Research clearly shows these effects of mindset. In one study that Dr. Dweck did with Dr. Claudia Mueller, they had children do a set of puzzles, and then they praised the kids. To some of the kids, they said, “Wow, that’s a really good score, you must be smart at this.” That’s fixed mindset praise because it portrays intelligence or abilities as a fixed quality. To other kids they said, “Wow, that’s a really good score, you must have tried really hard.” That’s growth mindset praise because it focuses on the process.
Then, they asked the kids, “OK, what kind of puzzle would you like to do next? An easy one or a hard one?” The majority of the kids who received the fixed mindset praise chose to do the easy puzzle. While the great majority of those who received the growth mindset praise chose to do challenge themselves.
Then the researchers gave a hard puzzle to all of the kids because they were interested in seeing what confronting difficulty would do to their performance. Look at what happened when the kids later went back to the set of easier problems that they started with. The kids who received the fixed mindset praise did significantly worse than they had originally, while those who received a growth mindset praise did better. And to top it off, at the very end, kids were asked to report their scores; and the kids who received the fixed mindset praise lied about their scores over three times more often than those who received the growth mindset praise. They did not have another way to cope with their failure.
The difference between these two groups: one short little sentence. How often do we praise kids for being smart or for being great at something? We have been told that this will raise their self-esteem. But instead, it puts them in a fixed mindset. They become afraid of challenges, and they lose confidence when things hit hard.
As Josh Waitzkin says, “It is incredibly important for parents to make their feedback process related as oppose to praising or criticizing talent. If we win because we are winners, then when we lose, it must make us losers.” These studies show not only the mechanisms by which mindset affects performance, but they also show something else that is very important: they show that we can change mindsets, and that’s important, because most of us have fixed mindsets about something.
Another study that showed that we can change mindsets is one in which Dweck and Blackwell did a workshop with seventh graders to instill a growth mindset in them. As a result of the workshop, the students gained more interest in learning, and they worked harder; and as a result of that, their grades improved.
Other studies have shown that when we teach a growth mindset, not only that it improves achievements for students as a whole but it also narrows the achievement gap, because the effects are most pronounced for the students who face negative stereotypes such as minority students, and girls in math.
I have spoken mostly about children, but mindset affects all of us. In our workplaces, managers with fixed mindsets don’t welcome feedback as much, and they don’t mentor employees as much. And employees with growth mindsets about specific skills like negotiations become far better at those skills than people with fixed views.
Mindsets can even help us solve big social issues. A recent study showed that when we expose Israelis and Palestinians to the idea that groups can change, they increase their attitudes towards one another, they improve them and they enhance their willingness to compromise and to work for peace. We also see the effects of mindsets on relationships, sports, health.
How is it possible that as a society, we are not asking schools to develop a growth mindset in children?
Our myopic efforts to teach them facts, concepts, and even critical thinking skills is likely to fail, if we don’t also deliberately teach them the essential beliefs that will allow them to succeed not only in school but also beyond.
There is a lot that we can do to change mindsets, but here are three things that any of us can do to instill a growth mindset in ourselves and in those around us. First, recognize that the growth mindset is not only beneficial but it is also supported by science. Neuroscience shows that the brain changes and becomes more capable when we work hard to improve ourselves.
Second, learn and teach others about how to develop our abilities. Learn about deliberate practice and what makes for effective effort. When we understand how to develop our abilities, we strengthen our conviction that we are in charge of them.
And third, listen for your fixed mindset voice, and when you hear it, talk back with a growth mindset voice. If you hear, “I can’t do it,” add, “Yet.” My request to you today is that you share this knowledge about the growth mindset with your family, friends, and schools so that all of us can go and fulfill our potential.