At St Paul’s we have begun to focus on ‘mindset’ with staff and pupils. It has been a particular focus in year 6 and we regularly reflect on establishing a growth mindset approach explicitly with pupils and staff. We are combining this with maths work on Kahn Academy (www.kahnacademy.org) which is built around growth mindset principles. Next steps are to expand this to a whole school approach. Growth mindset theory directly challenges low expectations which so often are the precursor to underperformance.

The Fixed and Growth Mindsets

Much of who you are on a day-to-day basis comes from your mindset. Your mindset is the view you have of your qualities and characteristics – where they come from and whether they can change.

These following two mindsets represent the extreme ends on either side of a spectrum:

A fixed mindset comes from the belief that your qualities are carved in stone – who you are is who you are, full-stop. Characteristics such as intelligence, personality, and creativity are fixed traits, rather than something that can be developed.

A growth mindset comes from the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through effort. Yes, people differ greatly – in aptitude, talents, interests, or temperaments – but everyone can change and grow through application and experience.

It’s very possible to be somewhere in the middle, and to lean a certain way in one area of life, and a different way in other areas. Dweck writes about them as a simple either-or throughout the book for the sake of simplicity. Your mindset likely varies from area to area. Your views may be different for artistic talent, intelligence, personality, or creativity. Whatever mindset you have in a particular area will guide you in that area.

How does this simple mindset change your behavior (and your childrens’ behaviour)? 

Having a fixed mindset creates an urgency to prove yourself over and over – criticism is seen as an attack on your character, and to be avoided. 

Having a growth mindset encourages learning and effort. If you truly believe you can improve at something, you will be much more driven to learn and practice.  Criticism is seen as valuable feedback and openly embraced. The hallmark of the growth mindset is the passion for sticking with it, especially when things are not going well.

You don’t have to be of one mindset or the other to get upset. But those with the growth mindset don’t label themselves and throw up their hands in defeat. They confront challenges and keep working. The growth mindset enables the converting of life’s setbacks into future successes. The fixed mindset, however, often results in little or no effort; Dweck mentions the many times she is outright startled by how much the people with a fixed mindset do not believe in effort.

Small Belief, Big Influence

How can one belief lead to all this – the love of challenge, belief in effort, resilience in the face of setbacks, and greater (more creative!) success? 

“Clever people succeed,” says the fixed mindset. Therefore, if you succeed, you’re a clever person. Therefore, pick the easier problem so success is more likely, and you validate your cleverness. Pick a hard problem and you may fail, revealing your stupidity.

“People can get cleverer,” says the growth mindset“, and do so by stretching themselves and taking on challenges.” Therefore,  pick the hard problem – who cares if you fail!

Your mindset is the view you adopt of yourself. These mentalities can be seen as early as four years old. 

In one of Dweck’s studies:

We offered four-year-olds a choice: They could redo an easy jigsaw puzzle or they could try a harder one. Even at this tender age, children with the fixed mindset – the ones who believed in fixed traits – stuck with the safe one. Kids who are born smart “don’t make mistakes,” they told us. The growth-oriented kids welcomed the harder puzzle, finding a safer puzzle to be boring. 

Does your mindset have any influence on more important life decisions? 

It turns out they do. One of the many examples given by Dweck deals with university students making decisions that will influence the rest of their lives.

Who would pass up a free opportunity to improve their life  success? 

At the University of Hong Kong, everything is in english. Some students are more fluent than others, and this can have a big impact on their success. As students arrived to register for their freshman year, they were asked if they would take a free course to improve their English skills if the university provided one. It turned out that those with a fixed mindset were not very interested, and those with a growth mindset were absolutely interested. This is a perfect example of how the fixed mindset turns people into non-learners. 

As Dweck says:

The fixed mindset stands in the way of development and change. The growth mindset is a starting point for change, but people need to decide for themselves where their efforts toward change would be most valuable.

People with the fixed mindset are not simply lacking in confidence, though their confidence may be more fragile and more easily undermined by setbacks and effort. Also, having a growth mindset doesn’t mean you have to be working hard all the time. It just means you can develop whatever skills you want to put the time and effort into.

The following image, created by Nigel Holmes,  is a great summary of the key ideas in Mindset, and how it affects your life. 

It shows the difference between the two mindsets, and why the growth mindset is better. Remember that all of these behaviors stem from the very simple beliefs you have about your own abilities to change and improve.