“I can’t do math.”
These are often the first words out of my incoming students’ lips when I first meet them each August.
“Then I’m going to make it my personal goal for the year to show you that you can,” I always respond with an encouraging smile. Because before I can teach them math, I have to teach them that they can do math.
I first learned about fixed versus growth mindsets in my developmental psychology class in college. At its heart, it states that we fall into one of two camps when it comes to beliefs about self – one that asserts that we are born to be good at certain things and inadequate at others and one that maintains that we can always improve.
I was intrigued. Could we really change how people interact with the world and embrace challenge simply by praising their efforts as children rather than their innate gifts?
It seems so.
In fact, I would argue that it is one of the most important lessons, not only for our children, but ourselves.
Because if you believe your nature and abilities are fixed, you are imprisoned by your own beliefs. Whereas if you trust that you can learn from your experiences, obstacles make you stronger instead of holding you back.
A fixed mindset says, “I am my ability.” A growth mindset says, “I am my effort.”
A fixed mindset claims, “The product is all that matters.” A growth mindset responds, “I learn and grow through the process.”
A fixed mindset declares, “My weaknesses are part of who I am and should be hidden.” A growth mindset insists, “My weaknesses show me areas where I can improve.”
A fixed mindset believes in fate. A growth mindset takes responsibility.
A fixed mindset blames and deflects. A growth mindset listens and adapts.
A fixed mindset prefers to live inside a comfort zone. A growth mindset embraces the idea that growth occurs at the edge of panic and ease.
“Growth mindset” is now a buzzword in education as well as business, where companies seek out new hires that demonstrate this trait. Perhaps it’s time for it to become a buzzword in marriages as well.
A fixed mindset seeks a partner who worships and validates you. A growth mindset desires a partner who challenges and encourages you.
A fixed mindset sees a conflict in the marriage as a fatal flaw. A growth mindset recognizes conflict as opportunity.
A fixed mindset feels threatened by feedback and responds defensively. A growth mindset is grateful for the chance to improve.
A fixed mindset creates a marriage that is rigid. A growth mindset leads to a marriage that is flexible and adaptable.
A fixed mindset is driven by a need for approval. A growth mindset is motivated by a need to learn.
A fixed mindset seeks validation outside of yourself and it will never be enough. A growth mindset finds validation within yourself and it will always be enough.
With children, we teach them to have a growth mindset by praising their efforts, “You worked really hard on that project,” rather than their abilities, “You are so smart at reading.” As adults, it is more difficult to adjust our ingrained patterns. But it is not impossible.
Start by identifying one fixed belief you have about yourself (What do you say you “can’t” do?). And then work to change it.
A growth mindset says you’re good. And you can be better.
Now go to it!