mindsetSometimes, people who hear about the advantages of a growth mindset ask whether it is really possible to change one’s mindset. They wonder whether mindset isn’t mainly a matter of personality or predisposition. That is not the case. Much research has been done which shows that mindsets aren’t fixed. What is true is that mindsets often are stable in practice.  This has to do with the fact that mindsets are self-inforcing.

When you have a fixed mindset with respect to a certain topic (for example math), it is not likely that you will put in much effort, persist when there are setbacks, and ask for help. Without those behaviors you will probably not get much better. And the fact that you don’t get better is easily (mis-) interpreted as a sign that your fixed mindset is valid.  

When you have a growth mindset, you realize that you have to put in effort to learn hard things, that you have to persist when there are setbacks, and that it is useful and normal to ask for help when you get stuck. When you do these things you are likely to make progress. The fact that you make progress is easily understood (and rightfully so) that your growth mindset is valid.

But the fact that mindsets don’t change spontaneously, does not mean that they can’t change. They can and usually that isn’t even very hard. Here are a few well-know effective interventions to stimulate a growth mindset:

  1. Workshops: Research has shown that brief workshops can be used to teach people a growth mindset. These workshop use a combination of giving participants information and self-persuasion techniques (Aronson, Fried, & Stone, 1991; Aronson, Fried, & Good, 2002).
  2. Process-focused feedback: feedback which is person-focused (“you are very smart”) often evokes a fixed mindset while process-focused positive feedback (“I think you handled that well”) often evokes a growth mindset.
  3. Specific questions: a specific type of questions, questions which implicitly reflect a growth mindset, can be used to evoke a growth mindset. An example of such a question is: “When , in the past, have you been able to learn something difficult which at first you doubted whether you would be able to learn it?”

Also I suspect (I don’t know of any research confirming this) that daily interactions we have with one another influence our mindsets. How parents talk about hard subjects, like math, may influence how children perceive their ability to be able to learn it. Finally, our mindset are probably influenced by the examples we see when we grow up. If parents say and do things which fit with a growth mindset (for example, when when they start taking music lessons or start a new study) children are more likely to form a growth mindset.

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