Carol Dweck is one of the world’s leading researchers in the field of motivation. She is a Professor of Psychology at Stanford University. Her research has focused on the subject of learning. She asks the question, when it comes to learning why do some people succeed and how do we best foster success?

The short ten minute video below explains the power of believing you can get better at a task you may be struggling with.

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Dweck has researched extensively on how children cope with challenge and difficulty. As part of her research she gave 10 year old children problems that were slightly too difficult for them. For one group the response was excitement and engagement with the challenge (a growth mindset), while for the other group they responded in a manner that was fixed and self-judgemental. They interpreted their lack of progress as a judgement on their intelligence which they believe meant they had failed. As Dweck puts it, “Instead of luxuriating in the power of yet, they were gripped in the tyranny of now.”

Why should that matter?

The research shows that such children would be more likely to say next time they would prefer to cheat rather than study more and risk failing again. Or they would deliberately look for someone who had done worse than they did so they could feel better about themselves. And overall they have a tendency to run from difficulty rather than persevere through.

In my own life, as a child I have had a growth mindset when it came to mathematics. I recall at school when not making progress with a maths problem, feeling excited, curious and enthused about how it could be solved. The ambiguity around what to do created a sense of challenge and excited anticipation within me. I had faith in myself that I could find a way through.

However, when I went on to study medicine at university,  a subject very different to mathematics, I had a much more fixed mindset that led to extreme self-criticism and self-doubt. I struggled to understand and grasp the different subjects involved and fell into a downward negative spiral. (For more on that see the 15 minute video ‘Just As I Am‘).

Dweck suggests the following ways to move towards a growth rather than a fixed mindset when it comes to learning:

  1. Praise wisely by focussing more on effort and perseverance than on results.
  2. Make a shift in thinking when facing a problem by telling yourself yet or not yet (a growth mindset) rather than saying I will never understand or solve this problem (a fixed mindset).
  3. Understanding how when we push through our comfort zone to learn something new or difficult the neurones in our brain form new and stronger connections. This so called neuroplasticity of the brain can develop throughout life and we can actually get smarter in areas that we thought may never happen.

The key is re-interpeting the meaning of effort and difficulty. When I fail to understand or grasp something rather than telling myself I am dumb or stupid and feel like giving up, the key is to engage with the process. (This is also linked to Maxwell’s The Law of Process).

One of my favourite (but also challenging) New Testament passages speaks into this. James, the brother of Jesus writing in the first century says,

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

Where in your life do you have a fixed mindset and where do you have a growth mindset? How do these insights help you in your own personal journey as well as those of your friends and family?

You may also find the following of interest that are linked to this post:

Podcast #009 Mindset

What do we mean by education?

Do you still believe your old school report?

Do schools kill creativity? (Along with a fascinating TED talk by Sir Ken Robinson, an advisor to governments on education about the limitations of much formalised learning).

What Can J. K. Rowling Teach Us About Failure?

Failure and Depression: The Other Side of Lincoln’s Life

9 Ways to Look at Your Failures with the Eyes of Faith. Especially #7

How to Fail and Lose Well Part 1

How to Fail and Lose Well Part 2