For many years, we researchers published our findings in scholarly journals, with only other researchers as our audience. In other words, we were "scientists" and we spoke to other scientists. As my students and I began to learn more and more about the important role of mindsets in people's lives, my students began using this knowledge in their own lives. (Of course, I did too!) They also used this knowledge to help their friends and families, and people found it extremely beneficial. That's when my students asked me to break out of the mold and write a book that shared our findings with the public. I knew immediately that they were right. And I loved writing Mindset.
And we're so glad you did. Can you give those who haven't read it yet an idea what it's about?
In many years of research, I've found that some people hold a "fixed mindset" about their personal qualities (like their intelligence or talents). They believe they have a fixed amount and that's that. This belief often makes people so concerned with how much they actually have, that they will close themselves off to challenging tasks for fear that they will reveal (permanent) deficiencies.
But other people hold a "growth mindset" about these same qualities. They believe these qualities can be developed with effort and instruction. As a result, they are ready to take on challenges, they are not afraid of mistakes, and they bounce back from failures. And they often end up accomplishing more.
In my book, I show how these mindsets operate in educational settings, in business, in sports and in relationships. I also show how parents, teachers, and coaches promote the fixed and the growth mindsets. For example, my work has shown that praising students intelligence can be harmful because it creates a fixed mindset. More about this later.
It's such a simple concept, really, but revolutionary for all that. Freeing ourselves of that fixed mindset is incredibly liberating, also a bit scary. How do you teach people to radically alter a way of thinking that has been entrenched for so long? Is it a difficult and painful process? Can you give some examples of how this works?
You're so right--freeing ourselves of a fixed mindset can be incredibly liberating, but also scary. Why is it so scary? Well, maybe our "fixed" intelligence or talent made us feel special, a bit better than others, and it's hard to give that up. Or maybe we used our lack of fixed talents to explain why we haven't succeeded or as an excuse for not exerting effort. That's also hard to give up. In short, a fixed mindset offers a simple way to see the world (everyone has fixed traits) and an easy way to understand why some people succeed (they have high fixed ability) and some don't (they have low fixed ability).
But people can be taught to embrace a new way of thinking--to replace a fixed mindset with a growth mindset. First, people should be aware of the new neuroscience, which is finding that the brain is much more malleable than we ever imagined. Cognitive psychology is also identifying the core components of intelligence and showing they can be taught.
Next, people can look into their own experiences for evidence for a growth mindset. What is something that you weren't good at and are now very good at? How did this happen and what does it tell you about ability and how it can be developed? Or, think of someone you thought could never do something, but he or she did it.
Finally, look at the diagram below. Every time you find yourself thinking a fixed mindset thought, transfer over to the growth mindset side of the chart and replace it with the growth mindset thought. Use the diagram to learn to think and talk to yourself from a growth mindset place.
Nigel Holmes' Mindset Diagram by Carol Dweck
Stories are often more convincing than statistics or cold, hard facts. Can you give a few examples of how the growth mindset concept was introduced with startling results?
I agree. We should be more convinced by controlled studies that yield significant effects (because that's the real test), but we seem to be built to respond to compelling stories that capture us emotionally and strike us as true. Fortunately, in my work we have both.
My most compelling story relates to what happened when we introduced the growth mindset to adolescents. We taught them that the brain is like a muscle that grows with exercise. We also taught them that, every time they stretch themselves to learn something new, their brain grows new connections and, over time, they can get smarter. It was like a lightning bolt struck. One of the boys, who was the least motivated and engaged of anyone in the workshop, sat upright, stared at us, and said, "You mean I don't have to be dumb?"
He and many of his classmates in this workshop caught fire. Their goal was to get their neurons to grow as many new connections as possible! In fact, the group that got this workshop showed a marked improvement in their final grades. And their teachers, who didn't know which workshop their students were in, singled out many more students in the growth mindset workshop to say that they were showing remarkable changes in motivation. The teacher of the boy I mentioned above said: "Your workshop has already had an effect. L, who never puts in any extra effort and often doesn't turn in homework on time, actually stayed up late working for hours to finish an assignment early so I could review it and give him a chance to revise it. He earned a B+ on the assignment (he had been getting C's and lower)."