweck.