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The Power of a Growth Mindset

By Michael D. Zito, Ph.D.

Developing a growth mindset early in life can promote optimism, resiliency, and empowerment of young minds. This is one of the reasons that most schools have adopted growth mindset programs. When kids learn that putting forth effort and using the right strategies can help them get better at things, they feel empowered and try harder.

The growth mindset concept is based on the work of Stanford University researcher, Dr. Carol Dweck. Dr. Dweck identified two different types of mindsets referred to as the growth mindset and the fixed mindset. A growthmindset occurs when we believe effort and effective strategies can improve our skills. This leads us to willingly confront challenges and learn from our mistakes which promotes a passion for learning. Weaved into this approach is a belief that we don’t really fail but we encounter First Attempt In Learning (FAIL) thereby learning from our mistakes. Not surprisingly, this type of mindset promotes greater happiness and achievement in life.

In contrast, those with afixed mindset believe their skills and abilities are stuck at the current level and can’t be changed. This lowers motivation because the thought is “why should I try if I don’t have the ability and my ability in unchangeable”. As a result, mistakes are often seen as failures rather than opportunities to grow and learn. Those with a fixed mindset avoid new experiences for fear of failure, avoid taking a learning risk and constantly have a need to prove their worth, which can often include cheating on academic tasks, as an example. 

How to develop a growth mindset

  • Praise and reward effort, not ability since effort is the key success factor.
  • View challenges as opportunities to grow, not to be avoided.
  • Replace the term “failing” with learning and use the ‘First Attempt In Learning’ concept.
  • Promote optimism by describing a struggle as a needed skill not yet mastered.
  • View “room for improvement” as positive.
  • Create openness to feedback as a path to improvement.
  • Cultivate a sense of purpose by finding a target skill to work towards, focusing on step-by-step improvements.
  • Focus on ways to improve the learning process, not the result, since the result will come as the process improves.
  • Benchmark your own improvement and progress rather than comparing oneself to others.
  • Be inspired by the effort of others.
  • Optimistically view most experiences as learning opportunities to realize what worked, partially worked or did not work and then make changes accordingly.
  • Recognize that progress takes time and can occur with persistence effort.

Michael D. Zito, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist (#3599) with offices in Warren and Morristown. He practices clinical and sport psychology with children through adults and can be reached at Dr. Zito welcomes your questions and ideas for future articles.