According to the psychologist Carol Dweck in Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, there are two types of mindsets: fixed and growth. People with a fixed mindset believe that we are who we are, and abilities can only be revealed, not created and developed. They say things like “I’m bad in math” and see that as a fixed feature like being female or left-handed (and as we know, even these features can be changed). The problem with this mindset is that it has serious consequences because a person who thinks they are poor at math will remain poor at math and won’t try hard to improve; they believe this would be pointless. Whatever potential these people have will not be realized if they think that these skills are immutable.
However, people with growth mindsets believe that skills can be developed if they are worked at. The growth mindset is the true mindset, that allow for personal development. Fixed mindsets are erroneous mindsets that preclude further development.
Dweck has conducted experiments that illustrate and provide insight into this difference. In one experiment she gave relatively easy experiments to fifth graders, which they enjoyed. Then she gave the children harder puzzles. Some children suddenly lost interest and declined an offer to take the puzzles home. Other children loved the harder puzzles more than the easy ones and wanted to know how they could get more of these puzzles. Dweck noted that the difference between the two groups was not “puzzle-solving talent.” Among the equally adept children, some were turned off by the tougher challenge while others were intrigued. They key factor was mindset.
In another experiment Dweck found that even when the fixed-minded try, they don’t get as much from the experience as those who believe they can grow. She scanned the brains of volunteers as they answered hard questions, then were told whether their answers were right or wrong and given information that could help them improve. The scans showed that volunteers with a fixed mindset were fully engaged when they were told whether their answers were right or wrong, but that’s all they apparently cared about. Information that could help them improve their answers didn’t engage them. Even when they’d gotten an answer wrong, they were not interested in what the right answer was. Only people with a growth mindset paid close attention to information that could stretch their knowledge. For them, learning was a top priority.
Having a growth mindset is important for building and maintaining a healthy memory. Having a growth mindset is even more important as we grow older. See the healthy memory blog posts (yes, there are two of them) “You Can Teach an Old Dog New Tricks. Having a growth mindset will build a cognitive reserve and assist in warding off dementia.
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