"Think positive," "Believe in yourself, "Believe you can, and you can," those kinds of cliche, self-help aisle sayings stop meaning much of anything after you've heard them a few times, right? But in reality, through science, we've been able to prove that your mindset can have incredible effects on your performance and achievement. In 1988, Stanford psychiatrist, Carol Dweck, published a long-term study based on a variety of theories pertaining to the way people of all ages learn. She coined the term "growth mindset" (as opposed to a "fixed mindset.")
The studies were based upon multiple "learning situations" in which the experimental group was taught about the research on brain plasticity, and how it has shown that the connectivity between neurons CAN create new neural networks or strengthen existing ones based on EXPERIENCE. These experimental groups were compared to control groups, taught traditional memory and ability theory as it currently stands (in most classrooms and even in the business world.) The results were overwhelming. The "growth mindset" group, by understanding the malleability of their own brains, showed a 200-300% increase in productivity and achievement.
So what does that mean for us? Does it mean that if I think I'm a rocket scientist, I'll be one? Maybe not. But as many other little girls experience in grade school, I was one of many whose fixed mindset said, "I am bad at math," and therefore, I never challenged myself, tried particularly hard, etc. in math, believing that it was pointless. It wasn't until I got to college and there was a great deal of pressure riding on a particular math class, that I realized with just a little bit of extra work, I could take my "C" math grades to "A's" - and I did.
A "fixed mindset" leads to a desire to APPEAR smart, and in general, they tend to do so. However, this is mostly because they avoid challenges, often give up when an obstacle comes up, see trying and making effort towards something they're not good at as pointless or fruitless, and are usually unable to take criticism, no matter how useful or constructive it may be. And most importantly, it often leads to people feeling threatened by the success of another. Alternatively, a "growth mindset," is the belief that intelligence can be developed, leading to a desire to learn and improve oneself, and therefore a tendency to embrace challenges, persist despite setbacks or obstacles, see hard work and effort as the path to mastering a skill, and most importantly, find lessons and inspiration from the success of others rather than jealousy and resentment.
All of this being said, I believe that to an extent, we all have natural talents and abilities, and often we are born with propensities toward success or failure in certain areas. I just wrote my last entry on how business owners should focus on their strengths, and hire help with their weaknesses! And I say this because by knowing one's strengths and weaknesses, and also knowing your brain's ability to adapt, you are given the opportunity to strengthen those weaknesses. It is all a matter of self-awareness and understanding. A literal "belief in one's self and abilites" - may sound cheesy, but it does allow us to understand our own learning experience, and the fact that with work and effort, we are all capable of improvement and increased achievement - even when it comes to something we just "know" we are not good at.
How does one achieve a "growth mindset?"
1. Interpretation and effects of failure. "FAILURE." The word itself scares me (personally), perhaps it brings me back to some moment in my childhood when I began to believe "wow, I am really not good at x,y, or z." But, failure can be a wonderful opportunity to understand what one needs to change or improve upon, and is a sign that current methods are not successful. Failure, and one's reaction to it, is one of the key aspects of a fixed versus a growth mindset.
2. Your brain is a muscle, and like any other muscle on your body, it can get stronger, but to get stronger... must be used. And like any other muscle, our bodies do have physical limitations, yes. But, at the same time, everyday exercise and muscle-building can make an incredible difference. If the most weight I can carry at once is 80 pounds today, I may not ever be lifting 500, but I can certainly improve significantly over time. You've probably been able to see results in your physical body, and while the brain doesn't get bigger with exercise, its strength is also a matter of training.
3. Remember that (with an occasional exception) successful people do not just fall into success. Success usually comes after multiple setbacks or even the dreaded "failure." It is not something you are born with or are not born with. It is not some "unattainable" and unique gift, but a result of hard work and open-mindedness.
To learn more about growth mindsets, take a quiz as to what kind of mindset YOU have.
-Anne Morgan Pates, March 22, 2017
Anne Morgan Pates was born and raised in Fredericksburg, Virginia. She attended Chatham Hall Preparatory School, Sewanee: University of the South, and University of Mary Washington. She graduated with a B.A. from U.M.W. in English Literature. She has worked in local real estate and marketing for seven years.