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Four Steps to a Growth Mindset

Motivational Picture of a Plant Growing. Caption: We don't grow when things are easy, we grow when we face challenges.

In a previous post, we talked about why the Growth Mindset is so important for academic success. Now let’s talk about how we can develop this beneficial mindset. The following guide is based on Stanford University Professor of Psychology Dr. Carol Dweck's research.

Four Steps to Developing a Growth Mindset

Step 1: The first step is to hear your Fixed Mindset “voice” - it’s the voice inside your head that promotes doubt. When you encounter a challenge, the voice may say: “Are you sure you can do it? Maybe you don’t have the talent for it. What if you fail? Then you’ll be a failure. If you don’t try, you can protect yourself and keep your dignity.” The Fixed Mindset voice tries to make you doubt and second-guess yourself. It will try to scare you from even trying.

Step 2: Once you have identified your Fixed Mindset voice, the second step is to realize that you have a choice. You can either listen to the Fixed Mindset voice, or you can respond with a Growth Mindset voice. You have full autonomy over how you interpret your setbacks and challenges. When you encounter a setback (for example, a disappointing grade on a math test), you can either interpret your grade as a sign of failure, or as an opportunity to grow and improve. It’s your choice.

Step 3: After you have recognized that you have a choice, it’s time to follow through. Whenever you hear the skeptical Fixed Mindset voice in your head, respond with a Growth Mindset voice. Here are a few examples:

Fixed Mindset Voice: “Are you sure you can do it? Maybe you don’t have the talent. If you fail, you’ll be a failure.”

Growth Mindset Voice Response: “The only failure in life is not trying. It might be challenging, but I know that with time and effort, I will be able to do it.”

Fixed Mindset Voice: “Look at your test grade, you’re not naturally gifted in math. Calculus would be so much easier if you were meant to major in it.”

Growth Mindset Voice Response: “Math may be challenging, but I know that if I apply myself and work at it, I will be able to improve my grades. Nothing worthwhile in life ever came easily – I will keep on persevering.

Step 4: Follow through. Put actions behind your Growth Mindset voice. Take on your challenges with 100% effort. Don’t be stymied by setbacks. Interpret them as learning opportunities and continue to persevere. Eventually, you’ll overcome that challenge, and you’ll be off to greater things.

Now that you’ve learned how to adopt a Growth Mindset. I believe that it’s important to elaborate on why a Growth Mindset is essential to your success in college. It’s because college is different from high school. College courses are not only more challenging, but they also place a greater emphasis on individual effort. In high school, you’ll have a teacher to keep you accountable. You will most likely have weekly homework assignments and monthly exams. But in college, the only person that can keep you accountable is you. In some college classes, attendance is optional, and homework counts very little to your overall grade. Essentially your entire grade can be based off of two midterms and one final exam. In college, one bad exam grade can significantly decrease your overall grade for the entire class. That’s why you’ll see so many students drop a class after one bad midterm grade. Sometimes dropping a class is a legitimate decision. But too often, students let one bad grade discourage them from pursuing a potential major or minor. These students are listening to the Fixed Mindset voice. They believe that one setback, one bad grade, is an indicator that they are not talented, and that they shouldn’t pursue that field of study.

In college, you’re going to face setbacks, and it’s your choice whether to interpret that setback as a failure or a growth opportunity. Don’t be afraid to challenge yourself. Don’t let one bad grade dissuade you from pursuing a major that you love. Attending college will be one of the most intellectually challenging experiences you will ever have. Make the most of your college experience by pursuing subjects that you’re passionate about – don’t just take a class for an easy A, take a class because it genuinely interests you. The famous U.S. President, Theodore Roosevelt once said: “Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty… I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life. I have envied a great many people who led difficult lives and led them well.” President Roosevelt’s wisdom applies to college. Have the courage to face your challenges with a positive attitude and a desire to improve. In the words of President Roosevelt, when you approach college with a Growth Mindset, you will gain a college experience “worth having.”

I hope that this post helps you approach your academics with a Growth Mindset. It can really help improve your academic performance. For an anecdote on how the Growth Mindset helped me overcome one of my greatest academic challenges: the SAT, click here.

-Jonathan A. Lu '19

*All examples are adopted and based off of Dr. Dweck’s examples in her website: "MINDSET." Mindset | How Can You Change from a Fixed Mindset to a Growth Mindset?Carol Dweck, 2010. Web. 18 May 2017.


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