What is a “growth mindset” and why does it matter?

Professor Carol Dweck of Stanford has proposed a theory that says, to a great extent, a learner’s ability to expand his or her talents is related to the “mindset” the learner has about his or her own abilities. This is a sort of resilience or “grit” in a learning context. Those who approach learning and growth from a place of optimism and confidence about their own abilities are more likely to actually solve hard problems or develop new skills than those with a less robust “growth mindset”–and this is separate from someone’s actual, innate abilities. In other words, those who have confidence in their abilities prime themselves to do better cognitively. Conversely, even those with high innate intelligence may do poorly on cognitive tasks if they see themselves as less capable or less amenable to taking risks in learning contexts.

Professor Dweck also argues that a person’s mindset can be influenced by environmental factors—in both negative and positive ways. For example, if we believe that what we can accomplish with a discreet task, say a test, or how many problems we can solve in a limited time frame, is the mark of our abilities or our intelligence, then we, as learners (and others who might be assessing us), will develop very limited images of our own capabilities. We will, as she says, be constrained by the “tyranny of now,” rather than a more optimistic and self-sustaining notion that we simply haven’t demonstrated our intellectual potential “yet.”

If this theory about mindsets is correct, what are the implications for how we engage ourselves or other students in learning contexts? What are the implications for teachers? For parents? For bosses?

You can view Dr. Dweck’s Ted Talk here.

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