Ever wonder why some people are confident that they can progress to the next level in their career, develop strong relationships, and master skills, while others are convinced they cannot? Sure, it has something to do with motivation, and there’s an element of grit mixed into the equation, too, but most often, our ability to flourish or falter depends on our views of where talent and intelligence emanate from.
Dr. Carol Dweck, one of the world's leading researchers and psychologists in the field of motivation, is credited with bringing the concept of mindset to light. According to Dr. Dweck, people who believe that success is based on innate ability are said to have a “fixed” mindset, while those who attribute success to hard work and perseverance are said to have a “growth” mindset. Wondering where you fit into the mindset equation? The good news is that one’s mindset is discernible based upon behaviors.
Fixed mindset individuals tend to dread failure as to them it substantiates that their abilities fall short, and they believe that there is no way to get past their inadequacy. Growth mindset individuals don’t worry too much about failure because they believe that tenacity and the desire to improve is what dictates their future success. Obviously, these varying mindsets play a critical role in a person’s personal and professional development. If you believe that your talent is something fixed, life may be limited, resulting in a doom and gloom outlook. If you believe that your talent and skill will increase with learning and persistence, the world is wide open for you to succeed—you have every reason to be optimistic. According to Dr. Dweck,
"In a fixed mindset students believe their basic abilities, their intelligence, their talents, are just fixed traits. They have a certain amount and that's that, and then their goal becomes to look smart all the time and never look dumb. In a growth mindset students understand that their talents and abilities can be developed through effort, good teaching, and persistence. They don't necessarily think everyone's the same or anyone can be Einstein, but they believe everyone can get smarter if they work at it."
Why is this critical?
For one thing, if you have a growth mindset, you are going to keep striving, and keep putting in the time, energy, and hard work to reach your goals. If you have a fixed mindset, you are more likely to quit when you hit a road block; thus, limiting your potential.
Mindset impacts child development, too. If we tell children that they did well—on a test, in a class, or a contest—because they are smart, we may be closing a door for them to aspire. Equating smart with doing well may cause children to become hypersensitive when and if they make mistakes, which in turn may cause them to fear challenges and shy away from instances in which they may appear less than smart. This instigates a fixed mindset.
On the other hand, if we tell children that they did a good job because they worked hard, they are likely to associate hard work with success, which leads them down the road of an open mindset. Subtle, but substantial. My 1st grade teacher, Mrs. Wolf, always told me I was hard working and conscientious. What stayed with me was the knowledge that if I worked for things, I could and would succeed.
Mindset in classrooms and careers
If we encourage students and professionals to think about learning as something open ended and what helps one to reach the next level, we are promoting a growth mindset. If we tell students or professionals that some people are just better or more talented, then we are instigating a fixed mindset that may lead one to think: I’m not good enough, why try?
Whether it is at work, in a classroom, or in a relationship, some folks tend to feel the world is closed off to them, while others feel that a promotion, an A, or their dream mate is not only possible, but going to happen if they commit to hard work and persevere. The difference between a closed mindset and an open one is often the difference between I cannot and I can. In a classroom, it is obvious—some students resist learning because they believe they are not smart enough, whereas others believe that learning and success are possible for them if they study and persist. In businesses, leaders who invest in training and development for employees and teams promote a growth mindset; those who do not are subtly saying, you either know it, or you don’t. We all have the capacity to learn; it is our experiences with mentors and education and where we believe our knowledge emanates from which dictates our relationship with growth.
Do not despair!
The positive news about Dr. Dweck’s research is that she proves that we can all shift towards a growth mindset. If we believe there is a possibility to cultivate and achieve success via practice, learning, and good mentorship, then we are on our way. To learn more about your relationship with mindset, take the quiz: http://www.mindsetonline.com/testyourmindset/step1.php