The Power of YET: Why Mindset Matters

By Barbara Gruener
Part of our Counselor’s Corner series. Click to read other posts in the Counselor’s Corner.

The Power of YET: Why Mindset MattersThe year was 1972, and I was in the sixth grade. Up until that point, I had seen myself as a straight-A student because, well, I brought home straight A’s. As a student in the top reading group and doing advanced work in every subject, I was often asked to tutor my classmates who struggled. My teachers told my parents and me that I was gifted, and we believed them, prompting me to meet and exceed their academic expectations. Until I came home with a C in science on my report card, that is.

Understandably devastated by that unwanted grade, which felt more like a failure than a benchmark indicating I hadn’t quite mastered the material yet, my eleven-year-old brain decided that I must stink at science. It seems odd to me now to even admit that out loud, but I truly didn’t think I could fully grasp or learn—much less ever get good or excel at—anything remotely related to science. And even though I eventually brought the grade back up to an A, I had myself convinced that science just wasn’t for me, and that, in fact, I couldn’t do it. It didn’t take long before that errant belief turned into a fixed mindset and, sure enough, I got a B in biology, a C in chemistry, and {gasp!} a D in wildlife ecology.

Perhaps you’ve had a similar experience or you’ve overheard your students or children say things like, I don’t understand this or I can’t do something this hard. How about, I hate messing up. Or worse, I give up. They might even go so far as to claim something like, My mom (or dad) is no good at that, either.

Is it possible that simply changing our thoughts could help combat those errant beliefs? Could I, for example, have talked myself out of believing that I wasn’t ever going to be successful at science? Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck thinks that yes, I could have. In fact, she spent years and years researching motivation, achievement, and success before ultimately coining the term mindset and sharing her findings in a book by the same name. In this best seller, Dr. Dweck delineates and details the differences between having a growth mindset and a fixed mindset. Her work has quickly become a game changer for parents and educators everywhere. I read her book five years ago, and it has transformed the way I think.

So what exactly is a growth mindset? In a nutshell, a person with a growth mindset believes that intelligence develops over time, so he or she embraces challenges, gives his or her best effort, grows from feedback, and is inspired by others’ successes. Additionally, he or she believes that intelligence can (and does!) increase with hard work. People with a growth mindset believe that anything is possible and are less likely to let setbacks deter them from reaching their goals and maximizing their success.

Conversely, a person with a fixed mindset believes that people are born with a certain amount of intelligence that doesn’t change. As a result, she or he is known to avoid challenges, give up easily, see feedback as criticism and ignore or dismiss it, and feel threatened by the successes of others. She or he tries hard to appear smart and capable, even perfect. People with a fixed mindset haven’t embraced the idea that the brain is a muscle that can stretch and grow stronger. They tend to avoid adversity, which significantly limits their potential to learn and get better.

Check out these fixed-mindset thoughts. How would you unlock them and change them into growth-mindset beliefs?

  • He just got lucky.
  • This is good enough.
  • It doesn’t really matter how hard I work.
  • Dad can’t read very well, either.
  • Girls aren’t as strong in math.
  • I’m just a farmer’s daughter.

There’s good news though: We can nurture a growth mindset. Try one or more of these suggestions.

  1. Talk about mindset. Make it concrete for our youngest learners by using a closed hand to show what a fixed mindset looks like. There aren’t a whole lot of things that a clenched fist can do. Use an open hand to represent our brains when they’re making and firing connections in growth-mindset mode. Talk through real-life scenarios or stories from television or the movies. Decide together if the people involved are operating with a fixed mindset or a growth mindset.
  2. Model a growth mindset. Use your words as well as your actions to remind the people with whom you interact that our brains are always growing and creating new pathways, especially when we persist through difficulties and work hard at learning something new.
  3. Let go of perfectionism and embrace mistakes as learning opportunities. Talk about the difference between being the best and doing your personal best. Discuss rhetorical questions like: Do we ever truly reach our personal best or is there always room for improvement? Move outside of your comfort zone by attempting difficult tasks and projects, just for growth’s sake.
  4. Praise the process instead of the person to champion effort, goal setting, and perseverance. Say things like: You must have worked really hard on that or This shows tremendous resilience and grit. We know an incredibly graceful, talented young figure skater who tells me she will have to fall down hundreds of times before she’ll master that triple axel. Ouch! Hard work and effort trump innate talent every time.
  5. Change your beliefs by unlocking negative thoughts. The way we talk to ourselves makes a huge difference on the way we approach new challenges. Reframe negative thoughts and add the word yet to your working vocabulary. Repeat after me: I can’t do that . . . yet!

Many other authors and educators have recently researched the mindset theory that Dr. Dweck championed. For more information, check out these engaging titles:

For links to additional resources on this topic, visit my Growth Mindset Pinterest page.

Barbara GruenerCurrently in her 32nd year as an educator, Barbara Gruener, a school counselor and character coach at Bales Intermediate School in Friendswood, Texas, has had the pleasure of working with kids from every grade level. Author of the blog The Corner on Character and the book What’s Under Your Cape? SUPERHEROES of the Character Kind, Barbara enjoys positively influencing change through her inspirational keynotes and interactive workshops. When she’s not working, you can bet Barbara is knitting, baking, writing, reading, walking, gardening, napping, or spending time with her husband and their three children.

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