A mindset is a set of beliefs about yourself that shape how you interpret and interact with the world around you. These belief systems not only impact your behavior, they also influence your ability to reach your goals.
These results support the previous findings of psychologist Carol Dweck. Dweck’s work suggests that praising children for their intelligence (“You’re so smart!”) versus their efforts (“You worked so hard!”) leads what she refers to as a fixed mindset. This mindset makes children less interested in learning new things and more likely to give up when they are faced with academic challenges.
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Growth vs. Fixed Mindset
Dweck described the two basic types of mindsets that people hold as either fixed or growth.
- Fix mindset: People with a fixed mindset believe that abilities are inborn and set in stone. Those with fixed mindsets also believe that success is the result of these inherent talents, so no amount of effort plays any real role.
- Growth mindset: People who have a growth mindset believe that abilities can be learned and strengthened with hard work and persistence.
It is important to note that even those who have a growth mindset don’t necessarily believe that every person can become a genius or prodigy if they just study hard or practice more. They do feel that everyone can achieve growth with the right learning and tools.
Identify Your Mindset
If you’re wondering whether you have a fixed or growth mindset, there are some questions you can ask that can help.
- Do you think you are just the way you are and there’s not much you can do to change it?
- Do you feel like having to work hard to achieve something means you don’t have the ability?
- Do you feel like intelligence is something that people are just born with?
- Do you avoid trying things to protect yourself from failure?
- Do you give up quickly if things get difficult or if you experience setbacks?
- Do you see mistakes as an opportunity to learn?
- Do you enjoy trying new things?
- Do you enjoy putting effort into learning a new skill?
- Do you feel like putting more effort into something is the best way to succeed?
- Are you able to hear and learn from negative or constructive feedback?
If you answered yes to the first five questions, you most likely have a fixed mindset. On the other hand. If you answered yes to the last five questions, you probably have a growth mindset.
Carol Dweck suggests that there are two primary factors that contribute to the development of mindsets. In her experiments, Dweck found that the way that adults praise children contributes to either a fixed or growth mindset.
Kids that are praised for their efforts, on the other hand, are more likely to develop a growth mindset. This kind of praise stresses the processes and efforts used to achieve success. Since these are things that children can control, they are more likely to believe that they can learn, improve, and play a role in the outcome via their own efforts.
Your mindset can affect your life in a variety of ways. Some major effects include:
Performance and Achievement
One study conducted by Hans Schroder of Michigan State University demonstrates how what you believe can affect what you achieve. In the study, volunteers were told that hard work mattered more than genetics.
The results of this led to immediate changes in the brain. These changes, the researchers suggested, might make people work harder and persist when things become difficult.
“Giving people messages that encourage learning and motivation may promote more efficient performance,” suggested Schroder. “In contrast, telling people that intelligence is genetically fixed may inadvertently hamper learning.”
So how did the researchers look at how beliefs about intelligence impact achievement? In Schroder’s study, participants began by reading one of two articles that contained differing messages about intelligence. One article suggested that intelligence is mostly genetic, while the other suggested that intelligence is mostly due to the environment and that genetics played very little part.
The volunteers were asked to remember the main points of the article they read before completing a simple computer task. While they were performing the task, their brain activity was recorded. The results indicated that those who had learned that genetics is responsible for intelligence paid more attention to their responses and were more concerned with how they did, but the extra concern and attention had no impact on actual performance.
On the other hand, those who had learned that intelligence is largely due to the environment revealed a very different brain response. These participants paid greater attention to their mistakes and showed a higher brain response after making a mistake. Not only did brain activity increase after a mistake, they also performed better afterward and responded more quickly on the next trial.
The study offers additional evidence that the messages people receive about their abilities have a major impact on performance and achievement.
Stress Management and Coping
Beliefs about the malleability of characteristics have well-recognized effects in professional contexts, but they may also have an impact on general coping abilities as well. Your mindset can also impact how you manage the stresses and challenges in your life.
In one study, people who had a growth mindset about anxiety (or who believed that anxiety was something they could change), coped better with aversive events and experienced fewer negative psychological consequences.
How to Change Your Mindset
Teachers, parents, and coaches often deliver a variety of messages regarding intelligence as well as other abilities. These messages often emphasize either nature (“You’re so smart!,” “You’re so talented!”) or nurture (“You worked really hard! You put a lot of effort into that!”) approach.
Some things that you can do to help change your own mindset:
- Embrace mistakes: It is important to acknowledge mistakes or failures and be willing to embrace them as part of the learning process.
- Tackle challenges: Instead of feeling defeated by life’s difficulties, look at them as a chance to learn something new and practice your ability to overcome adversity.
- Think positively: Negative thinking often plays a major role in mindset. Watch your self-talk and actively stop yourself when you find your mind going down a negative train of thought.
- Learn about how people can change: One thing that research has shown is that learning about the brain’s ability to learn and change can help people shift into more of a growth mindset.
- Don’t ask others for approval: Instead of hinging your opinions about yourself on the opinions of others, focus on gauging your progress on you own without the approval of other people.
- Enjoy the process: Instead of focusing on the end result and whether it is a success or a failure, pay attention to the process itself. Even if things don’t turn out exactly as you planned, it can still be a chance to learn something new about yourself and your abilities.
- Reward efforts: Instead of focusing on inherent traits or characteristics, pay attention to and commend your efforts instead. This can help you better focus on the things that you can do to contribute to or change the outcome.
- Find your purpose: People who have a growth mindset also tend to have a stronger sense of purpose. So if you are struggling to feel motivated, think about your goals and the unique ways that you can contribute to achieving those goals. Rather than just focusing on the “how” behind your goals, think about the “why’s.”
Schoder’s work, along with Dweck’s earlier findings, suggests that parents, educators, and others should carefully think about the messages they send and focus on giving praise that stresses efforts rather than innate abilities.
Whether nature or nurture has a bigger influence on intelligence may not matter as much as what people believe about whether their abilities are fixed or malleable. Delivering effort-based messages might be the key to developing a “growth mindset” and boosting achievement, performance, and motivation.
Michigan State University. Nature or nurture? It’s all about the message. Published September 3, 2014.
Schroder HS, Yalch MM, Dawood S, Callahan CP, Brent Donnellan M, Moser JS. Growth mindset of anxiety buffers the link between stressful life events and psychological distress and coping strategies. Personality and Individual Differences. 2017;110:23-26. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2017.01.016
Schroder HS, Moran TP, Donnellan MB, Moser JS. Mindset induction effects on cognitive control: A neurobehavioral investigation. Biological Psychology. 2014;103:27-37. doi:10.1016/j.biopsycho.2014.08.004
Rojo J. Believing hard work trumps genetics might help you ace that test. The State News. Published September 8, 2014.