Developing a 'Growth Mindset'

Last Fall we listened to an 80s song as well as looked at what a 'Fixed Mindset' is and how it works. The affects of which can include fear of failure (leading to not trying), low self-esteem, depression, and anxiety. While Winter is not synonymous with growth, we did just start a new year. Typically around this time, we turn our minds and attention toward making a fresh start and new possibilities. For some, that may include coming up with New Year's resolutions. How are those going? Forbes reported in 2013 that approximately 8% of people achieve their resolutions. 8%. Some of the challenges that people commonly face is that their goals are not realistic or specific enough. In other words, it is destined for failure from the start. One of the things the article states that helps people stay on track is self-belief, an "I can do this!" mentality. This is where a 'Growth Mindset' comes in!

This is how a fixed mindset stacks up to a growth mindset: 

Recall when we were just talking about resolutions and the importance of setting realistic goals. How are you at being realistic when you embark on an endeavor? How does your child do at this? What happens when you/they encounter adversity along the way? Do you give up? Do you swoop in and rescue them? Do you try a little longer and then say "I'll never get it" or "It's too hard for me." The fact is that for most people, we expect instant results. In other words, instant success! When our effort with our New Year's resolution isn't paying off the way we expect, we give up. What's the reason? We live in a world that is all about not having to wait. Whether it is fast-food, express lanes in the grocery store, express lanes on the highways, apps to order and pay for your food at your favorite eatery avoiding waiting (let alone all human contact), binge watching tv shows, faster internet speeds, delivery to your door step, and much more. The reality is that we live in a world where we rarely have to wait. And when we do encounter the challenge of waiting, it feels as if the world has slowed down to a snails pace. It is excruciating. Think about it for a moment. The same thing occurs when we encounter failure, we give up because it doesn't feel good...again, we're looking for instant results. All the while our psyche, more specifically self-efficacy, is deteriorating.

In our look at Fixed Mindset, I introduced the work of Carol Dweck, Ph.D., professor, researcher, author, and speaker. Let's take a closer look at the rules of Fixed vs. Growth mindset from her work:


Fixed Mindset Rules:

1) Look smart at all times and at all costs

2) Effort is a bad thing. If I have ability, I shouldn't need effort. If I need effort, I don't have ability.

3) A setback or deficiency measures me and reveals my limitations.


Growth Mindset Rules:

1) Learn at all times and at all costs.

2) Effort is what activates my ability.

3) Mistakes and setbacks are a natural part of learning.

Whether it relates to the work place, classroom, home, sports field, theater stage, band room, social situations, or other with a fixed mindset we will avoid difficulty or lose our cool in the sight of it. We will seek to stay away from the potential for failure or rejection as a means of self-preservation, "saving face". In the book, An Everyone Culture, co-authored by Andy Fleming, they discuss, from their research, the second job that everyone has, "namely, covering their weaknesses, trying to look their best, and managing other people’s impressions of them. There may be no greater waste of a company’s resources. The ultimate cost: neither the organization nor its people are able to realize their full potential." The book offers fascinating insights into cultivating a healthy work environment, "helping individuals overcome their own internal barriers to change and use errors and vulnerabilities as prime opportunities for personal and company growth."

Shifting back to Dweck, her truly enlightening work speaks to a key factor in promoting a growth versus fixed mindset. It entails focusing on the process vs. intelligence/skill/talent. From my studies and what I share with parents, the focus is on growing the practice of encouragement vs. praise. Here is what that looks like.

Encouragement (process/effort focused):

  • "You worked really hard at cleaning up your room."

  • "You haven't figured out hitting yet, but you are still trying each time."

  • "You are working at it."

  • "You haven't given up learning your lines for the play."

  • "I think that is something you can figure out."

  • "You put a lot of effort into your homework today."

  • "That is something you can decide."

  • "You did it all by yourself."

  • "You did it!"

Praise (results focused):

  • "You are so smart."

  • "Good job."

  • "You did super on that test."

  • "That picture is beautiful."

  • "That is awesome."

  • "You are awesome."

  • "You cleaned your room - it looks fantastic."

  • "You are great at baseball."

  • "You played wonderful in your game today."



In the end, the choice is up to you on whether you want to cultivate a fixed or growth mindset, whether it is within your child or yourself. It starts with the words we speak. Research has proven that words, spoken and unspoken (thoughts), influence ours and others views on skills, challenges, effort, feedback, and setbacks. That will dictate how we engage the world and whether we reach our full potential. 

Effort is one of those things that gives meaning to life. Effort means you care about something, that something is important to you and you are willing to work for it.
— Carol Dweck, Ph.D.

Below is an animation of a talk Carol gave that brings all of this together. It is well worth your time! Remember it is a process that will take time and effort. Keep at it and believe. You can do it!!

A neat and fun animation complementing a talk given by Carol Dweck, Ph.D. presenting her research

A neat and fun animation complementing a talk given by Carol Dweck, Ph.D. presenting her research