The new quarter has begun, and with it comes new challenges and sometimes daunting opportunities for personal growth.
How many times have you been in a new class and had the thought of “I can’t do this” or “I’m not good at this subject”? This is very common in the way that we talk about skills and abilities in our culture. There is an idea that we are either good at something or bad at it, that we are inherently talented or that we lack the capability.
While it’s true that some people are naturally more coordinated or are drawn towards certain pursuits, these aspects of ourselves that we use to define our limits are not as rigid as they seem. Brains are incredible things and when given the chance, any aspect of our world that we want to improve can be changed.
Believing that one’s basic qualities cannot be changed is a symptom of a fixed mindset. Other indications one has of this mindset include spending time “documenting their intelligence or talent instead of developing them,” and believing that “talent alone creates success – without effort.”
World-renowned Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck has observed this mindset over years of research on success and achievement and has seen it standing in the way of personal growth. Instead of focusing on these rigid ideas of personal potential, Dweck found that having a growth mindset can make all the difference.
A growth mindset means “people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work – brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment.”
For example, say you were terrible at basketball every time you ever attempted to play. In this scenario it would be easy to decide that you were just “bad at basketball,” and to want to refuse to play if ever given the chance.
Think about it for a moment with a growth mindset instead. If today you decided to improve your basketball skills and spent every spare moment studying the game and practicing, there would be improvement.
Every person has their own challenges but everyone also can improve from where they are at currently. Someone with a fixed mindset would use each failed basket as further proof of their incompetency. In contrast, someone with a growth mindset would see what wasn’t working and use that information to change how they were shooting the next time.
Having a growth mindset doesn’t require extreme motivation or daily practice. In the basketball example, even if you played basketball once for fun with friends, having this mindset would allow for enjoyment even if you previously thought that you were terrible at the sport.
By the end of that game with a friend, having a growth mindset would mean you would be better at it then when you started, because you used all of the information you took in while playing to improve. Simply holding the knowledge that the goal could be achieved by putting in the time is enough to improve performance.
The overall schooling system in the U.S. and beyond is generally constructed to encourage a fixed mindset. The focus is on grades and completing assignments rather than on personal growth and in pushing the boundaries of what we think we can achieve.
Eduardo Briceno explained in a TED Talk on the subject that people with a fixed mindset focus most on how they look to others while those with a growth mindset focus on learning. While being accepted by peers and receiving positive social feedback is something we need for psychological well being, too much focus on these aspects will in fact reduce self confidence and therefore performance.
So today, when entering a room of unfamiliar faces, or feeling the daunting pressure of a new Canvas page full of group projects and big papers, remind yourself that you are in that situation to learn. Learning involves the acquisition of new skills and pushing yourself past the boundaries of what you think you can achieve. When mistakes are made don’t use it as new evidence of your stupidity or lack of skills, use it as an opportunity to do better next time.