Growth Mindset and how it can make your child a lifelong learner

For most children, initial success usually comes without trying because their natural talent is often sufficient to achieve what is demanded of them. They eventually encounter a situation where their ‘smartness’ is not enough to see them through. Failure is inevitable for everyone at some point, at some level. How one perceives and deals with failure or the possibility of failure defines their mindset. Mindset, in turn, determines what kind of person they will be as a student, friend, spouse, and as a leader of an organization or country.

Carol Dweck, in her path breaking book “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success” outlines a fundamental belief system called Mindset that can “lead to the love of challenge, belief in effort, resilience in the face of setbacks, and greater (more creative) success”.

Children with the fixed mindset believe that they are endowed with a particular amount of natural talent or intelligence and they can’t change that much. They stick to doing the things they know they are good at so that they can continue to validate their ‘smartness’. They do not want to try new things, for fear of failing at them and being exposed as not being smart. They don’t raise their hand in the class when they don’t understand something because it is more important for them to look smart than to become smarter. The fixed mindset manifests itself in sports too. According to Dweck, fixed mind thinking goes like this: “Natural talent should not need effort. Effort is for others, who are less endowed. Natural talent does not ask for help. It is an admission of weakness. A Natural does not analyze his or her deficiencies and coach or practice them away. The very idea of deficiencies is terrifying. However, this tendency to hide the deficiencies prevents them from overcoming them”.

Children with the growth mindset believe that they can substantially change how intelligent they are so they are always willing to put in the effort to improve themselves. They look at mistakes and failures as learning opportunities, and an indication that they need to increase their efforts. They are the ones who will raise their hands and say “I don’t get it” or “I need help” for they are more concerned about rectifying the gaps in their knowledge or skills than about how they are perceived.

To summarize, Dweck says that “the fixed mindset makes you concerned with how you will be judged; the growth mindset makes you concerned with improving.”

This fundamental difference in how one sees oneself - that you can improve your innate talents and skills with effort – is what makes those with the growth mindset not waver in the face of setbacks but to use them as learning opportunities. Since one’s life path is strewn with setbacks, minor and major, those with a growth mindset are not only better equipped to deal with them but also become life-long learners.

I will follow up with a post on how we as parents and teachers can help our children develop a growth mindset and even change their fixed mindset to a growth mindset.