Ever hear something that instantly resonates with you and makes everything in your life seem incredibly simple and straightforward?
But, the closest approximation to this is Carol Dweck’s mindset theory. Not familiar? Check it. I’ll wait.
In short, Dweck theorizes that there are two types of mindsets: those that are fixed and those that are not.
People with a fixed mindset (named as such) see their traits as unchanging- what they’ve got is what they’ve got, and their self-worth and importance is defined by these traits. Things like talent, intelligence, and performance can have dramatic effects on how people with a fixed mindset see and think of themselves. In a school setting, we might see this with grades. Students who have a fixed mindset believe they are determined by their grades. They will celebrate an A, but instantly feel a panic. Now that they’ve received one A, they will absolutely have to get an A every time thereafter. Anything else is failure. The expectations heighten, as does the anxiety, and the pressure to perform becomes suffocating. If failure does happen (which– with impossible standards, how could it not?), it can lead to disappointment, shame, or even self-loathing.
Yet, interestingly, this desire to grasp this identity doesn’t always translate into work. This is because people with a fixed mindset, as you recall, think they’re either born with it. To be challenged is to be threatened. The path with the least chance of failure is alluring and essential to maintaining self-esteem for those with a fixed mindset.
At this point, it’s probably clear that there are some consequences with fixed mindsets. If you’re always taking the easy path, how much are you really gaining- let alone, growing? If you can’t expose yourself to trying to new things because you’re crippled with fear of failure, how long until even the things that you excel at start to frighten you?
Enter growth mindsets.
To grossly oversimplify, a growth mindset is the opposite of a fixed mindset. People with this mindset are excited by challenge and see failure as one option and merely that. Failure, nor success, defines someone with a growth mindset. Rather, it’s the process of figuring out how to get to the next level. Growth mindset people are motivated, rather than intimidated, by goals. Rather than be intimidated by their started point, they are excited about their end-point.
In a school setting, you might see a student who is really eager to become a writer, or a scientist, or a programmer, or fluent in another language. These students are motivated by the end-point and while they may experience failure along the way, their failure doesn’t define them; rather, their goal ultimately energizes them and propels them forward.
So… we can probably say with certainty that growth mindsets are objectively more desirable. They help us learn, grow, change personally. Arguably, a person who adopts a growth mindset tackles challenges and likely helps others along the way. Not to say a fixed mindset person isn’t; but if someone is consistently avoiding challenge, it’s likely they are also quick to hide from others in the face of something that makes them feel vulnerable.
So, we all agree?
I’m pretty sold on the growth mindset. It’s productive, positive, and freeing. I’d love to see all challenges as simply obstacles. It seems like I can do this in some areas of my life easily (filing my taxes— I have to do them, and they’re confusing; but whether or not I do them well does not have much of an effect on how I view myself ) and not so easily in others (when I feel a lesson or activity I’ve facilitated has flopped, I immediately think: I’m a bad teacher, and therefore I am worthless).
Now, how do we get there?
While I intuitively recognized two readily available examples of where I waver with growth and fixed mindsets, there’s a better (more responsible and holistic) way or two. Let’s dive into the resources:
- THE TEST: Before we start looking into resources, let’s get our starting point. The test, developed by Dweck herself, and takes less than 3 minutes to complete. You get a very basic idea of where you fall. (Pssst: if you want some more detailed results, check this test, in addition).
- THE BOOK: You’ve taken the test, have a fuzzy idea of what it’s all about, and you’re ready to change your life and take on the world, right? Wrong-o! Equip yourself with more information. Read the book and treat yourself to the wide range of context to which mindsets can be applied. Personal checklists and guides included. Appropriate for adults
- THE JOURNAL: The company Big Life has tackled creating resources for kids, tweens, and teens focused on developing (and practicing!) growth mindsets. The Journal, also available in free (!!!) printouts, walks kids through scenarios, reflections, and activities they can recognize in their own life from school to sports to family to friendships. On a meta level, a growth mindset comes from practice; the practice of journaling (about mindset) doubles down on the progress towards kicking the fixed mindset to the curb.
- THE TEACHING RESOURCES: Ready to take your growth mindset to the next level? Check out the abundant free resources made specifically for teachers. This includes how to adopt a growth mindset as an educator; language and norms that encourage a classroom buzzing with growth mindset; and resources and activities you can use with parents and students.
- FOR THE LITTLES: It’s never too early to start cultivating a growth mindset. How cool are these children’s books (picked by teachers)?
Like any change, adopting a growth mindset will take time, and it’s likely we’ll fall back into old habits steeped into our bones and routines…but as we know, these are merely obstacles on our path to growth.
- Do you know your mindset?
- Have you brought mindset theories into your classroom?