Saturday, September 21, 2013

Is there anything a growth mindset can't do??

Tonight I listened to Heidi Grant Halvorson interview Carol Dweck (9/20/13 at 5:20 pm  It was mainly geared toward her incredible, anchor book, Mindset, but included an amazing amount of thought-provoking, intense, new information.  This work never disappoints!

One of the pillars of Dr. Dweck's work reveals how praising success and intelligence for our students, and our children, is always done with the best intentions. Those with the fixed mindset thought this instilled confidence. But instead, this causes the receiver to worry about making mistakes. So they are less willing to try anything they aren't "smart" at.  This curtails achievement and learning. There is no reason to take any risks.  Failure is not an option.  It even creates fixed mindsets, therefore perpetuating the negative mindset.

Do praise the process. The strategies. The effort. The practice. The focus. The improvement.  Errors are a part of learning. They make them (us) persist in the face of adversity.  It is the second full week of school and I can hear that I have made a change in my own dialogue.  I know this because I hear my young students already saying, "You can do it, try!"  And, "Dare greatly!"  And, "You will grow your brain no matter what!"  It's simply contagious.  It is not only contagious with the students, but it is contagious to other professionals around you as well.

Thursday night, I went to my son's Back to School Night.  I always think the teachers must be like - ugh, two teacher parents.  But truly, we love the process, all of it.  So the best story was when one of his teachers told us the following:
The student sitting next to our son was tired and just done with academics.  It was a hot day and it was after lunch.  We will call the other student Bobby.  Bobby threw up his hands, put his head on his desk, and said, "This is too hard.  I can't do it!"  My son turned to him and said, "Yes you can, Bobby.  You can do it!  You can!  Right, guys?  You can do it!"  Wherein all the other students started chanting his name in unison, "Bobby, Bobby, Bobby!".  Bobby was so excited to have all of his classmates paying attention to him and giving him encouragement that he finished the rest of the day with effort and joy. 
Stories like that are by far more important to us as parents than any grade, report card, standardized test, college choice, etc.  Our son knows empathy, effort, caring, and how to bounce back.  Let's just shortly say he was born as a micropreemie at one pound seven ounces.  So having these imperative qualities at eight, is beyond words.  But that is a whole other story in itself.

"The Trouble With Bright Girls," is a piece written by the interviewer, who has worked under, with, and next to Dr. Dweck, published in The Huffington Post (  When studying "bright" girls and boys at the beginning of learning new or big concepts, bright girls were overwhelmingly afraid of not being perfect.  The higher the IQ, the more likely the bright girls were to give up.  "If that becomes your paradigm for life you are finished," asserted Dr. Dweck.  Bright boys, on the other hand, saw this same instance as a challenge and energizing.  Similarly, when studying Theories of Intelligence within a culture of genius, this continued. If it required raw intelligence, natural ability with no effort, then there were fewer women in the field.

As a society we think genius equals born this way. It's just not true.

People often ask then, how can so many people with fixed mindsets be so successful?  Answer; it only takes you so far. It creates worry and the need to always be top dog superstar. Better to ask that person what has it kept them from? What have they shied away from? What haven't they tried?  What did they see someone else try that was "crazy" but secretly wished they had tried it?  What do they wish they had tried?  To be good they think they have to be better than someone else.  It keeps them paralyzed. 

The Khan Academy studied a quarter of a million participants about how math students were praised ( The main difference was in what educators would say to students as feedback.  When they said things like, "When you put effort into a math problem you grow your math brain," and when they signified that effort equals further and future successes, there was a significant raise in immediate success and subsequent success.

We are all a combination of both mindsets. We constantly have to monitor ourselves.  Just being aware of this, changes our mindset toward growth.  For me, this was an "aha!" moment when I started studying Carol Dweck's work.

When you are ready to begin to change a part of your fixed mindset into a growth mindset, Dr. Dweck has some pointers for how to begin.  First, start talking back to that voice in your head that discourages you.  She said phrases that Brene Brown would call practicing gratitude when you forebode joy.  Or that shame and fear make you worry either of two things; (1)"who do you think you are?" or (2)"you can't possibly ____."  This talking back is the beginning of changing those brain chemicals.  It truly is the science component of this area of social psychology.

Next, add the word "yet."  "Yet" turns the fixed mindset into the growth mindset. Try it with any of your fixed mindsets.  Mine would be, "I am soo not forgiving... yet."  Setbacks will sting. It's about what you do next! In the long run it pays.

Whether it be parent, teacher, or CEO, you are always learning.

Dr. Dweck and her colleague James Gross studied Israelis, Palestinians, and extreme sides of each group ( Obviously, there was intense intergroup conflict. It was clear both in the first survey and the repeat survey that the more they held a fixed mindset, the more they hated the other side, and the more resistant they were to change. The researchers taught the growth mindset to these groups  and they were overwhelmingly more willing to entertain more compromises and even talk with each other. This held true just as much for the radicals as the moderates. Now, they are developing long-term, constant interventions for hope toward the future.

It's a shift in perception that things can change.

Is there anything a growth mindset can't do?