Understanding the Importance of Fixed Mindset

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Screen Shot 2017-07-13 at 4.57.57 PMNow that grad school has finished up, I have more time to reflect on the multitude of great experiences that took place over the last year.  One of the best fanboy moments came when I was able to meet with Carol Dweck.  I was working on a curriculum centered around growth mindset and my teammate and I were lucky enough to get 30 minutes to bounce ideas off of the celebrity known as Dweck.

My main take away from the meeting was that mindset is much more complex than many educators portray it to be.  For example, the talking points around growth mindset tend to be “growth mindset is good” and “fixed mindset is bad”.  As teachers, we emphasize the importance of developing a growth mindset and communicate they need to have the proper mindset in order to find success.

Walking away from my meeting with Dweck, I realize that fixed mindset gets a bad rap.  She explained that fixed mindset isn’t this awful thing that we need to get rid of at all costs; instead, she talked about how fixed mindset is your mind’s natural reaction to new and challenging situations.  It is your mind’s natural defense mechanism.  By asking students to get rid of a fixed mindset we are asking them to become inhuman and ignore their body’s natural reactions.

Instead, she proposes teaching students to become aware of the moments in which fixed mindset presents itself.  “Give a name to your fixed mindset”, she said.  Recognize that it is a part of you and when it shows up, acknowledge it by name and thank it for trying to protect you.  Tell it that you need to push past that uncomfortable feeling for the moment because there is an opportunity to grow.

As an example, I named my fixed mindset Jeremiah.  I was at IKEA earlier this week.  My first time there. Guys.  It’s super overwhelming.  I’m a small town boy and this building was bigger than my town.  I wandered my way around and finally got to the nightstand/ dresser section, which is what I was looking for.  I was finally there, and I didn’t know how I was supposed to buy the items I really wanted.  I snapped my friends, telling them how dumb IKEA was and seriously considered just leaving and going to Target.  I was overwhelmed and didn’t know what to do.  I was sweating.

I didn’t know it in the moment, but these are the feelings that arise when fixed mindset is afoot:  stress, being overwhelmed, anxiety, frustration.  I didn’t know my way around the store and rather than asking an employee and risking looking stupid I kept to myself for WAY too long.  Finally, I went up to an employee and asked “I’m so confused.  How do I buy a dresser?”.  I hadn’t formally acknowledged Jeremiah, but I did finally decide that to figure this out I needed to risk looking stupid to learn how to buy the furniture I needed.  In the end, they explained it to me and, sure enough, now I know how to buy furniture from IKEA (yay me!)

So next time you talk to students about growth and fixed mindset, don’t hate on fixed mindset.  Instead, have students give their fixed mindset a name and help them become more aware of the moments fixed mindset arises in their life.  You can always start with yourself.  When do you find yourself getting defensive or upset?  Is your body just trying to protect you from failure and/ or looking stupid?  Once you become aware of the moments your mindset is fixed, it’s easier to consciously alter them into moments of growth.