Not Yet, But Soon: The Impact of a Growth Mindset

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Before reading on, think of three things that “aren’t for you.” Say these three things aloud. It might look something like this.

I’m not good at running.
I’m not a ‘math’ person.
I can’t lift heavy weights.
Now, repeat the same three phrases, with the word “yet” at the end of the sentence.

I’m not good at running, yet.
I’m not a ‘math’ person, yet.
I can’t lift heavy weights, yet.

The power and flexibility that you immediately instill in yourself by adding a three-letter word to the end
of a static phrase is unbelievable. This shift in the way we view ability is called mindset, and it is on a continuum.

The Mindset Continuum

On one end of this continuum is a fixed mindset – the belief that our abilities and talents are static. On the other end is a growth mindset – the belief that our abilities and talents can develop with persistent
attitude and effort.

As a classroom teacher, I usually see this continuum in action with my students. Many kids, from a very early age, believe that they are good at certain things and not so good at others. I spend time every year
introducing them to the concept of the growth mindset continuum and helping them explore their brains. What I’ve learned is that kids are resilient. They jump on board and work with me to shift their
thinking and adopt a growth mindset approach – one where they embrace challenges and persevere when they are stuck. The outcome of this shift is amazing.

So, if kids can do it, why can’t we?

Let’s use the quarantine that we’re in now as an example. At first, it was tricky, but with time, we’ve found routines that somewhat work in our situations. It may not be ideal, but it is working. How did we get there? Did we fight the unfamiliarity or embrace it? This change that the world is experiencing is an opportunity for us to adopt a growth mindset. We are shifting our daily habits, our exercise routines, the way we interact with others, and learning new skills. It may not be the path we imagined, but we adjust. We see this time as an opportunity for growth, to acquire new skills, and to develop our resiliency. By adopting a growth mindset, we’re not just trying to acclimate, we’re trying to embrace change and make it work for us.

It is easy to default and convince ourselves that we already have a growth mindset. I’m open-minded. I try new things. But when we examine what growth and fixed mindsets really look like, some fixed mindset statements may sound familiar to our line of thinking.

What does a fixed mindset look like?What does a growth mindset look like?
I make excuses to avoid challenges. I give up when I’m frustrated. Potential is predetermined. When someone gives me feedback, it is a personal attack. I compare myself to others and can feel threatened by them. I tend to quit things. I do not like hearing criticism. I do not take risks because I’m afraid of failing. I don’t like receiving help because it makes me feel inferior. Mistakes are embarrassing. I can’t get any better at this. Learning new things is too hard. I embrace challenges. I persevere and try new strategies when I’m stuck. I can improve with effort. I appreciate feedback. I’m inspired by others and like learning from them. I like trying new things. I welcome constructive criticism. I like taking risks. I seek help from experts when I’m stuck. Mistakes help me learn. There is always room for improvement. Learning new things takes time. 

A Closer Look

Neuroplasticity plays a big role in the mindset continuum. At its roots, neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to reorganize through neural connections. Our brains have tiny cells called neurons that connect
and communicate with one another. Whenever we learn something new, our neurons are communicating in a pattern. The more that we do something, the more that pattern is used.

This means that our brains are not fixed. We can influence our pathways and create neural patterns through repetition. As we continue to practice, make mistakes, and embrace feedback, we build stronger pathways. The stronger the pathway, the easier the task becomes.

Imagine shoveling the driveway after a heavy snowfall. The first push of the shovel usually requires a lot of effort, is a bit choppy, may not make it to the end of the driveway, and leaves a layer of snow behind.

However, the next push to clear snow on that same path moves more smoothly. Each time you move back and forth along this path, it is easier than the last, until there is almost no resistance as you push
the shovel. This is like our brains forming neural pathways when we learn something new. The pattern flows more easily over time. The first attempt might be challenging, but each attempt following gets a little easier.

The Bottom Line

Seeking opportunities to learn, persevering through challenges and welcoming feedback are all strengths. They are what separate you from your goals. Maintaining a narrow, static mindset when trying out a new activity is like trying to run through quicksand. When you adopt a growth mindset, notonly are you staying open to acquiring new skills, but you’re also staying open to learning from others. Taken together, a positive attitude, combined with proper strategies, constructive criticism, and
guidance from experts in the field can open doors you never thought possible.

Shifting from a fixed to a growth mindset is not like flipping a light switch. It takes some work, but it is a continuum, and each step forward brings you closer to your goals. Let’s be clear about one thing – just because you have a growth mindset and are open to growing in areas that you didn’t think possible, doesn’t mean that you will automatically be the best. However, it’s not about comparing yourself to anyone else. If you are better than you were yesterday, and you’re growing and striving for improvement, you’re winning a personal battle.

Mistakes for the Win

One of the greatest takeaways from this, aside from embracing challenge, is the value in making mistakes. We go about our days doing everything we can to avoid making a mistake, and I get it – mistakes can cost us. However, they are also an incredible opportunity for growth.

Mistakes open our eyes to things we didn’t see before, and often help us rewire for the better. We usually don’t make the same mistake twice because we learn from our mistakes and our brains react accordingly. Think back to our snow shoveling analogy. If while shoveling the snow you slipped and fell on an icy patch, you would remember that, and the next time you would avoid it.

By recognizing mistakes as opportunity for personal reflection and development, we not only open the door to improvement, but we can also begin to feel more comfortable taking risks, and who knows where those risks will take us!

– This article was written by Melanie Grice, BSc, BEd, MA

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