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What mindset do you have?

Carol Dweck from Stanford University has been researching on achievement and success and came out with two kinds of mindsets, namely, the fixed mindset and the growth mindset.
Fixed mindsets tend to make people think in terms of absolutes, and their traits and abilities are innate and cannot be changed or developed regardless of opportunities for learning and growth. It can affect someone’s self-esteem and self-development particularly in the face of mistakes and failures.

With the growth mindset change and development are constant. People place an emphasis on learning from mistakes and failures instead of placing permanent labels on themselves like the fixed mindset. The growth mindset can be applied to many areas of life. Intelligence, creativity, physical ability, and artistic ability can be developed over time with practice, hard work, endurance and the willingness to learn and adapt.

People with fixed mindset believe their personality traits and abilities as well as those of other people are concrete and innate and cannot be changed over time. For example, the Olympic athletes showed their “talents” and abilities when they were young. But if they did not have any opportunities to further develop their “talents” and abilities through training, coaching, competition, they would not have developed their “talents” and innate abilities overtime and consequently they could represent their own country to participate in the International Olympics. During this development and training process, they have experienced numerous failures, injuries and refinement of their skills before they see their achievement and success. Even at the end they could not win the medal, they still feel proud of their effort they had put in.

People with a growth mindset believe that everything about a person can be changed or developed in some way. By valuing personal and professional development people with the growth mindset are better capable or responding about the world around them. For some they might not even to be conscious in their decision to work harder to achieve the peak of their abilities as the mindset simply comes naturally. But others shifting from the fixed to the growth mindset and they must learn to push away their fears and inadequacy to embrace the evolution of their abilities that is possible if they commit to the growth mindset.

People with a growth mindset see mistakes and failures as opportunity to learn and improve themselves. Mistakes and failures are poisonous to the fixed mindset. Someone with the fixed mindset will ignore the presence of a mistake rather a need to remedy the situation which will ultimately personal or professionally harmful.

As a result missed opportunities are common symptom of a fixed mindset. They have an unhealthy relationship with mistakes and failures that distort reality. In this distorted reality a person may see success is already pre-determined and even not to think about putting the effort in as they think it does not make any difference. This mindset will prevent people from risking the situation that could mean a greater success. On the other hand someone with a growth mindset believes that mistakes and failures are a natural part of the learning and growth process. They would see these as opportunities rather than trying to avoid.

For parents It would be a better way to complement the child and teach them how to live with a growth mindset by praising a child for hard work rather than ability. While praising children is nothing new to parents, what could be new from Carol Dweck’s argument is that there are multiple ways in which to praise a child and each has its own merits. These differences are based in the difference between praising ability and praising effort and the method a parent chooses can encourage a child either to develop a fixed or growth mindset without the parent realising it. While it may seem nothing wrong for praising a child for its high intellect or specific talents, parents may not realise the effect this type of praise could have an impact on the child’s mindset.

What type of mindset a child may develop would probably associate with how the parent praises a child. This could be a beginning of a fixed mindset when a parent praises a child with intelligence when the child presents with good grades. However, a growth mindset could grow from an association between hard work and intellect such as a parent praises the child for the hard work that resulted in high grades. Overtime an association is formed – good grades equates to intelligence and poor grades equates to stupidity.

It would be preferable for parents need to demonstrate the type of associations that lead to a growth mindset rather than a fixed mindset. Praise for effort regardless of the test grade will reinforce hard work rather than a number or a letter grade. This can help prevent the feeling of failure that may come from a poor grade received by someone with a fixed mindset. As the hard work put into the studying for the test is more important than the grade itself. Creating an environment that encourages hard work, effort and growth is crucial for children to learn how to continually develop their intellect and talents rather than always taking the easy way out.

Dweck, C. (2012) Mindset: changing the way you think to fulfil your potential. London: Little, Brown Book Group.
Dweck, C. (2015) Mindset: how can you fulfil your potential. London: Little, Brown Book Group.

Gabriel Wong
Clinical Psychologist

Gabriel Wong
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