Growth Mindset for Better Learning
By Carmen Chan | Admissions Counselor
Who cares if we were born smart? Do yourself a favor and embrace the growth mindset.
Perhaps the simplest yet most powerful concept I have encountered in college is the idea of fixed and growth mindset, proposed by Professor Carol Dwek at Stanford University. Essentially, the notion of fixed and growth mindset surrounds how we view talents. In contrast to believing that talent and abilities are unchangeable and determined by birth, individuals who embrace the growth mindset believe that their qualities and intelligence can be developed over time. Rather than fixating on big questions such as “Am I intelligent? Am I successful? Am I good enough?” to prove one’s self-worth, individuals with a growth mindset attend to effort, learning, and persistence. They ask questions such as “What is the value of this opportunity? What can I learn from my mistakes? What is the bigger picture despite the obstacle I may face?” They recognize challenges and setbacks, and see those as opportunities for betterment. Compared to individuals driven by the fixed-mindset, individuals who are propelled by the growth mindset don’t strive to earn validation for their intelligence, personality, or character, but to learn over time with resilience, good strategies, and input from others.
Why does this matter?
The growth mindset is associated with a stronger feeling of empowerment and commitment. It also helps create passion for learning and allows individuals to thrive when facing obstacles.
Indeed, research has shown that students who possessed growth mindsets, compared to those with a fixed mindset, demonstrated better coping skills (e.g., saying things like “I love a good challenge”) with uncertainties and difficulties. Students with growth mindsets were also more willing to face and process errors than those with fixed mindsets. Rather than devising ways to run away from potential failures (e.g., cheating in tests to get good results), students with growth mindsets chose to engage and learn from challenges.
Putting it into practice:
- View challenges as opportunities – As the cliché goes, don’t be afraid to step outside of your comfort zone. When we face challenges such as trying a new sport, taking up a leadership position, or receiving a dissatisfactory grade, stop worrying about looking smart and channel your energy into learning. Turn your focus to asking yourself: “How can I develop as a person? What experience and knowledge can I gain?”
- Stop looking for approval – Look inward and think about what the journey means in terms of understanding and developing your potential. Even if things go astray, don’t be discouraged by feeling “I don’t measure up to others.” Seek constructive criticisms, observe how others achieve their successes, and think about how you can modify or find new ways to improve.
- Understand the power of “yet” – Refrain from saying “I can’t” and substitute with “not yet.” When you feel stumped about completing a piece of work or going through an arduous process, instead of endorsing the “I can’t” spirit, afford yourself with the liberating power of “not yet.” For example, rather than feeling frustrated because you can’t solve a complex math question or choose a major, before reacting with sentences like “I can’t do this”, tell yourself “I just haven’t figured it out yet,” or “it’s not the right moment yet.” Then, reflect on the process: What have you done well so far? What are you missing? What progress have you made towards your goal?
- Turn rejection into redirection – Rewire your mind to stop seeing rejections as the end of the world! We’ve all been there – being criticized harshly, not getting the internship we want, receiving a disappointing grade, etc. However, at the end of the day, please recognize that success (and life) is not linear. Whatever you do, remind yourself that you’re on a learning curve. Even when your outcomes are dissatisfactory, you’re not failing, nor are you going nowhere, you’re in a journey discovering yourself and this journey requires effort and persistence.
MS Carmen Chan
B.S. in Communication (Distinction in Research), Cornell University
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