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Growing a Learning Mindset: What’s in it for You?

Your mindset has a big impact on how you think, feel, behave and perform. Your mindset frames and filters what you notice going on around you, what you focus on and reflect about and the conclusions that you reach. Your mindset also influences your actions; what you approach, what you avoid, and the responses that you make to challenges.

Research on mindsets and learning discuss two different and seemingly oppositional sets of beliefs: growth mindset versus fixed mindset. This can create the impression that we should always have a growth mindset, whereas the truth is that we all have a mixture of both, and it takes a conscious effort to catch ourselves when we slip into a limiting mindset. Once this slip is recognised, we then have the opportunity to choose a different way of framing the situation and responding to it positively.

A growth mindset is characterised by the belief that intelligence can be developed through strategy and effort. A fixed mindset entertains the belief that intelligence is fixed; you are born with a certain degree of intelligence and this can’t be altered. The distinction between the two belief sets sounds straightforward and yet they have a profound impact on how we approach learning and what we can achieve.

Studies in the areas of cognitive psychology and cognitive neuroscience have demonstrated that both children and adults can improve their achievement and intelligence through targeted practice. These findings establish that although we don’t all start out with the same level of intelligence, we all have the capacity to improve and grow. Research on children has shown that school students that are taught a growth mindset improve their grades and achievement significantly, even if they are not typically expected to do well. Adults have been shown to benefit from demanding working memory training that improves their fluid intelligence.

It is in the face of challenges and setbacks that our learning-related mindsets are most likely to be activated. Key researchers in the area have identified that students with growth mindsets are more likely to embrace learning goals. That is, they are less motivated by outcomes, although these still matter to them, they just value the process and challenge of learning new things more. People with high levels of ability still need to practice, persevere and change their strategies to achieve outstanding results. Growth mindset students believe in the power of effort, whereas fixed mindset students tend to see effort as a sign of less ability. Fixed mindset students are more likely to see setbacks and feedback as an embarrassment and consequently they try to avoid both. Growth mindset students tend to see feedback and setbacks as an opportunity to learn and they are more likely to try new strategies and approaches to achieve success.

So, what is in it for you if you cultivate a growth mindset? You are more likely to learn new things and grow your intelligence. You are more likely to feel satisfaction because you have faced a challenge and have overcome it. You are more likely to be motivated by engaging in collaborative endeavours, since these involve giving and receiving feedback, learning from one another’s mistakes and learning new ways of doing things. It is also likely that you will be less stressed as you don’t have an ‘I’m smart’ image to keep up, but will instead focus on what you can do next to make some progress. You are less likely to take feedback personally or as a slight on your ability and will welcome it as someone taking the time to contribute to your growth and development. Learning and growing are not easy or straightforward, since they involve facing your limiting beliefs, coping with setbacks and making an effort. However, the benefits and rewards are clear!

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