Is there a particular way of thinking that the “Master” performers adopt that is different from others? Well, the research is in, and the answer is a resounding YES. Let’s look into the evidence!
Stanford University motivation expert Dr. Carol Dweck led a number of studies to determine the effects of the belief in natural born genius on student performance. She discovered that there are two mindsets people have about their abilities and intelligence: a fixed mindset and a growth mindset.
One is the belief that intelligence is determined at birth, and each person has a fixed amount that can’t be changed. The other maintains that talent can be developed through practice. In at least one study, subjects were asked a number of agree/disagree questions about innate talent.
Dweck observed that people tend to build their identities around one of these two mindsets. Those with a fixed mindset are likely to want to show off their abilities. They value being viewed as smart, and this becomes a goal while doing school work and taking tests. They devalue effort and believe it’s mainly for dumb people. They also tend to be hard on themselves if they perform poorly.
People with growth mindsets, after flunking a test, are more focused on developing strategies for improvement. A failing grade or two is not as devastating to them. They’re less likely to let the failure define their abilities and less likely to quit. In contrast, those people characterized by a fixed mindset may choose to spend less time on a subject with which they struggle for fear of appearing stupid.
Dweck warns parents and teachers not to praise students or do anything that reinforces the fixed mindset. In one of her studies, she praised one group of students who scored high on a test without praising effort. When another group scored well on the test, she praised their effort.
After the periods of praise, she asked students what they wanted to do next. The choices were an easier assignment and a more challenging one. Most of the group she praised for their intelligence chose the easier assignment because it would make them look smarter. “The vast majority” of the other group chose the more challenging task.
Everyone was given the hard problems. The students praised for intelligence enjoyed the assignment far less. They felt dumber as a result of the increased challenge. The other group remained motivated, and they enjoyed the work. Many of them even identified the hardest problems as their favorites. Students in this group even asked for more such problems to take home. The others said “No thanks.”
This study continued through three sets of tests. Those praised for intelligence experienced a drop in both performance and IQ. The other group improved in both over time.
Much of Dweck’s work revolves around fixed and growth mindsets because these determine a lot of things in a person’s life. They include success, creativity, self-esteem, one’s tendency toward depression, and even whether you stereotype or pre-judge particular groups of people.
If you have a fixed mindset, you have to expend a lot of effort to prove yourself, to yourself and others. You may perceive criticism as an attack on YOU as a person. This makes sense, because a growth mindset acknowledges that you are evolving. Criticism, in this case, means there could be something you need to practice. Not so with a fixed mindset. If you’ve attached innate greatness to your identity, then criticism means you’re inherently incapable or stupid.
These mindsets will affect much of your behavior. With a growth mindset, you can retain passion and grit when your skill development hits bumpy roads or temporarily plateaus. With a fixed mindset, you’re more likely to doubt yourself and quit learning that skill, perhaps opting for another skill in which you’ve already achieved superior ability. Even worse, you might not expand beyond your comfort zone in that skill. After all, challenging activities mean failure, and failure bruises the ego.
The evidence is in. World-class performers are growth-minded. Many of you reading this article are already highly functioning growth-minded achievers as well. However, we’d all do well to revisit this contrast between Growth vs. Fixed mindsets so that we can consciously manage our minds accordingly on a moment to moment basis. Our success depends on it.