What’s more important, talent or practice?
I posed this question to my daughter several years ago and, at 9 years old, her first response was talent. She already understood by participating in sports, dance, school, and other activities that innate talent can get you pretty far. She had yet to grasp that practice and dedication are what turn a good player/student/whatever into a great one. That was when I knew, as a parent, I need to emphasize practice and the growth mindset.
The growth mindset is based on the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts.
Dr. Carol Dweck describes her research and experience with interesting examples and understandable explanations. The first three chapters define the terms and explain their meanings for laypeople. Dweck then discusses the fixed-minded versus growth-minded actions of people in the world of sports, business, education, and personal relationships. She wraps up with a chapter focusing on how to change mindsets.
At the end of each chapter, Dweck provides a summary of helpful hints for how to create a growth mindset, both in yourself and those around you. Pay close attention to these, take some notes, and make reminders to revisit these every once in awhile. They help us recognize our own fixed mindset when we encounter it and provide definitive action to move past it.
Even geniuses have to work hard for their achievements.
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Parenting with the growth mindset
One of my main goals is to teach my daughter that she can do anything, and most things require dedication and effort. Sometimes the effort required will be more than we want to put forth or simply not worth the time invested. Those are the moments we should say to ourselves “I could spend the time and effort to learn [this], but I’m choosing not to for [various reasons].” And that’s OK.
Meanwhile, the things we want to learn are worth the time and dedication to learn thoroughly. This will mean pushing through frustration, anger, doubt, and many more emotional obstacles. Not to mention the tangible ones, like only having so much time in the day and balancing it with our other interests and responsibilities.
Dr. Dweck does a wonderful job of discussing what makes up the growth mindset, how it contrasts to a fixed mindset, examples of both, and suggestions for getting our children (and ourselves) into the growth mindset.
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Responding to failure
Responding to failure is difficult for everyone, especially children who’ve been shielded from it. It’s easy to throw up your hands in frustration and claim “I can’t do this!” At that point, someone in the fixed mindset will quit because it’s too difficult or challenging.
As part of a study, college freshman were observed for a semester in a chemistry class known for being particularly difficult. Students with the fixed mindset were found to blame others for their poor performance instead of acknowledging that they did poorly, holding themselves accountable, and being determined to improve.
Whereas, students with the growth mindset took charge of their learning and maintained their motivation. Instead of rote memorization of the material, they would look for themes and underlying principles, and go over mistakes until they understood them. They were studying to learn, not just ace a test.
In the fixed mindset, everything is about the outcome. If you fail—or if you’re not the best—it’s all been wasted. The growth mindset allows people to value what they’re doing regardless of the outcome. They’re tackling problems, charting new courses, working on important issues. Maybe they haven’t found the cure for cancer, but the search was deeply meaningful.
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Children look to the adults around them for examples of how to navigate life. It can be hilariously sobering, or even sad in some cases, to see your own behaviors echoed back to you by a young human.
My teenage daughter ends 50% of her requests with real quick. “Will you look at my homework, real quick?” “Can we run to the store for a doomafligget, real quick?” “Will you feed the dogs for me, real quick?” After hearing it for the thousandth time, I realized that she’s echoing my own phrase right back to me. I had no idea how often I said it, nor how annoying it was to hear so frequently. D’oh!
The same theory applies to our behaviors. When we act using the growth mindset, instead of a fixed one, it reinforces that behavior for them.
As parents, teachers, and coaches, we are entrusted with people’s lives. They are our responsibility and our legacy. We now know that the growth mindset has a key role to play in helping us fulfill our mission and in helping them fulfill their potential.
When dealing with low and high performers, Dweck refers to studies that found teachers who believed in and practiced the growth mindset were able to help students improve throughout the year regardless of their performance designation. In fact, the teachers were able to move the low performers into the high performing group because they had found a way to reach the “low-ability” students.
Kids will also look to celebrities for examples of success, there’s no way around it. I can remember being in awe of Magic Johnson as I watched him play basketball on our 19” color television in the 1980’s. Kids might watch their heroes on YouTube or Netflix these days, but we can guide them towards the ones who exemplify the growth mindset. The author describes several sports stars who embrace the growth mindset and we can find more by looking for the same characteristics.
All of these people had character. None of them thought they were special people, born with the right to win. They were people who worked hard, who learned how to keep their focus under pressure, and who stretched beyond their ordinary abilities when they had to.”
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A group of eighth grade students were presented with the following bullying scenario and asked to imagine it was happening to them.
It is a new school year and things seem to be going pretty well. Suddenly some popular kids start teasing you and calling you names. At first you brush it off—these things happen. But it continues. Every day they follow you, they taunt you, they make fun of what you’re wearing, they make fun of what you look like, they tell you you’re a loser—in front of everybody. Every day.
The students with a fixed mindset expressed a desire for revenge and took the incident more personally. The harassment made them feel like they were a nobody, stupid, weird, or a misfit.
Meanwhile, the growth-mindset kids didn’t see the bullying as a reflection of who they were. Instead, they saw it as a psychological problem of the bullies, “a way for the bullies to gain status or charge their self-esteem.” The growth-mindset eighth graders also expressed the desire for eventual forgiveness instead of revenge; they felt sympathy for the bullies.
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As an introvert, I understand the pressure and stress created by social situations that require chit-chat and interacting with others, especially strangers. It’s easy to decline invitations in order to avoid the awkwardness or fears of being judged. With the growth mindset, we view these as skills that can be improved rather than characteristics of an introvert that are set in stone.
Coffee with an acquaintance (Seattle teens actually drink coffee-like mochas and lattes), a friend’s after-school party, or an extracurricular club for something they enjoy are great opportunities to practice their social skills. Dinner at home is a safe place to practice conversational skills as well as table manners.
“Are you shy?” Remember that “social skills are things you can improve and social interactions [can be] for learning and enjoyment, not judgment. Keep practicing this.”
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Tips for helping kids become growth minded
The book contains several suggestions and tips. Here are some that I found particularly interesting or helpful.
The fixed mindset can undo our love of learning. The next time you’re enjoying something and it becomes hard, “picture your brain forming new connections as you meet the challenge and learn. Keep on going.”
Seek constructive criticism.
If there’s something in your past that you think measured you, especially as a failure, focus on that thing and feel all the emotions that go with it. Put a growth mindset on it by asking yourself: “What did I (or can I) learn from that experience? How can I use it as a basis for growth?”
Think of the worst rejection you’ve ever had. Get in touch with all the feelings, and see if you can view it from a growth mindset. What did you learn from it? Did it teach you something about what you want and don’t want in your life? Did it teach you some positive things that were useful in later relationships? Can you forgive that person and wish them well? Can you let go of the bitterness?
Issues arise in every relationship, romantic or otherwise:
Try to see them from a growth mindset: Problems can be a vehicle for developing greater understanding and intimacy. Allow [them] to air his or her differences, listen carefully, and discuss them in a patient and caring manner. You may be surprised at the closeness this creates.
Move beyond thinking about fault and blame all the time.
When sending messages about process and growth, praise children for using a “growth-oriented process—what they accomplished through practice, study, persistence, and good strategies.” Dr. Dweck provides several examples of these statements.
I like the way you tried all kinds of strategies on that math problem until you finally got it. You thought of a lot of different ways to do it and found the one that worked.
That picture has so many beautiful colors. Tell me about them.
She also provides examples of responses where students worked hard and didn’t do well.
I liked the effort you put in, but let’s work together some more and figure out what it is you don’t understand.
Everyone learns in a different way. Let’s keep trying to find the way that works for you.
Live the growth mindset instead of simply teaching it. Create several growth-mindset questions for dinner conversation with your family.
- What did you learn today?
- What mistake did you make that taught you something?
- What did you try hard at today?
Beyond school or sports, encourage kids to talk about “ways they learned to make friends, or ways they’re learning to understand and help others. You want to communicate that feats of intellect or physical prowess are not all you care about.”
Print out a copy of Nigel Holmes’ graphic that depicts the differences between growth and fixed mindsets and hang it by your bathroom mirror or somewhere you’ll see it every day. Ask yourself each morning “What are the opportunities for learning and growth today? For myself? For the people around me?”
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I thoroughly enjoyed reading Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Dr. Carol S. Dweck. Although I focused on parenting and children in my notes, the chapters on business, sports, and relationships held many pertinent observations and suggestions. It’s well worth the read—likely to put you into the growth mindset and expand your possibilities.
Remember: practice, practice, practice (smartly)!
New research shows that the brain is more like a muscle—it changes and gets stronger when you use it.