Introduction: Growth Mindset
Carol Dweck, now at Stanford University, began researching the concept of “growth mindset” in the late 1990s as a counter to failures of the “self-esteem movement” which focused on praising children no matter what. Dweck noticed an important distinction: When students were praised for being smart (a fixed quality), they became complacent. Students praised for effort (under the students’ control), they worked harder.
The idea caught on, and there are dozens of programs being sold to improve Growth Mindset… yet there are controversies about the underlying research.
Can Growth Mindset be Improved?
As usual with popular ideas, the concept has been oversimplified, which is one reason research on growth mindset is mixed. Simply praising effort is not the same as developing a growth mindset. A large-scale study on mindset was published in 2019; one of the key factors in this intervention was that culture makes the difference (not just “a training”); another is that students’ sense of autonomy is essential. In other words, for Growth Mindset training to be effective, treat students as valuable contributors and there is a supportive, collaborative environment.
How Does Optimism Connect to Growth Mindset?
One of the essential emotional intelligence skills in the Six Seconds Model is called “Exercise Optimism.” This isn’t “positive thinking,” it’s about the hard work of finding new options. When people Exercise Optimism, they shift into a proactive stance and see the progress is possible. It may just be the underlying skill that allows someone to engage a Growth Mindset.
In Six Seconds’ approach to Optimism, we don’t say someone “is optimistic” (fixed mindset); we can all practice and do the work to exercise optimism (growth mindset).
The key point: As evidenced by neuroscience research on the generation of new brain cells, we are all learning and growing. Sometimes we feel stuck, but if we exercise optimism, we can re-activate our growth mindset and shift back into a readiness to keep learning.
One of the keys to activating a growth mindset is strengthening the skill of optimism. Even in (especially in) challenging times, we can use “3 bridges of optimism” to help us cross back into a growth-mindset orientation
For educators who want students to develop a growth mindset, remember that the culture you create is key. That may require YOU to also practice your own optimism skills so you can demonstrated a growth mindset in the way you handle challenges. Here’s how: