Listen: Adolescent and family psychologist Collett Smart chats to Katrina Roe about mindsets.
When you try a new task and fail, do you:
- feel embarrassed, defeated, and conclude you’re just not cut out for it
- feel annoyed but keep trying at least a little longer
- roll up your sleeves with glee and relish the opportunity to conquer a challenge
- this never happens because you avoid trying new things
Your answer will reveal whether you have more of a ‘fixed mindset’ or a ‘growth mindset’.
The concept of ‘fixed’ versus ‘growth’ mindsets has gained popularity in recent years, and was developed over 20 years of research by psychologist Carol Dweck – author of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. In a chat with Hope 103.2, adolescent and family psychologist Collett Smart explained A growth mindset sets us up to be more flexible and positive—and it’s something that can be learnt at any age, even in childhood.
‘Growth’ people welcome feedback, and aren’t defeated by setbacks, instead finding ways to work through adversity.
“A fixed mindset means you believe your character, your abilities, any qualities you have, even your intelligence, are carved in stone,” she said. “You believe they’re unchangeable, you either have them or you don’t, you’re either smart or dumb, you’re either talented at something like painting, music or sport, or you’re not.”
Since they don’t believe they can grow, people with a fixed mindset avoid risk—because they don’t want to display their inadequacies. By avoiding what they see as failure, they often end up being a bystander in life, watching all the so-called ‘gifted’ people from the sidelines.
The growth mindset, on the other hand, is a belief that your basic qualities and skills can be grown and cultivated through effort. ‘Growth’ people welcome feedback, and aren’t defeated by setbacks, instead finding ways to work through adversity.
“Someone with a growth mindset would believe your intelligence or abilities are flexible,” said Collett, “and that you can change them through practice, through working hard.
“It really recognises that people differ in their abilities, but emphasises that everyone can stretch themselves or change or grow whatever they have by effort.”
How to Develop a Growth Mindset
If you’re reading this and thinking ‘oh no, I’m stuck in a fixed mindset’—don’t worry, that’s just your fixed mindset talking! The good news is, your mindset can be changed. Collett Smart suggests the following four steps.
1 – Adopt a New Way of Seeing Failure
“Find new strategies to deal with your adversity,” says Collett. “Change how you think. Expect both success and failure in your life, and then start to see failure as opportunities to develop or improve your skill.
“Carol Dweck says it doesn’t happen not overnight. You need to be conscious that it’s going to take deliberate practice.”
2 – Change Your Self-Talk
It’s vital to choose more positive ways of ‘talking’ to yourself about perceived success and failure, says Collett.
“Change your language. Be kind to yourself when you mess up. Brainstorm how you might change one thing and do it differently. And change how you define success. It’s not [about] the end result. The effort is what makes you successful.”
3 – Be Open to Feedback
One of the weaknesses of ‘fixed’ people, is that they tend to react badly to criticism, even avoiding feedback altogether. Change this to become more of a ‘growth’ person.
“Don’t see criticism as something negative, particularly if it’s kind criticism,” says Collett. “See it as something that can help you learn and improve and expand. Prioritise learning.”
4 – Go Slowly
When you’re trying to change the way you think, you may be ‘unlearning’ habits that have been ingrained for decades. Don’t be too hard on yourself and try and renovate yourself overnight, says Collett.
Choose one small area of growth at a time. For example you could spend a few weeks just focussing on how you react to criticism, or you might spend a year trying something new every month.
Teaching Your Children to Have a Growth Mindset
If anyone is living proof that children can learn about mindset from a very young age, it’s six-year-old Molly, daughter of Hope 103.2 announcer Katrina Roe. Molly came home from school talking about the concept, and is now encouraging her mum not to think negatively about herself, but to have a growth mindset instead.
With that in mind, here are some tips for teaching your children about growth mindsets:
- Emphasise effort over success, praising your kids with statements like ‘I love watching you play’ rather than ‘I’m so happy you won the game’.
- Encourage them to persist with difficult tasks.
- Help them break their challenges down into goals, which sets their focus on effort instead of ‘winning’.
- Teach them to view their challenges as opportunities
- Help them to replace the words ‘I’m failing’ with ‘I’m learning’.
- Model in your own behaviour a mindset of learning and growth. Instead of saying ‘this is too hard’, take the approach that ‘I can keep practising and get better at this’. Your children will absorb the same attitude.