Every so often, a new phrase enters the education and sporting world and quickly becomes the thing that everyone is talking about. 2014-15 looks set to be the year of the Growth Mindset. Despite being prominent in research circles for over a decade, it is only now becoming a recognised term in everyday settings. So, what is it? How strong is the science behind it? How can we develop it in our students? And where is the science taking us next?
Growth Mindset, conceptualised by Stanford psychology researcher Carol Dweck, is the belief that ability is malleable. This is contrasted with a fixed mindset, which views ability as set in stone and probably decided at birth.
Reasons To Be Skeptical about growth mindset
It is understandable that some may be skeptical of this year's buzz phrase. Despite being debunked as pseudo-science, the scars of brain gym and learning styles are still felt in classrooms around the country. Unfortunately, pseudoscience still wastes the time of many in the form of right brain vs. left brain myth and NLP. So where does Growth Mindset sit within all this? Is it the latest fad or is it something we should all be embracing?
The Science Behind growth mindset
Intuitively, Growth Mindset sits well with those in teaching or coaching. The belief that ability can be improved with effort and learning is central to wanting to work with young people. The science seems to back it up. Several peer reviewed journals have found evidence that those with a growth mind-set persist longer at a task, seek out feedback, cope better with transitions, and achieve higher grades. Perhaps a reason why some are ‘on guard’ is because when growth mind-set is taken to the nth degree and misunderstood, it can morph from ‘most people can get better’ to ‘everyone can do everything’, which, despite Malcolm Gladwell’s protestation, just isn’t true.
The fact remains that genes and natural ability do matter, both in the classroom and in the sporting arena. David Epstein’s excellent book, The Sports Gene, highlights many instances of how genes/talent/nature (call it what you will) impacts on performance. If in doubt, consider this: the fastest time a woman has ever run the 100m is 10.49 seconds (with many actually questioning the legitimacy of this time). This time is not quick enough to be in the top 3000 times ever run and would not have qualified for the male British National Finals last year. Genes do matter!
A Different Way of Thinking About Mindset
Genes matter, but so does mindset. That is why we at InnerDrive have created this matrix for understanding performance. By acknowledging the relationship between talent and mindset (the latter of the two being more malleable), we safeguard ourselves against the Malcolm Gladwell-esque claims that anyone can be anything with 10,000 hours of practice, while still emphasising the importance that mind-set can have on your performance.
Before we look at the top tips for developing a Growth Mindset, a quick look to the future. If we accept that Growth Mindset, which is the belief that ability is not fixed, is a powerful tool for us to teach the next generation, then we must consider which abilities we want to encourage? A popular train of thought that is emerging suggests that the answer may be grit, buoyancy and resilience.
How to Develop a Growth Mindset
- Don't Over-Claim - As Carol Dweck stated about people with a Growth Mindset, “they don’t necessarily think everyone's the same or anyone can be Einstein, but they believe everyone can get smarter if they work at it.”
- Praise Effort Over Ability - Avoid the temptation to praise other people's success due to them being ‘so smart’ or ‘so talented’. By focusing on the process and effort that allowed them to be successful, you give them a template to replicate next time.
- The Power of the Word 'Yet' - Young people are quick to say “I can’t”. By adding the word ‘yet’ to the end of the sentence, you encourage them to persist until they get it right.
- Highlight Famous Failures - Children often have a belief that successful people have always been successful (which is a very Fixed Mindset). Get them to pick any person they admire and research the setbacks that they have had to overcome.
For even more tips and information on growth mindset, check out our guide page on Developing Growth Mindsets.