In 2007 Carol Dweck, a psychology professor at Stanford published a book entitled: Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. In this book she discussed her two decades of research in psychology on people with a growth mindset vs. a fixed mindset. The growth mindset is based on an idea that you can improve your capabilities through learning, experimentation, and training. By focusing on learning and effort, this mindset has the belief that a human can continually improve their mental and physical capabilities. They believe that they can be anything i.e. a doctor, entrepreneur, professional athlete and can accomplish anything they set their mind to with persistent hard work. On the other side of the wall is the fixed mindset. This person believes that your capabilities and abilities are predetermined. A person with a fixed mindset believes that you have a limited amount of intelligence, athletic talent, and so on. They believe that your capabilities are predetermined through genetics. For example, if you are 5’3″, you cannot play in the NBA and dunk a basketball i.e. Muggsy Bogues. You are either smart or stupid, but cannot change either is the philosophy of the fixed mindset.
Let’s examine these mindsets in more detail. I believe that the growth mindset is more conducive to long-term success because people with this mindset believe that they can learn and improve. Instead of attaching one’s ego to the results: I lost so I am a failure, this individual focuses on what they learned from the experience. Winning and losing are short-term consequences; learning and improvement are long-term consequences. When a student receives a “C” on an English paper, does the parent go running to the teacher to protest their child’s grade? Or do they ask their child: “what did you learn by earning a “C” on this assignment”? Although some parents believe they are protecting their children from embarrassment and failure, are they really helping them or enabling them? What does the student learn from this experience when the parent jumps in to rectify this grade? Do they learn to be self-reliant and independent or do they learn that mom or dad expects “A’s” at any cost. Will the child be better off with this approach? Examining this idea in a sports context, around the U.S. parents, children, and coaches can be seen in tournaments and competitions focusing too much on the end result: winning or losing. This breeds a fixed mindset for all three parties because their team or individual athlete is either a champ or chump based wholly on the final score. Learning and improvement are kicked to the curb to be picked up by the garbage man on Wednesday morning because the main message coming through loud and clear over the intercom is: “Did you win or lose?”
People with a fixed mindset fear failure, which constricts their abilities to learn, experiment, and improve. They are so afraid of looking stupid in front of their peers and others that they will not participate in opportunities to improve their capabilities. Why is this, because they don’t see the opportunities. For example, at tennis tournaments around the nation, junior competitors drop out of the consolation or back draw because they think nothing can be gained from competing in it. They lost their chance to win the tournament when they lost in the main draw, so what’s the point! This mindset creates a culture of stagnation instead of development.
How do we as a nation combat this? We must focus on the growth mindset approach by emphasizing learning and improvement over winning and losing. Instead of fixating on the final result, we must ask our children what did they learn today? How can they improve their skills? Where do their passions lie and how do they intend to maximize them? People with a growth mindset in business, sports, and all aspects of life, live by the tenet that everything is a learning opportunity, especially failure! They are deliberately focusing on what can I learn today that will help me tomorrow. Isn’t this really one of the main reasons we put our children in school and athletics: to learn and help them succeed in the future as adults?