Research shows that our ability to achieve our goals has much more to do with the mindset with which we approach them than the actual goals themselves. That's why students and faculty at Bennett Day School subscribe to the "growth mindset," which eschews "all or nothing"/"I succeeded/I failed" modes of thinking in favor of growth (however incremental) and resiliency.
What is a growth mindset?
Dweck's research shows that our success and achievement of goals largely depends on whether we fall more or less into two different mindset "categories,"—either fixed or growth mindsets:
In a fixed mindset, people believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits. They spend their time documenting their intelligence or talent instead of developing them. They also believe that talent alone creates success—without effort.
In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment. Virtually all great people have had these qualities.
For instance, an individual who grows up with the fixed mindset that they are "bad at math" or "terrible at sports" will likely shut down in the face of any challenge within these areas. They may avoid them altogether and never progress or develop any further skills; hence, the mindset becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Another individual may not feel confident in these areas, but adopting a growth mindset may help them to see that they can learn from mistakes; that they can make progress, even in their most challenging areas, if they persevere.
Source: Mindset Works
These are not meant to be seen as either/or categories. Dweck is careful to point out 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."
The core message is that when we see our abilities as "carved in stone" and see challenges as "risky," we often fail because we are judging our abilities as inherent to our nature. In essence, we are judging the entirety of our senses of self at the most basic level. According to Dweck, "when [we] hit obstacles, setbacks, or criticism, this was just more proof that [we] didn’t have the abilities that [we] cherished."
Dweck finds that her subjects who believe that "everyone can develop their abilities through hard work, strategies, and lots of help and mentoring from others" are much more likely to persist in the face of failure and ultimately achieve their goals.
This is the "growth mindset" at its root—the idea that every new challenge is an opportunity for learning something new or embracing another approach; an opportunity to learn what works and what doesn't work; an opportunity to build upon an existing foundation of skills and experiences to better oneself.
Of course, this is easier said than done. Dweck is up-front that achieving a growth mindset is not a one-and-done process and the journey looks different for each new goal we set out to achieve. "[It is] a long and difficult journey, where you work on understanding your triggers [for slipping into a fixed mindset], working with them, and over time being able to stay in a growth mindset more and more." It is not a "consolation" or "participation prize," but rather a process that is as unique for each of us as we are individuals.
If we can apply the growth mindset to our most ambitious and challenging goals, perhaps we really can make the changes we wish to see in ourselves.
Learn more about Bennett Day School's approach to learning and the growth mindset: