The Power of The Growth Mindset

The amazing benefits of rewarding growth over results.

At school they teach us that our grades reflect our intelligence.

I was about six years old when I brought my end-of-the-year kinder-garden report card home. It read something like this:

  • Writing — B

  • Reading — C

  • Physical Education — F

  • Math — F

etc, etc, etc…You get the point.

My mother asked me to explain and I answered: “ You see mom… A is for awesome, B is for good, C is not that good, D is really bad and F is for fantastic!” She knew F meant fail, but she played along with me. It’s the best thing she could have taught my six year old self. You see, I failed kinder-garden but I was never told that this meant that I was a failure.

I was never taught to believe that my grades were a reflection of my intellect or my worth.


The Problem With Only Rewarding Results

We are raised to obsess over immediate results instead of personal growth.

At school we are judged on the immediate test results we obtain, instead of the effort we put into our studies. Our report cards teach us to seek validation through our grades, instead of focusing on how we obtain them.

This is why we often run from challenges instead of learning from them.

In a survey conducted on school-children following a test failure, 40% of the children who failed responded that they would probably cheat next time they failed a test (Dweck, 2007). In another study following a failure, the respondents looked for someone who did worse than they did so they could feel good about themselves (Nussbaum, 2008).

We are taught that our report cards are a reflection of our intellect instead of the amount of effort we put in. The problem is that intellect is a sentence we have to live with, while effort is a personal decision we can change.

Old assumption: My performance is a result of my intellect and therefor cannot be changed. Reframe: My performance is directly linked to the effort I put in, and therefor can always be improved.


The Growth Mindset

Carol Dweck teaches Developmental Psychology at the University of Stanford. She researches “growth mindset” — the idea that we can grow our brain’s capacity to learn and to solve problems.

In 2004, she conducted a study on a group of middle-school students to test how they responded to challenging situations. She gave them a set of questions that were slightly too difficult for them to answer at their level of study.
One group of students responded with excitement, and told her that they loved a good challenge. They understood that their abilities could be developed — they had a growth mindset. Other students felt that their abilities were being judged and they failed — they had a fixed mindset.

There are two ways to approach a challenge — with a fixed or a growth mindset.

In the former, we get stuck thinking that the difficulty of the problem is a reflection of who we are — If it’s too hard to solve, it simply means that we are too dumb to solve it. We are stuck in the tyranny of Now — meaning that since we are not good enough to solve the problem immediately, we never will be in the future.

But in the latter, when we encounter a difficult question, we see it as a challenge — something that we might not be able to solve yet, but we will be able to in the future.

Old Assumption: I can’t solve it now, so I won’t be able to solve it later. Reframe: I can’t solve it yet, but I will be able to solve it later.


How To Shift From A Fixed Mindset to a Growth Mindset

  • Praise process over results: It isn’t enough to only praise results if you aren’t also rewarding the process of getting there. If you focus solely on results, you will constantly search for short-term fixes — throwing your colleague under the bus or cheating on the exam to get the results you want. The problem is that short-cuts will stunt your growth on the long run or even worse, cause you to actually fail. If you reward personal growth instead…not only will you enjoy your work process, but your results will improve a lot on the long run.

  • Reward Yet instead of Right Now: Rewarding yet means you encourage strategy and perseverance over immediate results. It means you see challenges as an opportunity to learn new skills (I can’t yet, but I will soon) instead of a death sentence (Now or never). On the long run, this creates a work culture driven by long-term vision instead of short-term gains.

  • Change Your Mindset: A fixed mindset is allergic to change — it’s driven by the fear of failure and therefor freezes whenever faced with a challenging circumstance. But when you switch from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset — you begin to see changing circumstances as an opportunity for growth. When you engage with a new challenge instead of running from it, you learn something new and your brain creates new neural pathways (Dweck 2014). This is your brain dropping old behaviour and replacing it for a better one. A good challenge will make you smarter when you engage with it instead of run from it. Your efforts will be rewarded on the long run.

Ultimately, praising effort over results will turn ‘punishments’ into opportunities to grow and do better next time. The only difference between a ‘winner ’and a ‘loser’, is that the winner didn’t give up on the first try.

“Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.” — Thomas Edison

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