Carol Dweck, professor of psychology at Stanford University spent decades researching people’s beliefs about their ability and discovered that it all evolves around their mindset.
Let’s take a look at different mindsets now:
The Fixed Mindset
A person with this mindset upholds the idea that people’s ability is fixed and not able to change. According to this view, people are either good at a particular task/topic or they are not. The fixed mindset labels others according to personal characteristics ie: people are either good or bad, caring or selfish, clever or stupid etc… as you can see this is a form of judgment and leads to others feeling that they are constantly being measured. Someone with a fixed mindset is more likely to run an internal monologue that is focused on judging both themselves and others.
Children who have parents with a fixed mindset know that their parents’ concern over bad grades is not so much about their failure to grasp a concept but more that this shows the child is not smart. One quote of Dweck’s that I love states “don’t judge – teach!”
The Growth Mindset
A person with this mindset sees others as malleable. They aren’t fixed and have potential to grow and develop. This mindset accepts that a minority of people are born with unusual levels of talent (geniuses) and at the other end of the spectrum are people with learning difficulties. The growth mindset view asserts that around 95% of the population fall between these two extremes and that with motivation, effort and concentration, they can become better at anything. Dweck argues that good teachers don’t have to love the kids they teach but they do need to respect them and see them as capable of doing better.
Someone with a growth mindset is also attuned to internal talk and is more likely to look for the learning in it.
The Changing Mindset
Much of our mindset is formed at an early age through interaction with our parents and teachers. Dweck notes that children as young as four display fixed or growth mindsets and those with the former continue to do easy puzzles rather than moving onto something more challenging. We know that mindsets can be changed over time if there is a desire to do so. If you believe that change is possible and that intelligence can be raised by hard work, you are likely to see failure as an opportunity for growth rather than the end of the road.
The Praise Mindset
Dweck’s research shows that 85% of parents think that praise is very important for a child’s confidence and performance. Dweck warns that praise as a constant reward could undermine a child’s natural motivation. She advices parents to be cautious and only give praise if it is truly warranted ie: for effort, concentration and good strategies – not for talent, ability or intelligence.
Be specific with your praise. Well-judged praise helps young people to learn what they are doing well and what they can build on.
Don’t go over the top with praise, it can lead a child to feel anxious that they may disappoint you in the future.
The Encouragement Mindset
Praise that is unwarranted can be counterproductive and so it may be better to use encouragement instead ie: show that you feel positive about the young person by being interested in them and their work. Rather than saying ‘what a wonderful drawing’ it is better to say ‘tell me the story of your drawing.’
Recognise the effort the child is putting in. Ask questions about how they think they are doing; what help they may need; what obstacles they may face and how to overcome them. Tell them that they are capable of learning with effort, concentration and better strategies. Encourage them to be optimistic about being able to improve.
It is normal for everyone to experience setbacks and challenges, do not try to shelter your kids from these valuable experiences, allow them to overcome these obstacles after all, they were born to survive.
- Use language such as ‘effort’, ‘perseverance’, ‘growth’, whenever you can.
- Describe their behaviour not their personality ie: instead of saying ‘you’re lazy’ you could mention that they are not putting in enough effort.
- Think through in advance exactly what it is you want those around you to change. There is little point criticizing someone’s work or behaviour without having a clear idea of what you want them to do differently.
- Also be aware of why you want those around you to change – is it for their benefit or yours?