In the book Mindset, author Dr. Carol Dweck comes to a startling conclusion. After watching children tackle and persevere through difficult tasks, Dr.Dweck realizes that these children are onto something that eludes us as adults. Intellect can be refined and developed through effort. These children performing the difficult tasks believed that their effort made them smarter!
Many of us grow up believing that we are either born smart or the opposite. For example, many of us believe that if we fail a test or have difficulty with a subject, we must not be smart. We believe that somehow intelligence is… fixed and static and that it must remain that way.
Imagine how children would perform if they believed that their success and their intellect are fluid, and that they can continually develop their abilities through effort!
With Effort We Can Grow our Intelligence
To debunk this myth, Dwek explains that Alfred Binet, the creator of the IQ test, believed that intelligence can change and grow. He actually designed the first IQ test to identify children who were not doing well in the French public schools. The purpose of the test was to use the data to create new programs that would help these struggling children catch up to their peers!
Binet believed that:
“With practice, training and above all method, we manage to increase our attention, our memory, our judgement and literally to become more intelligent than we were before.”
Today scientists have discovered that people have a lifelong capacity to develop their brains. Humans may begin life with different aptitudes, but experience, training and personal effort can make an impact on how they develop. Therefore, a person who begins life with a high aptitude, will not necessarily end up among the smartest.
Our Mindset Makes all the Difference
In essence, people incorrectly believe (and many teachers would attest) that children are born with a set personality and intelligence. They believe and are taught that these traits will not change. This is called a fixed mindset.
Others believe that they are born with malleable traits that can change and develop. We are born with certain traits, but they are only our starting point. We grow and change according to our effort and experience! This is called the growth mindset.
Many great thinkers grew up as quite ordinary children and many great athletes were uncoordinated and lacked grace, as children.
Imagine how as parents, we can encourage our children to work on their deficiencies and overcome them. Imagine the boost in self-esteem when a child no longer believes s/he has to hide his/her deficiencies but can work to improve them.
Failure is an Impetus to Try Harder
The growth mindset directs us to stretch ourselves when we feel that we are on the brink of failure. Failure can make us better and smarter people.
The fixed mindset student sees a bad grade as the defining moment of rejection, a statement of how they have failed. The student with a growth mindset recognizes that the bad grade is a sign that s/he has to work differently. S/he might resolve to work harder in the future to improve his/her study habits.
The growth mindset does not label him/her self as a failure, but recognizes that a setback is a challenge to confront and overcome.
While this may not seem earth shattering, the person with a fixed mindset does not look at his/her abilities in this way. S/he does not believe that his/her effort will make a difference. They have been taught to believe in fixed traits, and have learned to fear new challenges and shy away from effort!
Imagine how our children would flourish if we could continually see them as a “work in progress.” If we could believe that every setback was just a small hurdle on the road to success.
It’s fascinating to note that people have a hard time estimating their abilities. Who do you think has the hardest time? You guessed it! …Those with the fixed mindset. People with the growth mindset tend to be fairly accurate in assessing their strengths and even those areas that they are not proud of.
When a person believes that their abilities are not fixed and that they can be developed, it is not as difficult to face shortcomings. S/he believes that his/her abilities are not fixed and that they can be developed.
Do you have a Fixed or Growth Mindset?
So how do you know whether you or your child have a fixed or growth mindset?
Perhaps you believe that you or your child’s intelligence is basic and it can’t be changed. Or maybe you believe that you can learn new things, but you can’t change how intelligent you are… Well you have a fixed mindset.
However, if you believe that no matter how intelligent you or your child is, you can continue to grow, or that you can change how intelligent you are… You have a growth mindset.
The bottom line is that we can change and continue to grow who we are and how smart we are.
This has so many ramifications for us and for our children. How will a parent approach his child tomorrow if he believes that his/her abilities are not set in stone? Will s/he encourage his/her potential to grow? Does s/he imagine a child with a brighter future?
Let’s not be limited in our thinking or in our children’s potential. Dr. Dweck has so eloquently shown us that we and our children can be so much more than we ever believed possible.
By changing our mindsets and believing that it is our effort that makes a difference, we show our children that the sky is the limit.
Has this motivated you to see your children’s (or your own) struggles in a new light? Please share your experience below and help us implement the growth mindset in our families. Wishing everyone success in facing our difficulties and raising children who thrive on new challenge!