My 5 year old son has just started reading. Every night. We lie on his bed and he reads a short book to me. Inevitably, he’ll hit a word that he has trouble with: last night the word was “gratefully.” He eventually got it after a fairly painful minute. He then said, “Dad aren’t you glad how I struggled with that word? I think I could feel my brain growing”. I smiled: my son was now verbalizing the telltale signs of a “growth mindset.” But this wasn’t by accident. Recently, I put into practice research I had been reading about for the past few years: I decided to praise my son not when he succeeded at things he was already good at, but when he persevered with things that he found difficult. I stressed to him that by struggling, your brain grows. Between the deep body of research and the fields of learning mindsets and this personal experience with my son, I am more convinced than ever that mindsets toward learning could matter more than anything else we teach.
Researchers have known for some time that the brain is like muscle; that the more you use it, the more it grows. They’ve found that neural connections form and deepen most we mistakes doing difficult tasks rather that repeatedly having success with easy ones.
What this means is that our intelligence is not fixed and the best way we can grow our intelligence is to embrace tasks where we might struggle and fail.
However, not everyone realizes this, Dr. Carol Dweck of Stanford University has been studying people’s mindsets towards learning for decades. He has found that most people adhere to one of two mindsets: fixed or growth. Fixed mindsets mistakenly believe that people are wither smart or not, that intelligence is fixed by genes. People with growth mindsets correctly believe that capability and intelligence can be frown through effort, struggle and failure. Dweck found that those with a growth mindset, however, embraced challenges, and understood that tenacity and effort could change their learning outcomes. As you can imagine, this correlated with the latter group more actively pushing themselves and growing intellectually.
The good news is that mindsets can be taught; they’re malleable. What’s really fascinating is that Dweck and others have developed techniques that they call “growth mindset”