By Wendy Rice, Psy.D. Licensed Psychologist
I recently read the book “Mindset” by psychologist, Carol Dweck. What a wonderful discovery!
Dr. Dweck’s message is that our mindset can help or hinder us to a significant degree; more than we may have even imagined. Her book is based on more than 20 years of research that demonstrates the difference between having a fixed or closed mindset and an open or growth mindset.
She explains that a fixed mindset is one where you believe that qualities such as intelligence and personality are set as is and cannot be changed. Whereas, a growth mindset, is one where you believe that those basic qualities can be fostered and improved with effort and persistence.
This has hit home for me as I think about many children with whom I have worked who have particularly fixed mindsets. These children seem to believe that if something doesn’t come easily to them or they make a mistake, they must not be smart. It makes me wonder what their definition of “smart” is and just how fragile their self-esteem must be if making mistakes or having to spend time to really figure something out means that they are not intelligent.
Dr. Dweck asks her readers to consider when they feel smart so I’m going to ask you the same question. When do YOU feel smart?
Is it when you are able to do something quickly and easily or when you get through something difficult that required a lot of effort and perseverance?
I chose the latter when applying this to myself and realized that it isn’t the same for everyone. Many people, children especially, feel that their intelligence is determined by how quickly or easily they can do something. When they struggle with a new concept, don’t “get” math, can’t read as quickly as their friends, etc. they feel as if this means they aren’t smart.
Because of this, I see a real need to shift our praising of kids away from what we perceive as their innate intelligence and more towards praising them for sticking with something hard, for finding different kinds of strategies, and for engaging in learning rather than just to get the A.
Let’s work toward helping ourselves and those around us to shift into more of a growth mindset in which abilities are viewed as something that can be developed rather than set as-is. This will lead us closer toward a desire to learn and to embrace challenges, persist in the face of setbacks and to see effort as a path to mastery rather than a sign of failure or weakness.
Let’s remember that things that take effort to learn are worthwhile and hitting a roadblock does not mean that we are not smart or capable. Rather than praising intelligence or things that others do well or that come easily, try to praise the things that are accomplished through effort, perseverance, practice, studying and good use of strategies.
It is through this type of praise that you will encourage your child to work harder, study more and ultimately, do better. By fostering a belief that they can improve you are effectively giving them all the tools they need to be “smarter”.
Dr. Dweck discussed this in her Ted Talk which you can watch here: The Power of Believing That You Can Improve
What are your thoughts? Share in the comments how changing your own mindset has helped you to affect change on a part of your life.