“Why do some people achieve their full potential while equally talented people don’t?”
After researching this question for decades, the Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck found: “The key isn’t ability; it’s whether you look at ability as something inherent that needs to be demonstrated or as something that can be developed.” In other words, do you believe that you are naturally “good” or ‘bad” at things? Or do you believe you can work to be good at anything if you put enough effort into it?
This is the difference between the fixed mindset and the growth mindset. People who hold the fixed mindset always believe they are the way they are. They say things like “I’m naturally just terrible at math” or “I could do what he does, if only I was born with his talent.”
People with the growth mindset, however, “believe that intelligence can be developed, that the brain is like a muscle that can be trained. This leads to the desire to improve.” With the growth mindset you believe that you can be good at anything if you put in the effort. As Carol Dweck found, those with the growth mindset accomplish much more. Luckily, the growth mindset is one we can shift to.
Those with the growth mindset know that the brain is like a muscle that can be trained and improved, while the fixed mindset tells us that our character and ability are static and are thus pointless to try to change. The fixed mindset can sometimes be developed starting at an early age. This can happen in school, when a child receives a bad grade and they start to believe they’re naturally bad at that subject. Then when a child receives a passing grade such as a C, they enter the next class, such as going from Algebra I to Algebra II. However, because they have not yet mastered the previous concept and are passed on to the next, they’ll usually have to struggle more in order to do well. They develop a mindset that they’re naturally bad at Algebra, they label themselves as “not math people” and begin to avoid it, shy away from it. They start to believe they’re bad at math, and so they become people who are bad at math.
I was Homeschooled growing up and I rarely believed I was naturally bad at something. On the other hand, this means I never believed I was naturally good at most things either. By learning and improving my skills, I was raised believing that I could get good at anything if I worked at it for long enough. When I attended high school at one point and later college, I experienced what it was like to have a much stronger emphasis on tests and grades. I found that just as some other kids did, I started to develop beliefs about what I was bad or good at based on grades. I found that usually when you got better grades in one subject than another, you’d gravitate towards focusing more on that subject. You started to slightly avoid the subject you didn’t do well in, causing you to do worse.
Your identity becomes based on your supposed strengths and weaknesses. It’s so common in school to hear “My brain just wasn’t meant for math!” or “I’m so good at writing essasy!” You apply for colleges and choose your major based on what you’re good at. Yet as Dweck found, succeeding at something depends so much of the time not on your natural ability but on how much you view ability as something that can be developed. This is why I love exciting educational companies such as Udacity and Dev Bootcamp–their core philosophy is that if you have enough grit and hone your skills for long enough, you can have the career you want, you can master the skill. Regardless of where you’re from and what you look like, regardless of what you were told you’re not “naturally” good at because of your gender, your ethnicity, your background.
The future belongs to those who can adapt the growth mindset. If we all adapted the growth mindset and realized we’re capable of anything, what would happen?