Is The Growth Mindset Really As Good As They Say?

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Is The Growth Mindset Really As Good As They Say? Do you believe that you can do anything with enough practice and determination? You may have a growth mindset. This sounds like a great thing, right? The idea is that we can control how much we can accomplish in life purely based on our own motivation and work ethic. 

A growth mindset indeed encourages hard work, which is why it’s been adopted by many schools across North America. However, some pitfalls to this concept need to be addressed. 

What is a growth mindset?

A growth mindset was a term coined by Carol Dweck of Stanford based on research with children and adults over twenty years. A mindset is a belief system an individual hold’s about their ability to succeed in learning a new concept or developing a new skill. 

A growth mindset is linked to the belief that our abilities can be developed, “I don’t understand this math yet.” Alternatively, a fixed mindset is one in which you believe there are limits to your potential, “I’m not a math person.” 

A growth mindset involves a “yet” approach whereby practicing or trying harder, we’ll learn the concept or master the skill eventually. Unfortunately, there is a potential downside to this belief. 

The drawbacks to a growth mindset:

Blind Belief

Blind belief in an idea or methodology without clear understanding or self-reflection can be dangerous in any situation. When it comes to a growth mindset, misinterpretation can cause you to continue trying something with the wrong approach or strategy. Rather than trying a new approach, you’ll persist with ineffective methods simply because we’ve been told: “practice makes perfect.” Eventually, you’ll believe the problem is you when in reality, the issue is the method you’re using to acquire the skill or knowledge. Even Dweck recognized this downfall in the growth mindset philosophy. 

“Perhaps the most common misconception is simply equating the growth mindset with effort. Certainly, effort is key for students’ achievement, but it’s not the only thing. Students need to try new strategies and seek input from others when they’re stuck. They need this repertoire of approaches—not just sheer effort—to learn and improve.”

Disappointment, despair & even depression 

The world isn’t a meritocracy. Unfortunately,  success isn’t always based on merit alone. The danger with only believing that effort leads to success is that it isn’t fully true, and this can lead to severe disappointment, in some cases, even depression. 

Don’t get me wrong, this doesn’t mean that hard work isn’t a critical factor in success; however, it’s not the only factor. For example, many factors lead to Ivy League university entrance - including what high school you attended, how much your family had to spend on tutors, SAT prep, and more. I’ve seen incredibly dedicated, hard-working students not get into their dream school or make a sports team, and they’ve been absolutely crushed. They believed the only thing that mattered was how hard they worked.

Unfortunately, many factors come into play when reaching some of life's goals. Yes, practice, commitment, and effort are elements, but when it comes to some goals, there are a few other factors at play.  

A safer approach is to temper a growth mindset with a playful approach. A “play mindset” means learning through trial and error, accepting mistakes, adapting, having fun and enjoying the learning process rather than putting too much stress on the end result. 

Here are a few strategies to try for a healthy play mindset:

Re-evaluate, reflect, and pivot 

Blindly putting in the effort isn’t the answer. Despite what popular culture may lead you to believe, just trying to muscle your way to mastering a new skill won’t work. Learning to pivot and find ways to grow that match your particular learning style is a far more successful approach.

A play mindset comes naturally

We all had play mindsets as children. We tried new things, made mistakes, pivoted & kept trying. If you have deviated away from that, get back on track! It will be a bit like cultivating a new skill: it will take time, practice, reflection, and patience. As with anything else, you’ll have days of doubt and frustration when you notice yourself defaulting to a fixed mindset. 

Set goals and focus on the journey

Part of understanding if you’re using the right approach to learn a new skill is checking in to make sure you see improvement. S.M.A.R.T goals can help you set realistic benchmarks to track your growth and progress. Another great way to reflect on your progress is to keep a journal. Journals are great tools for looking back and reflecting on how far you’ve come to put the journey into perspective. Reflective tools like this help you focus more on the process of learning a new skill and the fun you’ve had along the way. It allows you to stay in a play mindset and facilitates adaptability. 

What it all means 

In reality, fixed, growth, and play mindsets are more of a spectrum. You’re going to exist in a different place along this spectrum every day. Ignoring your doubts, struggles, and the sometimes unfair nature of life will only reduce your motivation. Having a play mindset, enjoying the process, and reflecting on the development journey can all be powerful motivators

Curious about how to create an atmosphere of play & innovation at work or in the classroom? Future companies must provide opportunities for development and growth to their teams. Employees expect these professional development initiatives. Why not offer learning opportunities in growth mindsets to improve morale and performance? I work as a guest speaker for numerous businesses and organizations to help develop growth mindsets at the professional and academic levels. Get in touch with me today to learn more.

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