Thursday, July 7, 2011


Quick: decide whether you "agree" or "disagree" with each of these 4 statements:

Agree or disagree:

1. You are a certain kind of person, and there is not much that can be done to really change that.

2. No matter what kind of person you are, you can always change substantially.

3. You can do things differently, but the important parts of who you are can't really be changed.

4.   You can always change basic things about the kind of person you are.

Questions 1 and 3 are fixed-mindset questions. Questions 2 and 4 reflect the growth mindset. Which mindset did you agree with more? You can be a mixture, but most people lean toward one or the other.
(taken from Carol Dweck's book, Mindset)

Did you find yourself identifying more so with the fixed mindset or the growth mindset in this short set of questions? Or did you find yourself ending up with a mixture?

The concept of mindset is a rather interesting one, and perhaps one we are all familiar with. We know that having a bad attitude can ruin your day. Think about a time when as soon as you woke up, things started "going wrong," and you thought to yourself that the whole day would be bad (and it probably was, unless some really good external thing happened to you). Then, think about a time when you woke up in a really good mood and it just felt like it was going to be a good day. Have you had similar experiences where your mindset led you to feel a certain way about a whole day's events?

What if you could control that sense, that mindset, and really just decide that the whole day was going to be good? Sound too good to be true? Well, it might be--unpleasant things do sometimes happen. However, we can control how we react to situations and feel in those situations by altering our mindset, or the way we look at something.

In her research, Carol Dweck (referenced above) compares two mindsets: the fixed mindset and the growth mindset. The person with a fixed mindset tends to look at things as stable and unchangeable, most especially intelligence and skills. If you think you're smart, this is great, right? Nope. This person needs to prove to him or herself that he or she is intelligent or good at something. If a person with this kind of mindset makes a mistake, they often assume they are no longer smart or good at something. And of course, this leads them to not want to take "risks" (e.g. a challenging assignment at work or school) or try new things (e.g. a new, exciting sounding hobby). "That's a stupid assignment," they'll say. Or "I can't do that--I have no idea how to do it, and if I tried it, I'd suck at it and probably end up embarrassing myself." By making a mistake, they prove that they are stupid or incompetent, and therefore won't do things or will delay them due to a fear of failure. Sounds an awful lot like that perfectionism we hear about all the time, dontcha think?

But let's look at how a person with a growth mindset thinks about things. This kind of person thinks that they can become smarter (after all, the debate is out on what intelligence really means, anyways), and that they can learn new things if they try hard at learning them. The person with the growth mindset look at things like a curious child--no question is too "stupid" because people aren't born knowing everything; they become smart and learn by asking "stupid" questions. This kind of person may be wrong, but they look at their mistakes or lapses in knowledge as an opportunity to learn something new. They don't end taking every mistake as a blow to their self-esteem because they understand that mistakes are necessary for learning, in any area of life.

Dweck's research shows brain scan activiation that differs between these two kinds of mindsets. People show activation in areas associated with punishment and reward when in a fixed mindset. There's really something going on up there in that brain, eh! But perhaps the most important thing that Carol Dweck discovered in her research is that we can change our mindset. We can learn how to be more open to making mistakes, and by looking at how our difficulties enlighten us, and using them to learn, we thereby become smarter and more skilled people (defying the fixed mindset person's hypothesis that we just can't change or become smarter!).

I can definitely remember times when the fixed mindset has reigned. Just the other day I had an discussion on theories of intelligence with my boyfriend (ironically!) and got into a bit of a rut arguing with him (logical argument) as I took his criticism of one of my points as a criticism of my intelligence. I told him this, and we worked through it; he had no clue he was having that effect on me, and found my approach to the issue novel and insightful. But the issue wasn't him at all; it was definitely my mindset. The fact that I could have been wrong meant that I could have been stupid and not all-knowing, and not that I had simply overlooked a loophole in my thoughts or that I could learn something from his comments.

What do you all think--have you had times where you've engaged in the fixed mindset or the growth mindset? How did it affect you in that situation? Do you think you could benefit from working on changing your mindset?

I highly recommend you check out Carol Dweck's book here, and potentially consider it as a future read. It'll definitely change the way you think about success and learning, and the research can be applied not only to school and work but also to friendships, relationships, teaching, business, and many other important areas of life (nearly all! after all, life=learning).

Hope ya'll enjoyed!

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