Do you think you have a growth mindset vs. a fixed mindset? This post will help you figure it out and give you hacks for working towards a growth mindset.
With all the bruhaha over whether schools should open or close this fall due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it might surprise you to find out that setting goals for YOUR intellectual domain is important, too! Why? Because when we take care of ourselves, we can’t forget our brains. Healthy self-care includes making sure we learn new things all. the. time. This month’s Self-Care Sunday posts will focus on setting goals for our intellectual domain.
Am I an OLD Lady?
“Are you going to ski or snowboard?” my student asked me as we waited to for other students to get on the bus for a day at the ski hill.
“Ski. What about you?” I said.
“Definitely snowboard. Skiing is for old people!”
“Hey! Watch yourself!” I said with a laugh. “Do you think I’m old?”
“Naw,” he replied as he leaned forward in his seat. “I guess you’re not old, old. You made it back to the top of the Grand Canyon way faster than I did.”
“Whew! What a relief to not be ‘old, old’!”
“And you learned how to drive a bus last year,” he conceded.
“I admit I’ve tried snowboarding a few times,” I told him. “But I spent most of my time on the ground.”
“This is my first time,” he confided. “I hope it’s fun. It sure looks like it would be.”
“You’ll do fine,” I assured him. “You’re athletic and have great balance.”
He nodded his head and stood to find at seat next to one of his buddies. As I started the bus and put it in gear, the conversation stayed with me.
He classified me as old because I skied instead of snowboarded. But since I could out-hike him and learned to drive a passenger bus, I didn’t fall into the ‘old, old’ category.
For years I told myself I couldn’t learn to snowboard. Despite trying three times, I’d never learned. I hadn’t wanted to get my commercial driver’s license, but since I had to if I wanted to take kids on outdoor school adventures, I decided I could do it.
Was something wrong with me? Maybe I had a fixed mindset and didn’t realize it!
What is a Fixed Mindset?
A fixed mindset has two major hallmarks. Carol Dweck, author of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, describes how junior high students transitioning to high school explain their failure to thrive.
“Many maligned their abilities: “I am the stupidest” or “I suck in math.” And many covered these feelings by blaming someone else…” (with some not-so-pleasant name-calling).Mindset p. 57
I’ve met people of all ages with fixed mindsets. Maybe someone told them they couldn’t learn something or do something at one point in their lives. Perhaps they tried something once and failed.
For years, I had a fixed mindset about math. For me, the catalyst to my fixed mindset included two elements—I didn’t enjoy math and I didn’t like my math teacher in elementary school. I managed to get Bs in math in elementary school and high school, but I took the minimum requirement of math classes in both high school and college. After all, I told myself I had no natural ability to do math.
I allowed myself to have a fixed mindset about my mathematical abilities. But that all changed two years ago.
Fixed Mindset vs. Growth Mindset and the Role of Desire
Part of my teaching duties for the past two years included working with the lowest math students at my high school. Together we work our way up from first grade math to fifth or sixth grade math by the end of the school year.
I didn’t WANT to teach math—a subject I thought I didn’t understand. But I did want to take part in a team effort to help all of the students at our school (catch up and) excel in both English-Language Arts and Math. That meant I had to change my mindset and actually teach kids how to do math.
It turned out better than I expected—we ended up learning together. When a student asked for help on their self-paced assignments, we’d sit down and look at the worked examples. I’d read it out loud and talk through what I thought it meant. If the student understood part of it, they’d set me straight if I got off track.
I shared my previous attitudes about math with them, and told them that if an old lady like me could change and learn about math, just think how much they could do in one year with their young, nimble minds.
You could almost say that I teach mindset more than math. If I can convince my kids that they have the brilliance to figure this stuff out, I feel like I won. I consider it a real victory when a tenth grader ‘gets smarter than me’ and moves on to the teacher who teaches 7th and 8th grade math.
How to Nurture a Growth Mindset in Yourself
A person with a fixed mindset will look at their failure as a wall that prevents them from moving on. Someone with a growth mindset will look at failure as a wall—and start looking around for tools to either break through or climb over.A person with a fixed mindset sees a failure as a wall. A person with a growth mindset will see the wall, but look around for tools to get over it. #mindset #lifelonglearning #selfcare Click To Tweet
These hacks will help you identify areas in your life where you have a fixed mindset and give you tools for changing your way of thinking so you can accomplish your goals.
1. Determine your overall bent.
Take time to evaluate your life. Do you feel stuck? Does it seem like good things happen to other people, but never to you? Do you often listen to the negative voice in your head when it declares, “I can’t do that!” Did you grow up in a family of false narratives (adults or siblings claiming you were a certain way—hot-tempered, impulsive, dumb, ugly, unlovable, etc.)?
If any of these scenarios resonate with you, you may have a bent towards a fixed mindset. Sometimes, the false narratives ingrained in us require professional help to dislodge. Don’t be afraid to seek counseling!
If, when you evaluate your life, you realize that in most areas you accomplish what you set out to do, you may have a bent towards a growth mindset. I feel I have a bent towards a growth mindset, but in some areas, I have a definite resistance to change.
2. Don’t Try to Overhaul Everything at Once
After some self-evaluation, you may realize you have a lot of areas for growth. Don’t let this discourage you. And don’t try to overhaul your entire life right now. Adopting a growth mindset in one area of your life will have a cascading effect as you experience success.
I’ve seen this happen over and over again with my students. As they gain proficiency in reading, their grades in other classes start improving. When they understand a new math concept, handling negative talk from home or classmates gets easier.
3. Set the right kind of goals.
In order to make changes, we need to set concrete goals. In her book, Carol Dweck says,
“Think of something you need to do, something you want to learn, or a problem you have to confront. What is it? Now make a concrete plan. When will you follow through on your plan? Where will you do it? How will you do it? Think about it in vivid detail.”Mindset p. 238
You don’t have to overhaul your life this week, remember. Just pick one thing that you’d like to change and follow Dweck’s advice. The success of accomplishing that ONE thing will increase your bravery and aptitude for changing another thing.
4. Learn to talk back to negative self-talk.
When kids start the year out in my math class, they generally have rotten attitudes about their math ability. I encourage them to add one simple word to the end of each negative statement they spout about themselves. Yet.
If they whine, “I’m not good at math.” I insist they say it over again and tack ‘yet’ on the end of their sentence. When they say, “I can’t figure this out!” They have to say it again and add ‘yet’ on the end of the sentence.
When we convince ourselves that we have started the journey to learning, we’ll find it easier to actually learn.
5. Remember, you are never too old to change and grow.
We don’t have to exist in a stagnant pond, we can keep taking small steps, changing one little thing at a time, until we discover we’ve changed our bent.
I overcame my fixed mindset about math and driving a bus. Now I actually like driving a bus and I find the math skills I’ve learn useful. Next up on my ‘to-learn’ list? How to confidently navigate my FJ Cruiser over difficult terrain (off-roading). I started this summer.
Even Octogenarians Can Have a Growth Mindset
One of my former colleagues, Shirley Woods, shared a photo on her Facebook wall this spring of her sister-in-law holding a college diploma. The college diploma that she had just been awarded. At 84.
Betty Holmes married before starting college and had six children. When she divorced her husband, she had to work multiple jobs to support her family of young kids. Betty never gave up her dream of earning a college degree, even while she worked to help her kids with their education.
When Betty came to a point in her life where she had time to start college, she did. Taking classes as she could afford them. Because of COVID-19, she didn’t get to cross a stage and receive her diploma in person, but her family threw her a huge party.
Betty’s story proves that we can accomplish big things at any point in life. All it takes is a growth mindset.
What about you? I’d love to hear about things you want to learn this week, month, or year!