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The Importance of a Growth Mindset

Recent advances in neuroscience have shown that the brain is far more malleable and plastic than we ever knew. The connection between neurons can actually change over time because of our experiences.

Neural networks have the ability to grow new connections, strengthen existing ones, and build insulation that speeds the transmission of nerve impulses.

This is amazing because the science tells us that we can increase the function of our brain by simply learning to ask good questions, using effective strategies, and repeating practice. All of this, of course, is in addition to including what we already know about following positive nutritional and sleep habits.

More than thirty years ago, Dr. Carol Dweck and her colleagues became fascinated with the topic of failure, specifically students’ attitudes regarding failure. The learning behaviors of thousands of students were studied. Many of them seemed devastated by even the most minor setbacks and criticism and struggled to succeed. Yet others rebounded nicely and continued to improve.

Dr. Dweck designed the terms “fixed mindset” and “growth mindset” to describe what makes us successful learners. Her research pointed out that what we believe about ourselves, partly from the feedback of others, can help us to achieve.

When parents and others, like teachers and coaches, tell a young person, “you’re so smart; you can do anything; you’re an amazing goalie;” it sets up an expectation that is pretty tough to live up to and bound for future disappointment. That’s a “fixed mindset.”

Better would be for parents and others to concentrate on effort and strategies used to succeed. “You must have really spent lots of time on this project for it to have turned out so well; you described that in a way that I can actually imagine it; that was a great set-up to stop that goal.” This is the “growth mindset.”

The words that are used are critical to change the brain and the young person’s mindset. If it is believed that mistakes are learning opportunities and that there is some control over the efficiency of the brain, learning success can be enhanced.

Let’s take the research out of the lab and into the real world. Parents, teachers, and coaches need to work together. Start building “growth mindsets” in children by using specific kudos when praising or correcting.

For more information on how you can practice a growth mindset, click here for teachers, and here for parents.

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