Carol Dweck is a psychologist, professor and author of a great book titled Mindset. In it, she discusses the difference between a fixed mindset and a growth mindset. To define these simply, the fixed mindset believes that things like intelligence, skill and talent are innate. You either have it or you don’t. On the other hand, the growth mindset believes that your current state is just a starting point. It believes that the abilities that you have are not set in stone and that with hard work, things like intelligence, skill and talent can be improved. In her research, she has conducted numerous studies on the topic of mindset and below, I share one that had me in disbelief!
The study began with a test that every student took. These tests were graded and it was fairly simple. One half of the class was praised for their intelligence and the other half was praised for their effort. In the end, everyone was feeling good about themselves as they scored pretty well on it and were ready for whatever the teacher had in store for them. Then things began to get interesting…
With test number two, the researchers gave the students an option: Would you like to take an easy test or a hard test? 90% of the kids praised for their effort chose the hard test and only a small majority of the kids praised for intelligence chose the difficult one. Based on that, the researchers began to speculate that the praised for intelligence group did not want their new found identity to be threatened and chose the easy route whereas the praised for effort group looked forward to another challenge and chose accordingly. We aren't done yet...
Then, a third and very difficult test was to be given. Nobody scored well on this but it is the approach each group took that really differentiates the two. The effort group liked the challenge and dug in. They found it to be fun testing solutions and trying different strategies. The intelligence group did not see it the same way. They hated the test and took it as proof that they were not as intelligent as they originally thought. Finally, a fourth test was given that was similar in difficulty to the initial exam. The praised for effort group improved their score by 30% while the praised for intelligence group saw a 20% decline in their scores. Dweck couldn’t believe the results so she decided to run the study five more times. Each time she ran it, the results stayed the same!
Kids are very attuned to the messages they receive and as this study indicates, how you praise matters. Dweck's research team found that if you focus solely on the child's performance and praise that behavior, then there could be a negative long term consequence as the child identifies his worth based off of how successful they were at a given task. Whenever that identity is challenged or threatened and they face a setback, they will not be equipped to handle it well and in some cases, shut down.
So, rather than focusing on outcomes, the attention should be placed on the process (effort, strategy, focus, perseverance, etc.). If you praise them for hard work, allow them to fail, and through failure, teach them to be brave and overcome adversity, they will face challenges and setbacks in a way that will promote future growth optimally. Fostering a high performance mindset is an environment where the child utilizes their talent, encourages learning through their efforts, and gives each kid autonomy and control over the learning process.