Why and How To Cultivate a Growth Mindset

“Growth mindset” is a term coined by Stanford Psychology professor, Dr. Carol Dweck. It refers to an attitude wherein individuals realize that natural talent or intelligence is only a starting point, a baseline from which real progress begins. These people know that anyone can learn or do nearly anything through dedication and work. Such an outlook fosters personal responsibility and self-empowerment which kindles passion for learning and resilience in the face of failure. 

In contrast, a “fixed mindset” is wherein individuals tend to think that their abilities and qualities are simply static and unchanging traits — things that one is either born with or is not. Such an outlook limits potential and growth, making people more likely to resign in the face of mistakes or failure. 

It is easy to see why a growth mindset is essential for success in the 21st century world – it builds self-confidence and ensures that one keeps trying and does not give up on achieving their goals. 

Both teachers and parents play a crucial role in helping young people develop a growth mindset and believe in their unique individual abilities to succeed. Here are some useful strategies to adopt: 

Set an example 

A sure shot way for children to acquire a growth mindset is through seeing adults around them have the same approach. Developing a growth mindset is often difficult for adults because it’s hard to change thought patterns that you’ve used for years, but you can start by becoming conscious of self-defeating, fixed-mindset thinking. Some examples of this include an overemphasis on perfection, a commitment to being happy and comfortable at all times, a desire to please everyone, or a fear of failure. Then, work toward overcoming the self-defeating thoughts, making an effort to strive for progress rather than perfection on a day-to-day basis. When you receive criticism, for instance, don’t get defensive. Instead, think about the ways you can put feedback into practice the next time. A fixed mindset may be a sort of default setting for humans, and moving from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset cannot happen overnight.

Rethink how you praise your child 

Many of the compliments we give children tend to reinforce the idea that “natural” intelligence and ability are in some way static and unchangeable. For instance, telling children that they are smart or talented suggests to kids that their own hard work didn’t help them do well, and that their intrinsic abilities matter more than the effort they put into a project or a problem.

In the long term, this may cause children to shy away from challenges due to fear of failure, or even quit when they hit a small snag in a plan.

instead, when praising children, focus on the value of the learning process, on kids’ strategies, and on the ways in which both of these things contribute to positive as well as negative outcomes. Effective phrases include “Wow, you really worked hard on that, and look how you’ve improved,” or, “See, this time you studied more and your grade on this test is higher.” 

At the same time, according to research, using language that emphasises on possibilities encourages the growth mindset. For instance, adding the word “yet” to a despairing sentence like “I can’t,” changes its meaning and opens doors for growth and opportunity, implying that with the right time and effort, anything is achievable. 

Embrace mistakes, do not fear failure 

Children largely learn through the process of trial and error, be it on a small scale (like using a washing machine) or a large one (like creating a complex science project). Every mistake is an opportunity to improve, and learning to master a task eventually leads to autonomy, fostering a sense of accomplishment and pride in children. This process leads to curiosity, independence, and persistence.

Therefore, it is crucial that parents and teachers treat mistakes as opportunities for learning and allow children to experiment before coming up with a solution to a problem. Be careful not to focus too closely on the desired outcome; instead, follow curiosity from possibility to possibility, in search of answers and opportunities to learn.