Carol Dweck spoke of growing up in a school in which there were no failing grades, only a grade of « not yet ». Since I come from a very fixed mindset background, I immediately thought that this must be like one of those schools where everyone gets a gold star just for trying along with a heaping amount of meaningless praise for things they didn’t accomplish well.
But as I have been exploring her theory and the research behind it, I have begun to see that YET is a very powerful word…in fact it is one that I often use with my students or my children when they tell me they can’t do something. Not yet, I remind them. Yet means that you are free to keep trying, there was no one-time judgment which will last for eternity. The court is still open, and you can keep shooting the basketball until you get that basket. There is still hope. You will do it…it just hasn’t happened yet.
I believe that the growth mindset helps people to focus on the process instead of the result. When this is done, learning becomes an adventure, not a test. It is a journey, not a judgment on ones capabilities. It can help to remove the stress and the need to save face by constantly succeeding, and simply allow us to enjoy the act of learning and growing, Learning becomes a joy. Because it is now a journey, and no longer a reflection of my mental capabilities (or lack thereof) I am free to accept feedback without feeling like my self-esteem and entire self-image is at risk.
In his book The Practicing Mind, Thomas Sterner talks about the process of DOC: Do, Observe, Correct. This is a process that one learns to do with oneself, meaning that instead of judging myself and my performance, I simply do, then I step back and in a non-judgmental way I observe what I am doing or have done. Then I make corrections based on what I want to be doing. I alter course if need be. But this DOC process is devoid of emotion – it is to be an objective, non-judgmental exercise, which only serves to help correct any behavior that isn’t serving the greater goal. Sterner also speaks about engaging in the process of practice almost as the end goal. Results will inevitably follow, and the goal of learning something or mastering it will happen. Yet Sterner maintains that the process will be the most satisfying and rewarding endeavor, and we will often look back on the process with more pride than we do the final achievement itself.
Dweck seems to be teaching the same thing, by showing that engaging in learning with an open mind and a belief that it is possible creates an environment and a reaction in the brain that actually causes growth and learning to occur. If we focus on the learning, trying hard, this leads to an appreciation and a desire for challenge – because we realize that in that moment of challenge we are actually growing.
Students are typically very fixed on the grade, and in reality they have to be because their GPA is one of the determining factors in being accepted in the college of their choice. The truth is that grades do matter. But if they could learn to trust the process, and simply use all their energies to engage in the process, trusting that the results would follow, they would actually learn much more while receiving their grades. As it stands, in High School as well as in College, in the need and zeal to get the perfect GPA, learning becomes an optional side effect which may or may not happen. Students sometimes seem frustrated by this, but they don’t know how to change it. Very few leave institutes of higher learning with a long-term mastery or in-depth understanding of anything real.
I was deeply frustrated by my school experience, and felt that I had wasted 12 years of my life sitting behind a desk, getting grades yet learning nothing. (how ironing that I now willingly go to school every morning!) I grew up with a VERY fixed mindset and was terrified of failure. The French public school does NOT cater to your self-esteem and believe that humiliation is a way to motivate you to perform better. Yet when looking at the graphic, I recognized my oldest son immediately. Highly intelligent yet so sensitive to criticism and always acting like he didn’t care so he didn’t have to engage and actually see what he was capable of doing: a chronic underperformer. Although in school he was in the gifted program and so full of blinding potential, he avoided any challenge that he was not absolutely sure he could destroy. Even today, he is choosing his major in college in an area that he feels he can easily compete in, instead of one where he would have to work harder. Thankfully he is very smart, and his field of study is neuroscience and psychology, so I have sent him some of these videos in the hopes of sparking a little growth mindset revolution.
As for myself I know that somehow, through life’s twists and turns, lots of therapy and reading, I arrived at a growth mindset a few years back. For that reason I love to learn and am happiest when challenged. I would like to truly delve into Dweck’s book more and find more tools to help me muster the discipline which I lack in order to propel my desire to make the mastery of certain skills – like speaking German or playing the guitar – a reality instead of a fleeting trial. Believing that I truly can grow new skills – like how to create an ePortfolio and make video lessons – even if at this point I can’t do it…yet.
Dweck, C. S. (2006). Mindset: the new psychology of success. New York: Random House.
Sterner, T. M. (2012). The practicing mind: developing focus and discipline in your life: master any skill or challenge by learning to love the process. Novato, CA: New World Library.
Growth versus Fixed Mindset [Digital image]. (n.d.). Retrieved December 26, 2016, from http://www.edgesc.ca/blog/2692/growth-vs-fixed-mindset/
Growth mindset [Digital image]. (n.d.). Retrieved February 4, 2017, from https://www.outwardbound.org.uk/media/531767/growth-mindset_407x341.jpg