Happy Sunday primers! I had initially intended to post about emotional intelligence today. However, in doing my research on the topic I realized that there is an abundant amount of information so I am going to take some extra time sifting through it to ensure I give you the most in-depth, accurate post as possible. Today what we are going to look at is the growth mindset.
If you follow me on Instagram (theprimedmind) you may have seen my post about my 11 year old son Jacob and the conversation my husband D.J. and I had with him over breakfast. To give you a background on my IG post, Jacob had his first Jr. High basketball game last week and he didn’t play as much as he had expected to. As the minutes in the game clicked by I watched his facial expression and body language change as I sat across from him in the bleachers. I knew he was frustrated and on our drive home from the game, my suspicion was confirmed. Jacob was frustrated, angry and hurt that he played roughly 11 minutes of a 40 minute basketball game. This came out in tears and statements of injustice on Jacob’s end.
This was something that Jacob was not used to. He has previously played on teams where he was one of the most skilled and physically developed players on the team. This year though, he is playing with kids who are bigger, older and more skilled than he is. In fact, half of his team is comprised of 7th graders and he’s in the 6th grade.
At breakfast this morning I causally asked Jacob if he was planning on going for a run on the treadmill today to help get him ready for his basketball game tomorrow. Jacob, not so subtlety, sighed and rolled his eyes as if my question was annoying. His reaction caused my husband and I to get into “Danny Tanner mode”. (For those of you were obsessed with Full House as a kid you totally get my reference here. For those of you who preferred a different form of after school entertainment, Danny Tanner was the dad on Full House who would use mistakes his children made as opportunities to teach them a lesson through over-dramatized narratives.)
D.J. and I started in on the basics; The importance of working hard to achieve his goals, how he needs to use his disappointment to help him work harder and how working hard for something we want is not always fun. This experience with Jacob this morning got me thinking about his mindset and specifically, what is preventing him from improving his situation. This led to today’s post on the growth mindset.
What A Growth Mindset Isn’t
It may be easier to begin with what a growth mindset isn’t when trying to understand the concept.
A growth mindset is not:1
- Focusing on effort only. – While effort is important, it must constantly be evaluated against progress. Effort needs to be monitored to ensure it’s effective in achieving our goals.
- A belief system that doesn’t require action.- A growth mindset requires action, not just a belief that if you have a growth mindset you will be successful.
- Just being open-minded. Being open-minded is important in strengthening our intellect, however a growth mindset is much more than simply being open-minded.
What a Growth Mindset Is
A growth mindset is the notion that effort and learning can nurture intelligence.2 If you strip this down to bare bones it is the belief that intelligence changes over time. Experience, effort, empathy and insight can modify our belief system and what we know to be true. In Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) an assumption exists that is “there is no absolute truth”. That assumption in DBT is reflective of a growth mindset.
People with a growth mindset recognize that challenges are going to exist and that challenges provide an opportunity for learning. People with a growth mindset approach challenges and successes the same way. People with a growth mindset ask themselves “what am I missing” when they are finding themselves feeling defensive or resistant to someone else’s viewpoint or truth. People with a growth mindset recognize that truth exists in each person’s perspective.
I use this example all the time with my patients when we are discussing multiple truths in each situation. My example is this: If I put an elephant in the middle of the room and asked each person in the room to draw what they saw they would each draw something different. Yet, each perspective would be truthful despite the differences in the drawings. Perspective (location in the room compared to the elephant), skillset (drawing skills), innate abilities (hand-eye coordination, depth perception/vision) and experience (experience drawing, experience with elephants) are factors that combine to generate different truths; each one unique and each one truthful.
Below are characteristics of someone with a growth mindset. They are taken from DBT principles as well as other scholarly writings.
Signs that you have a growth mindset includes the following.
- You embrace challenges as opportunities to gain knowledge.2
- You can ask yourself “what am I missing” when you notice yourself feeling defensive.
- You recognize that your truth today is different than your truth was yesterday and that your truth tomorrow is going to be different than today.
- You can incorporate other people’s truths to help create a deeper understanding of the world around you.
- You put in effort for improvement without external incentives or rewards.2
- You can regulate your own learning and deal with challenging tasks effectively.2
- You can receive negative feedback in a healthy way without reacting defensively.2
- You can integrate negative feedback to help improve your understanding and help you achieve your goals.2
Why Is Having A Growth Mindset Important?
Having a growth mindset is important on many levels. First and foremost, having a growth mindset helps us develop a richer understanding of who we are as individuals. A growth mindset helps us recognize what we stand for, what motivates us and what we want to achieve.1 A growth mindset helps us improve our skills because we can modify and adapt based on negative feedback we receive from others. This is also true when we fail at something; we apply what we learn in the failing process to help us be more successful on our next attempt. A growth mindset can help reduce conflict and can facilitate cooperation as a team. When we can incorporate different ideas and truths we can come to a richer understanding and be more effective at finding solutions. Finally, having a growth mindset helps us stay motivated when we experience challenges. Recognizing that challenges are a part of the learning process can be used as motivation to continue as opposed to discouragement which can cause us to give up prematurely.
If you are taking the time to read this I would guess that you have a growth mindset. Take a minute to reflect on your mindset, particularly how you respond when you receive negative feedback or experience challenges. Do you let feelings of frustration or discouragement stop you from improving and working towards your goals? Or do you let those emotions strengthen your motivation to continue to work hard?
Jacob did end up going for his run this morning and he set his goal at 1 mile. He ended up running 1.25 miles. He didn’t receive any special reward or incentives for his run. I would like to believe that he did it to help improve his endurance which will hopefully lead to more playing time in the future, his ultimate goal. Or, maybe he did it to make us proud and to prove to us that he was motivated to achieve his goal; Maybe it was a combination of both. Either way, we were able to have a conversation that hopefully ended with all of us developing a deeper understanding of the world, ourselves and our goals.
1.Harvard Business Review. (2016). What having a growth mindset actually means.
2.U.S. National Library of Medicine. (2018). The neuroscience of growth mindset and intrinsic motivation.