New Year and Growth Mindset: Not as Easy as we Think

First of all,

Image result for ross new year gif

I’d like to thank each and every single person who has ever read my blog and helped me spread some insights out there. I truly wish you success in any endeavor you choose to pursue. After all, success is pretty much all we discuss during and after this festive and fattening period, isn’t it? Some might say we talk about love, friendship, happiness, change and the like, but aren’t these things closely related to success? If you have love, friendship, work satisfaction, that means you’re happy, which means, in turn, that you have success. By the way, here’s a blog post with a lesson plan about success.

Now let me ask you something. Are you one of those people who make the (in)famous New Year resolutions? Do you promise to make yourself very happy, like Ross did back in 1999? The problem is: after a couple of weeks everything is pretty much forgotten. Those promises (to lose weight, to get a new job, to travel more, to work on something you really love) fade away before Valentine’s Day. I am certainly a victim of these failures. I have promised myself I would change things that really mattered and never did really act on them to make real change. What is the problem? Can we not change? Do we not have what it takes? Answer me this:

  1. Do you believe you are a certain way and you cannot change the “essence” of who you are and that your intelligence is practically immutable?

  2.  Do you think you can substantially improve yourself, make yourself “more intelligent” and work on your social skills and personality?

If you agree more with question 1, chances are you’re a person with a more Fixed Mindset. If number 2 seems more like what you would answer, you’re probably a person with a more Growth Mindset. Having a more Fixed Mindset, according to Dr. Carol Dweck in her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success means you think talent and the so-called inborn traits, such as intelligence, social and other academic skills are the key factors that will determine how successful you are. However, if you have a more Growth Mindset, you understand the importance of challenge and making mistakes, always looking at effort and commitment as the base of everything you do.

You see, a more Fixed Mindset individual tends to stay in their comfort zone doing the things they know they’re good at to be praised by their peers and feel awesome. They avoid challenge and effort as, in their mind, those things mean they’re not so intelligent. They are also more likely to cheat if they get a bad result or grade the next time they try. Now a person with a Growth Mindset focuses on the process and knows that what gets them where they want to be is the effort and dedication. They like being challenged and want to learn from their mistakes.

Dr. Dweck tested several students and interviewed/analyzed the lives of CEOs, sports coaches, parents, and teachers. She came to a conclusion that may change the way you look at things: people with a more Growth Mindset are more successful. And the best news I can possibly give you this year is that you can practice and change your mindset. There is hope after all! So, I’m going to list a couple of conclusions or tips I got from her book and inspire you to make new resolutions or keep the ones you made going:

1- You can make yourself “more intelligent” by making the effort and practicing. If you’re struggling with something, work harder, try different strategies, ask for help. It might not be easy (it usually isn’t), but it’s possible;

2- That student that may seem hopeless in your classroom can change their mindset. Tell them about Carol Dweck’s conclusions, praise their effort for really trying more than the outcome. But don’t do it as a consolation prize. Give them good feedback and set high standards from the start. Hold them accountable and help them along the way;

3- Learn to identify when your Fixed Mindset persona kicks in. Learn the cues, the triggers and talk your Fixed Mindset persona out of their fixed mindset ideas. It might be the force of habit and your autopilot that need change. It is possible to step out of it, reflect, and regulate your emotions and actions. Again, it’s not so simple, it takes time and practice, but it’s definitely doable. You can read my blog post on the Neuropsychology of (Mis)behavior here

4- Keep in mind that many goals are long-term. Avoid getting too frustrated to the point that you’ll simply give up. Watch Dr. Dweck’s TED Talk below about the Power of Yet. Remind yourself you’re not there yet, but you can still get there if you try harder, stay on it, get help, change your strategies and learn what you need to be able to accomplish it;

5- Start small and celebrate your small victories every day. If you told yourself you were going to do something and you stuck with it until it was done for the day, tell yourself: “I made it!”. Reward yourself monthly if you can go through with the things you planned;

The truth is, folks: shifting from one year to the next does not open a magical portal that will change things automatically. December 31st and January 1st are only dates 24 hours apart and when you look at the Cosmos, they mean virtually nothing. Just another spin around the axis. It is you who needs to change your attitude if you want different things to happen. You might not be able to, but you can try. After all:

Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different result

Albert Einstein

I can’t stress this enough, but I’m not saying you can change your mindset so easily. You’ll definitely still have a fixed mindset for many things or situations in your life. I don’t think there are magical solutions and being positive all the time about things, believing you can always accomplish what you need, can cause another problem: Toxic Positivity. Check out my session on this here.

Carol Dweck herself has talked about how the oversimplification of her research has been causing problems:

False growth mindset is saying you have growth mindset when you don’t really have it or you don’t really understand [what it is]. It’s also false in the sense that nobody has a growth mindset in everything all the time. Everyone is a mixture of fixed and growth mindsets. You could have a predominant growth mindset in an area but there can still be things that trigger you into a fixed mindset trait. Something really challenging and outside your comfort zone can trigger it, or, if you encounter someone who is much better than you at something you pride yourself on, you can think “Oh, that person has ability, not me.” So I think we all, students and adults, have to look for our fixed-mindset triggers and understand when we are falling into that mindset.

I think a lot of what happened [with false growth mindset among educators] is that instead of taking this long and difficult journey, where you work on understanding your triggers, working with them, and over time being able to stay in a growth mindset more and more, many educators just said, “Oh yeah, I have a growth mindset” because either they know it’s the right mindset to have or they understood it in a way that made it seem easy. 

Carol Dweck, interview for The Atlantic

What I’m proposing is for you to look at yourself and your students with different eyes and help them and yourself place more value on effort and not giving up before you really try. Equip yourself with what is necessary to accomplish what you need. In case you really can’t, recognize that failure is part of being human and learn how to deal with it. Like the great philosopher Mick Jagger said on many occasions

You can’t always get what you want

But if you try sometime you find

You get what you need

The Rolling Stones

If don’t give it a shot, you won’t know what you can get and how far you can actually go.

Published by

André Hedlund

André Hedlund is a Chevening Scholar from Brazil, MSc in Psychology of Education from the University of Bristol in the UK, and a pedagogical consultant for National Geographic Learning. He has been an EFL teacher for over 15 years and has worked both as an academic coordinator and a CamLa (Cambridge and Michigan Language Assessments) examiner at a Brazilian Binational Center. Currently, he is the president of an ONG called Partners of the Americas Goiás and the representative of the Brazilian TESOL's Mind, Brain, and Education Special Interest Group in the Midwest.

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