Yes the headline above is true. There really is a belief proven by the past two decades of research into people’s beliefs about themselves that proves there is one belief that will help determine how the rest of your life turns out.
Before I tell you what the belief is try responding with an “agree” or “disagree” to the following four statements (your responses won’t be stored).
- Your intelligence is something very basic about you that you can’t change very much.
- You can learn new things, but you can’t really change how intelligent you are.
- No matter how much intelligence you have, you can always change it quite a bit.
- You can always substantially change how intelligent you are.
If you answered “agree” to statements 1 and 2 you probably have what’s called a fixed mindset when it comes to intelligence. So you believe that people’s intelligence is fixed and you have what’s called a “fixed mindset” with regards to intelligence.
If you answered “agree” to statements 3 and 4, then you probably have a growth mindset when it comes to intelligence. You believe that people’s intelligence can grow with effort and you have a “growth mindset.”
Whether you believe that people’s intelligence is fixed or can grow, that belief will determine how successful you can be, how well you bounce back from adversity, and how much you actually grow as a result of your life experiences. In short it literally determines your potential for success and happiness.
Believing intelligence is fixed leads to a desire to “look smart” and so those that have this belief have a hard time dealing with failure because each failure shows they lack ability. They tend to avoid challenges. They give up easily, ignore feedback and often feel threatened by the success of others.
The belief that intelligence and other abilities can be developed through effort leads to a desire to learn. These people embrace challenges, persist in the face of obstacles, see effort as the path to mastery, learn from criticism and find lessons and inspiration in the success of others.
For a much longer list of the differences between people with the two types of self-beliefs click here for a PDF graphic that shows the differences side-by-side.
Here’s an example from the research that shows how people might pass up an important opportunity that could improve their lives due to their mindset.
This study was conducted at the University of Hong Kong in which everything is in English—classes, textbooks and exams—everything. But some students are not fluent in English. So if they got a chance to get better in English—something that would impact their success in college—you’d think they’d all jump at the chance right?
So researchers asked those students not fluent in English if they would take a course on English if the university offered it. The researchers also asked students to fill out a questionnaire with questions like the one above such as “Do you think intelligence is something that cannot be changed?” to measure their mindset.
Students who had a growth mindset said yes. Those with a fixed mindset said no.
Why would students with a fixed mindset say no? Because taking a course in English might reveal their deficits in English. And they would rather feel smarter in the present even if it’s at risk to their college careers in the long run.
This is just one of many studies showing the power of mindsets in determining whether or not a person will take advantage of learning opportunities.
In another study, students making the transition to junior high were followed for two years. They had been tested to see which of them had growth or fixed mindsets.
As I’m sure you know, junior high is a difficult time for many students. Classes are harder, instruction is less individualized, teachers are more remote etc. These challenges and others caused many students grades to slip.
However, only those with the growth mindset maintained their grades. The fixed mindset students grades continued to drop as the study went on.
The interesting thing is that both groups had the same records to start with. So the lowered achievement of the fixed mindset group can only be attributed to their mindset and no other factor.
So what can you do if you have a fixed mindset and want to change it?
Unfortunately, mindsets are habitual so you can’t just decide to change and have that change last. You will need to work at changing your mindset.
Here are some suggestions from the research to help you.
1. Understand that the brain can never perform a task as well today as it can tomorrow. Why? Because when you learn a new skill the brain grows new connections, and these connections get stronger after you go to sleep and wake up. This means that—everything else being equal–you are likely to do better the next day just because your brain has grown. If you keep this in mind, you’ll be better able to focus on the learning that can only happen over time.
By the way underperforming students who were taught brain facts such as this gained lasting improvement in their scores in math—usually underperforming student’s worst subject (Mindset p218-221).
2. Consciously set learning goals along with any outcome goals you create for yourself. Goals can become habitual if set often. So if you create learning goals each day, you may find after some time that you unconsciously look for learning opportunities and grow your growth mindset. Examples of learning goals for me are: Learn how to write enticing headlines for my posts and learn how to do interval training without harming my hamstring.
How valuable will developing a growth mindset be for you? Let me know by leaving a comment below.
Blackwell, L., Trzesniewski, K., and Dweck, C.S. 2007. Implicit Theories of Intelligence Predict Achievement Across an Adolescent Transition: A Longitudinal Study and an Intervention. Child Development 78 (1): 246-263.
Dweck, S, Carol 2006. Mindset. New York: Random House. 218-221