Mindset Matters or Why Mistakes Are the Only Way Our Brains Grow


Mindsets. We all have one. Atually, we all have many mindsets and what those mindsets are depends on what it is we are thinking about.

I have been learning about mindsets in an online class that I have been taking. There are two primary categories of mindsets. Fixed mindset or Growth mindset.

A fixed mindset says that our talents, abilities, skill mastery, intelligence, temperament and so forth are fixed and there is little we can do to change them. A fixed mindset sounds like I’m not good at____ (fill in the blank) because____. I’ll never be able to ________. Or even, I’m good at __________ because ________.

A growth mindset says that we can always improve our talents, abilities, skill mastery, intelligence, temperament and so forth. A growth mindset sounds like I’m not that good at ____________ yet, but if I work at it I will get better. I can’t do ___________ yet, but with perseverance and practice I’ll be able to do that. A growth mindset does not assume that we are good at things because of some inherent, inherited attribute. It knows that we are good at the things that we are good at because we worked at them over time.

This is a tricky one because sometimes work doesn’t feel like work. What I mean by that is that when we are attracted to something, even though we were awful at the start, we do it so often that we get past that terrible stage without noticing that it ever existed. This can lead us down a path of lies. Lies that we tell ourselves when we are faced with trying something or learning something that we are not sure about. The prime lie we tell ourselves is “if I was good at this it would feel easy”. A fixed mindset believes that lie to be 100% true. A growth mindset reminds itself that we can become good at something yet still find it challenging to learn how to do it. A growth mindset looks at the pattern, “am I better this week than last”? “What do I know now that I didn’t know then and how can I use that?”

A fixed mindset is afraid of mistakes because they make it feel bad about itself. A growth mindset looks forward to them because it knows that in evaluating them it will learn something new.

The image in this post is a poster assignment that I am doing for my online class. We were challenged to develop a poster that reflects what we have learned about mindsets and learning. The phrase “Mistakes are expected, respected, and inspected” was our challenge point. You can see how I added the idea that it is in the correcting of mistakes that our brains grow. Brains remain static when we follow the safe path where we do not make any mistakes. We only get smarter when we risk a mistake, see and evaluate it (often times with the help of others), and then correct that mistake. We get smarter!

How cool is that!

Growing up I was definitely in the camp where I resisted doing anything wrong. I wanted approval. I avoided anything that made me feel stupid. Math definitely made me feel stupid and I didn’t get much approval from my efforts in math. So math and I were not friends. At. All!

I began learning to dare mistakes in my late, late 20s. I started with safe risks (no, that’s not a contradiction), ones where I knew I had backup if something went horribly wrong. Slowly, so slowly, I became braver and braver. I still have areas where I operate from a mindset of “I’ll never be good at that.” but I am working to have fewer and fewer of those areas. One area that I said I’d never be good at was math. But, with persistence and help from many sources both people and books, I eventually passed Calculus, with a B, on my first attempt and have gone on to tutor others in math. Something that I once hated I now enjoy doing.

I started out with a fixed mindset about math but I was able to develop a growth mindset because I did not give up on myself.

You can too.

How cool is that?!

Parents, for more information about Mindset and how to help your kids develop a growth mindset look for Carol Dweck’s book Mindset.

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