The Growth Mentality: Faulty Mindsets

“I don’t divide the world into the weak and strong, or the success and the failures; I divide the world into the learners and the non learners.”                                                                                                               – Benjamin Barber

“As a man thinketh . . . , so is he”                                                                                                           – Proverbs 23:7

I randomly saw an article on BYU’s homepage a bit ago and was instantly pulled into it. I read the entire article and then read the connecting links to newsletters and research that other schools have done on the subject and read all of them. It was one of those, “Oh my gosh, it IS something real!” moments that you appreciate and learn everything you can. I just wish I could have figured this out about myself six years ago. Pertaining to my education (and consequently my career and life), this is one of the most important principles I have ever learned.

For however long as I can remember I have struggled with the idea that I am just not smart enough to learn certain subjects. I constantly would argue that I just wasn’t a natural at it and would only be able to pass with an average understanding and grade. While I write this it is obvious to me how that line of thinking is faulty, but that was how I felt and it was frustratingly debilitating. Subjects like Economics, Calculus and Chemistry were beyond my mental capabilities of comprehending and applying, and I thought I should just plan on avoiding interaction with those subjects. Even if I wasn’t initially convinced of this mentality towards a certain subject, even if I tried extra hard from the start, the first slip in understanding, test taking, or mastering usually became enough evidence to personally condemn myself and choose to simply respect the material instead of comprehend it.

So you can imagine my surprise and utter joy when I found a BYU research article explaining my faulty mentality and how to work towards fixing it. I’ll quote from the different articles I found to explain this principle of differing mindsets, and then cite the links at the end.

The two differing mindsets are explained thus:

  • Stephanie says she “can’t do math.” She refuses to take math courses because it’s “not her thing.”
  • Mary is not innately good at math but works hard at it because she relishes the challenge it presents. She believes her math skills can improve with time and effort.
  • “Mary and Stephanie have similar math skills, but they differ greatly in their mindsets. Students with a “fixed” mindset (like Stephanie and I) believe that intelligence is fixed by nature rather than the product of effort and perseverance. With this assumption, they are not motivated to attain skills they don’t believe nature will allow. This negative mindset occurs often and is reinforced, frequently unintentionally [. . .] throughout life. Ironically, even high-achieving students can have this mindset, causing them to shy away from hard work in order to conceal their weaknesses and protect their self esteem (also sounds like an issue of pride). People having this mindset might also feel entitled to good grades and become depressed when they don’t receive them.”

    “A 60-year-old academic psychologist might seem an unlikely sports motivation guru. But Dweck’s expertise—and her recent book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success—bear directly on the sort of problem facing the Rovers. Through more than three decades of systematic research, she has been figuring out answers to why some people achieve their potential while equally talented others don’t—why some become Muhammad Ali and others Mike Tyson. The key, she found, isn’t ability; it’s whether you look at ability as something inherent that needs to be demonstrated or as something that can be developed.

    What’s more, Dweck has shown that people can learn to adopt the latter belief and make dramatic strides in performance. These days, she’s sought out wherever motivation and achievement matter, from education and parenting to business management and personal development.”

    “Michael Jordan, now considered one of the greatest basketball players of all time, adopted a growth mindset and succeeded through effort despite being told early on that he did not have enough talent. Similarly, Abraham Lincoln and Albert Einstein experienced repeated obstacles and failure, but because of persistent effort they achieved success.” Some of the suggestions given that someone like me can work on and need from teachers and leaders around me:

  • Feedback: Praise (and criticize) effort (e.g., “Your work is paying off”), not traits (e.g., “You are brilliant”).
  • Motivate: Remember that with effort significant growth is possible for everyone and that real growth is the root of confidence.
  • High Expectations: Maintain high standards.
  • Coach: Provide continual support and frequent growth opportunities rather than making harsh judgments of inherent traits.
  • These are just some of the clips from the various articles I read on the subject. I’m working at it, but it is really hard to fight years of habitual thinking. I also want to read Carol Dweck’s book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, as soon as possible. Nothing like learning your super-senior year that your entire mentality to learning has been wrong! 🙂


    BYU Center for Teaching and Learning » Blog Archive » The Growth Mentality

    STANFORD Magazine: March/April 2007 > Features > Mind-set Research

    BYU Center for Teaching and Learning » Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education