Wednesday, April 21, 2010


Today I want to discuss the importance of a proper “mindset” for success in schooling (and life). Yesterday I discussed how practice is much more important to becoming an expert than genetics. Today, I hope to show that a person’s mindset is more important than any innate genetic “gifts” someone may have.

The term mindset (as used in today’s blog) was developed by Stanford University’s Carol Dweck. Her book, Mindset, explains her theory of the importance of mindset to the success of people. Basically, she says that there are two kinds of mindsets: a “fixed” mindset and “growth” mindset.

In a fixed mindset, a person believes that they were born with a certain amount of ability or intelligence and they can never have or grow anymore. You either “have it” or you don’t. This mindset can lead to an incredible amount of ‘snobbery” as people believe that they are better than their peers. It can also have a devastating impact on people who believe they do not have the “gift” and will not try to improve themselves. People in this mindset tend not to be risk takers because they do not want to do anything different because it will show everyone that they do not have the ability to accomplish the task. The following quote is from carol Dweck’s website dedicated to mindset:

In the fixed mindset it’s not enough just to succeed. It’s not enough just to look smart and talented. You have to be pretty much flawless… Beyond how traumatic a setback can be in the fixed mindset, this mindset gives you no good recipe for overcoming it. If failure means you lack competence or potential—that you are a failure – where do you go from there?

In the growth mindset, a person believes that ability is ever evolving. In this mindset, a person believes that practice and constructive failures are good because you learn from the experiences and become better. In her book, Dweck spends a lot of time discussing how our society is trying to protect children from disappointment by constantly telling kids “You are so smart” or “You are the best”. These messages instill a fixed mindset because the message to the student is that “smart” is a fixed quantity and if they fail at something then they must not be smart. A better way to talk to kids and students is to praise the effort that goes into a task. Even if your child does not win the first place ribbon, the hard work that went in to attempting to win the ribbon is what is important. Of course, if a student (or adult) does not do well at a task and they did not work hard, then you must be honest with them and tell them that is was because of a lack of effort. You must not claim that the competition was “rigged” or that favoritism was in play. Excuses like that encourage a fixed mindset because responsibility for the hard work necessary to succeed is transferred somewhere else.

The mindset theory is fascinating and I am not giving it justice in this blog. If you want to learn more, please visit Carol Dweck’s Mindset website, or go to the program that she developed for students to train them to have a growth mindset. The program is called brainology and is a curriculum a student can take on a computer.

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