A growth mindset is a way of thinking about what we can and cannot do. Each of us, at any age and in any activity, can have a fixed mindset or a growth mindset. Carol Dweck describes these two mindsets as follows:
“In a fixed mindset, people believe that their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits. They spend their time documenting their intelligence or talent instead of developing them. They also believe that talent alone creates success—without effort.” (Dweck, 2015).
“In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment.” (Dweck, 2015).
Research by Carol Dweck and many others has shown that the kind of mindset a person holds develops early on in childhood but will continue throughout high school and into university. Research has shown that students who hold a fixed mindset tend to give up when they can’t solve a problem and admit defeat. In contrast, students with a growth mindset will continue to work to improve their skills, which will ultimately lead to greater growth and success.
Can you develop a growth mindset?
Research suggests that students can, in fact, increase their growth mindset; and that they can start changing their mindsets in workshops and seminars that are as brief as 30 minutes. The key to the success of these workshops is providing students with information that challenges fixed mindset beliefs and creating an openness to the possibility that you can change, and learn new things – even difficult or seemingly impossible things. How often have you told yourself, for example, that “you will never be able to learn something, you’re just not smart enough” or told yourself that “it’s a talent that people are just born with, and I wasn’t.”
In 2014, a Japanese psychologist, Ayako Sakakibara, conducted a ground-breaking experiment. He recruited 24 children between the ages of two and six and provided them with months-long music training to see if they could acquire perfect pitch. Each student had four to five training lessons every day that lasted just a few minutes. Some had training for less than a year, some more for a year.
Results of this training were stunning. At the end of training, every single student acquired perfect pitch. Prior to this study, this was not thought to be possible at all. Perfect pitch was believed to be a talent that you were either born with or were not, and that could not change.
This study and others like it provide scientific evidence that not everything is as fixed or unchanging as we think. Studies examining the factor that predict success at university have also shown that what matters most is not the amount of intelligence you were born with but rather your skill, determination to work hard and your belief in what you can do.
The table below lists the top nine predictors of success in college and university. Interestingly, IQ is only the 9th most important predictor of success. There are eight other factors related to success, and all of them can be modified. These data show that although high school grades are the strongest predictor, there are seven other things that you can and will need to do to maximize your success. The good news is that you can learn how to manage time better and reduce your anxiety.
Developing a growth mindset might be easier than you think.
A nationwide study of over 6000 grade nine students, who were identified as lower achieving, showed that a 30-minute growth-mindset program could substantially reduce a “fixed” mindset (and increase a growth mindset). Results of the study also showed that those students who developed a growth mindset (about science and mathematics) also improved their grades – a lot. Although improvement was found in all students, the greatest improvement was found in students who also have supportive friends.
Do you have a fixed or growth mindset?
Take the growth mindset questionnaire to determine whether or not you have a fixed or growth mindset. Find out where you stand and then get started on developing more of a growth mindset.
How to develop a growth mindset:
Here are the basic steps to developing a growth mindset.
1. Know the science. The first step in developing a growth mindset is to learn the science of about what predicts success and the acquisition of new skills and knowledge. This includes the studies referenced above about the predictors of success at university, that perfect pitch can be learned by everyone and that you can start developing a growth mindset in as little as 30 minutes.
2. Surround yourself with people who believe in your ability to grow. The next step is to seek out and spend time with the people around you who have a similar mindset. Ideally, these people are going to be your parents and teachers. But not all teachers and not all parents have a growth mindset. You will scour your world to find the people in your life who share that view. Many friends are like this. In fact, many young people (but not all young people) often have more of a growth mindset than older adults. Ask yourself who is going to be your growth mindset coach. If you don’t have someone like that in your life, you may need to join a volunteer group of people who want to change the world or make things better for others. Volunteer groups can be a place to find growth mindset people.
3. Make a plan to work (hard) at what you want to become better at.
Developing a growth mindset is essential, but a growth mindset is not going to make you better at something on its own. A growth mindset is just that – a mindset. Developing a skill still takes a little bit of practice every day. But 15 minutes of focussed practice every day will usually be enough to get better at something. If you are trying to get better at math, do 15 minutes of practice problems as often as you can. If you are trying to get better at writing, then spend 20 minutes working on writing as often as you can. And if you are trying to improve your 3-point shot, then work on that three-point shot for 15 minutes every day.
Keep in mind, all of the children in Ayako Sakakibara’s study acquired perfect pitch with just a few minutes of practice a day. The key part was that they kept at. When you look at the top predictors of success in college and university, you will notice one aspect of a growth mindset (e.g., the belief that you can get good grades) but also a number of characteristics that focus on working hard (e.g., setting a minimal goal, persisting effort and minimizing procrastination).
Remember, everything is possible.
Dunlosky, J., Rawson, K. A., Marsh, E. J., Nathan, M. J., & Willingham, D. T. (2013). Improving Students’ Learning With Effective Learning Techniques: Promising Directions From Cognitive and Educational Psychology. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 14(1), 4–58. https://doi.org/10.1177/1529100612453266
Ebbinghaus, Hermann (1913). Memory: A Contribution to Experimental Psychology. Translated by Ruger, Henry; Bussenius, Clara. New York city, Teachers college, Columbia university.
Murre, Jaap M. J.; Dros, Joeri (2015). “Replication and Analysis of Ebbinghaus’ Forgetting Curve”. PLOS ONE. 10 (7): e0120644. Bibcode:2015PLoSO..1020644M.
Sakakibara, A. (2014). A longitudinal study of the process of acquiring absolute pitch: A practical report of training with the ‘chord identification method.’ Psychology of Music, 42(1), 86–111. https://doi.org/10.1177/0305735612463948
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