When I was growing up, there was this belief that you were born with a fixed inheritance of intelligence or ability. Some kids took advanced classes in high school because they were smart, other kids were in lower level classes because they weren’t as smart. This perception had everything to do with how they were judged as being good learners or not.
I always had a sneaking suspicion that there was something off about separating kids based on how clever they seemed. I wasn’t valedictorian of my class, but I did okay because I worked really hard, persevered through loads of stumbling blocks, was lucky enough to attend a great college. I experienced some heavy disappointments when I didn’t land my dream job in finance right out of college, but I kept going. I went to China and lived there for 3 years, learned and reflected from every pitfall, and when I didn’t, I repeated the same mistakes, and had to learn from them again. And now, here I am, writing as the CEO of a pretty awesome San Francisco education start-up.
What I didn’t know then but know now is that somehow I moved through life with a growth mindset. What does that mean? It means knowing, deep down inside, that effort and perseverance improve your abilities, talents, and intelligence. In other words, there is absolutely nothing fixed about how smart, confident or motivated you are!
In fact, if we’re not making mistakes, and not challenged, we know we’ve been hanging out too long in the comfort zone. You see, when something’s too easy, we’re not learning. Our brains get a little lazy and dull, like when your muscles get soft if you’re not exercising regularly. Numerous scientific studies show that when we confront setbacks and we can adjust our view of these setbacks to see them as lessons, our brains literally begin to change.
We can apply a growth mindset to practically every aspect of our lives, not just to academics, but also to making lifelong friends, building professional networks, finding the love of our life, and doing work that fulfils and nurtures us.
Considering the global climate, you’re probably reading this from the comfort of your own home right now. Maybe you’ve tried to take an online class, or are trying to create the perfect day for your kids while they are home with you. None of us have been trained for how to respond in a global pandemic and our immediate response to challenges might be “I can’t do this.”
Listen, you are facing new challenges by the minute and you aren’t going to be a pro overnight. Remember that you’re resilient and that you’ve gotten this far. With some practice and the right outlook, you’ll get to where you want to be - just remember to be kind to yourself and remember this is a process.
Here’s a short video narrated by Stanford University psychology professor Carol Dweck, the researcher whose work on growth mindset is the result of decades and decades of clinical studies. After you watch the video, look at the set of questions below. Take some time to answer and reflect on the kind of mindset you may have applied to past experiences; then try applying a growth mindset to future challenges, even something that you might be trying to achieve while you are at home during these times of pandemic response.
Questions for reflection:
- Was there ever a time in your learning -- formally in school, and/or informally in social contexts with family or friends -- where you became bored, frustrated or discouraged, and nevertheless you kept pushing towards your goal? What made you keep going? If you stopped after being frustrated, what do you think held you back?
- Thinking about your answer to question 1, how can you channel what made you keep going in that situation to your daily life at home right now?
- Are there some areas of your life where you have a fixed mindset and other areas where you have a growth mindset? In areas that you might currently be applying a fixed mindset, what do you think you need to do to get out of your comfort zone and grow?
- Dr. Carol Dweck says that “effort is what activates ability” and that “it’s a basic human right for students to experience growth.” What does that mean to you?