It can be easy to fall into a rhythm of believing that our capacity for learning and accomplishing success is fixed. However, those who believe that their capacity for learning and growth can be built upon, tend to have much greater success and lead happier lives. This is the difference between a “fixed” and a “growth” centered mindset.
A person with a fixed mindset may be more prone to viewing scenarios as black or white: believing people are either smart or unintelligent, good at math or bad at math, kind or unkind, and the list goes on. Someone with a fixed mindset may believe that people are capable of only a certain level of achievement, in any area. A student with this mindset can be challenging to work with, as they easily become discouraged and do not have as much of a drive to improve. But, we can help them develop a growth mindset. If a person with a growth mindset is confronted with a challenge, they believe the challenge is surmountable. A student with a growth mindset may receive a poor math grade, see that they have been challenged, and understand that if they apply themselves correctly, they can improve. This can also apply to social situations; perhaps a student has faced social challenges, but with a growth mindset, they know that they and their peers have the capacity to change which helps them overcome their social fears and anxieties. The idea of a growth mindset was pioneered by the Stanford researcher Carol Dwek.
A growth or fixed mindset is not something we are born with, but rather a perspective we develop on situations. We have some control over the way we approach challenges. So, how can we help our students develop and strengthen their “growth mindsets”?
First, it is important to remind your student that they have the capacity to grow and adapt. When they face a challenge, whether in academic, athletic, or social situations, remind them that they are not stuck in their current situation. Remind them of how they were successful. Maybe they received a 50% on a test, so remind them they knew 50% of that material. Or, you can ask them to tell you how they studied, or how they practiced, and brainstorm with them about how they could improve next time. Also, you can remind them that even though they may find school difficult, they’re not alone— many people struggle but still find success, so they can too.
Parents and mentors can model a growth mindset by talking about our own challenges and how we found opportunities within those obstacles to adapt and improve. Opening up an honest conversation will allow your student to see that everybody faces challenges, and it is our decision how we allow that challenge to impact (or impede) our progress. Discussing this in relation to discipline can also be helpful; although we do not always have the “motivation” to change, if we can practice discipline, we can achieve great success and will see our capacity for growth expand.
Bringing up the idea of a role model other than a parent or mentor in this conversation may also be a great way to emphasize the importance of a growth mindset. Ask your student who they are inspired to be like, and have a conversation about how your student thinks they got there—chances are it was not all luck, and that role model was not inherently born with every skill they needed to have in order to achieve their success.
It is also important to have conversations about growth which are not centered around academics. Your student may have an easier time seeing their success in sports after employing a growth mindset. This can then be more easily translated to academic success and behaviors.
Knowing when and how to apply a growth mindset to situations where we face challenges and failures is imperative to our ability to success. This is a perspective that is not easily taught, but with gentle reminders and examples over time, our students can learn the benefits of a growth mindset.