Positive Psychology

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Mindset according to Dweck (2006) determines how we cope with failure, how much we learn and how open we are to investigating various solutions to our problems. Carol Dweck simply distinguishes between a fixed and a growth mindset and theorises that most people fit into one or the other and tend to fail or succeed accordingly. What we tell ourselves from an early age onwards regarding our self-worth and ability to succeed is most likely influenced by how our parents and teachers viewed us and spoke to us. The good news however is that we can change our mindset when we learn to appreciate learning over external praise and recognised success.

We choose between

1. A belief that intelligence and talents are fairly fixed (Fixed Mindset) OR
2. A belief that an attribute or talent is somewhat malleable (Growth Mindset)

They found that when people see their intelligence as fixed they can be more concerned about proving to others how clever or successful they are and avoidant of situations that show up their lack of it. The fixed mindset explains failure as a lack of talent or intelligence rather than as a lack of effort. Contrary to this the 'growth' mindset focuses on learning goals rather than fixed goals. They see intelligence and talent as potential for development through finding some way of remedying the lack of it.

The persons with the fixed mindset might have high self-confidence in their own abilities but do not do well at all when faced with growth challenges, they tend to revert to the belief that their intelligence is fixed so there is no point in even trying to change one's ability. Persons with a growth mindset however interpreted failure as a measurement of how they were doing for now at a particular task and would look for ways of improving that.

In 'Learned Optimism' Seligman warns against giving children permanent labels like 'you are no good' (Seligman, 2006). He describes Dweck's research on how girls and boys are corrected differently. When girls do not succeed they would be told that 'you are not very good at arithmetic' 'you're very sloppy' etc. indicating a permanent condition which resulted in the girls thinking that they were not very good at particular things and not very bright. When the boys failed however they were given a more temporary and hopeful explanation like: 'you weren't paying attention' or 'you didn't try hard enough' which meant that if they paid more attention or tried harder they would succeed. Dweck discovered the consequence of this when she gave both girls and boys a puzzle but not enough time to solve it. When asking them why they didn't solve the problem the boys said 'I didn't try hard enough', 'I wasn't paying attention' whereas the girls explained that they were not clever or good at word puzzles.

Dweck experienced that children love being praised for their intelligence but that their self-satisfactory smiles disappear as soon as they experience a difficult problem. Her research shows that children who were praised for intelligence after succeeding wanted to avoid challenging tasks in order to keep looking smart and when they did face a problem they ended up thinking they were not smart after all. Children who were praised for their effort however enjoyed difficulties and wanted to learn more even when they failed.

Interestingly, also in business management Heslin & VandeWalle (2007) discovered that managers who held a fixed mindset regarding the intelligence and performance of their employees were disinclined to alter their initial impression, whether it be negative or positive, of the employee's performance. This the researchers point out could become a danger for human safety when for example pilots, doctors, nuclear power plant operators or security staff are not pulled up on declining performance.

Heslin & VandeWalle trained managers assessed with a fixed mindset over six weeks to adopt a growth mindset. They found that these managers six weeks later were using the same encouragement and appraisal ratings as those of the managers with a growth mindset. This 'growth mindset interventions' could be replicated in other workplaces but the danger of an extreme growth mindset could cause a manager to keep investing in training for an employee who over time shows poor performance in spite of their ongoing training.

In reality most of us might be placed somewhere in the middle of fixed and growth mindset as we may hold a fixed mindset in one area while holding a growth mindset in another area of our lives. It seems to me that the challenge is to become aware of the mindset that stops us from partaking in the adventure and learning challenges of life which might bring us potential happiness and well-being in years to come.


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