In the 1970s, graduate psychologist Carol Dweck began studying how students dealt with failure and challenge. Some students seemed to hastily give up when they encountered adversity—they shied away from challenges, found criticism upsetting, and felt threatened by the success of others.
On the other hand, other students were able to bounce back from failure and improve; they embraced challenge, viewed effort and persistence as the pathway to success, and learnt from the criticism and success of others.
Dweck proposed that our perceptions of failure, learning and intelligence all hinge on what kind of mindset we have. Amalgamating her research, she coined the phrase growth mindset in her seminal 2006 book “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success”
What are the core beliefs?
According to Dweck’s theory, individuals with a growth mindset believe that intellect can develop, leading to a greater sense of free will and higher levels of achievement. On the other hand, those with a fixed mindset plateau; they believe that mistakes equate to a lack of intellect, and as a result, they experience limited levels of success.
At the term’s centre is the belief that your mindset can influence your potential. With a fixed, deterministic outlook on your abilities and skills, improvement is limited and potential is firmly pinned to the ground. But with a flexible and elastic view of your own capabilities, improvement flows readily and potential begins to rise.
“Our perceptions of failure, learning and intelligence all hinge on what kind of mindset we have.”
How can you cultivate a growth mindset?
Advances in neuroscience and our understanding of the brain has revealed just how malleable our minds really are. The pathways and connections between neurons in our brains can change – this is known as neuroplasticity.
The ability to form new neural connections is foundational to how we change over the course of our lives—enabling us to mentally develop from infancy to adulthood, recovering from grief, learning a language and more.
Even in old age, we retain the ability to learn new skills as a result of structural and biochemical changes at the synaptic level. Repetition and reinforcement strengthen neural connections, meaning the brain can eventually become adept at new skills.
Thinking in a growth mindset is something that can be learned. The more time and effort that is spent thinking in this way about learning, potential and making mistakes, the more natural that mindset will become.
Tips to think in a growth mindset:
- Stay curious. A willingness to ask questions fosters a curious mind, which leads to a greater desire to learn new things in order to answer the unknown. A desire to learn is a key facet of the growth mindset.
- Embrace challenges. Adversity represents opportunities to learn, develop new skills and become better at something. Learning to view challenges in this way, rather than insurmountable obstacles, is helpful for thinking in a growth mindset.
- Welcome imperfection. Understanding that mistakes are a sign of improvement and persistence is crucial in order to adopt a growth mindset. Making mistakes signifies learning, effort and growth.
“Love challenges, be intrigued by mistakes, enjoy effort and keep on learning.”Carol Dweck