Psychology Behind Growth Mindset
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Psychology Behind Growth Mindset


Let us consider two contrasting characters from the movie 3 Idiots. First, we have Chatur – the one who always wants to prove his academic excellence and goes by the ideology that intelligence is fixed, seeks constant validation from the principal and other staff, wants to be flawless and perfect all the time, very strongly believes that exams are indicative of true potential, and has an inflated feeling of superiority and self-esteem. Then, we have Rancho – the one who believes that efforts make you smart, that intelligence can be improved if worked upon, seeks challenges constantly, thrives on flaws and imperfections, sees failures as learning opportunities, is against the notion that exams are permanent indicators of potential and understands that abilities of people are merely due to practice, otherwise, everyone is just simply human. 

If Carol Dweck, a professor from Stanford University and the author of the book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, would look at these two characters, she would say that Chatur has a fixed mindset and Rancho has a growth mindset. But she would also say that mindset can be changed. Professor Virus is a classic example of mindset change. At the beginning of the movie, he is shown to have a very strong fixed mindset. However, after the incident of his daughter’s delivery, assisted by the “3 Idiots”, his mindset seems to have become more of a growth mindset. 

So, What is a growth mindset?

A growth mindset is rooted in the belief that basic qualities can be cultivated through one’s efforts, strategies and additional help and support from others. Individuals with a growth mindset believe that their talents and abilities can be developed through hard work, good strategies, and feedback from others. 

In her experiment, Dweck had two groups of children. To the first group, she gave a set of fairly easy puzzles, which they solved fast. To the second group, she gave a set of hard puzzles. The students did struggle to solve the puzzles, but despite their seemingly “failed” attempt to do so, they loved the challenge. The second group of children were learning through struggling and persevering, while the first group of children had it easy and did not learn much. From her findings, one could learn that the first group had a fixed mindset and the second had a growth mindset. Eventually, the second group of children showed a higher success rate in solving the puzzles and were open to learning, if they “failed” to do so. In addition to the higher success rate of those with a growth mindset, fostering this mindset bestows other numerous benefits. 

Read More: The Psychology Behind Excellence

Growth mindset can help enhance mental health

Having a fixed mindset can make you more prone to mental health concerns such as depression and learned helplessness. Sounds contrary? I mean, you might ask “The ones with a growth mindset keep seeking challenges and so, they should feel miserable, right?” Actually yes, they do feel pretty miserable. But the more depressed they felt, the more action they took to confront their problems. 

Growth mindset can help you develop your identity and embrace authenticity 

Individuals with a fixed mindset see their actions as interconnected with their identity. For instance, if a person with a fixed mindset does not get recognized for their actions or if they “fail”, they tend to project their “failure” onto their identity and end up calling themselves a “failure”. As much as they internalize negative labels, they also tend to internalize positive labels. This gives them a sense of superiority among their peers (that is until they confront failure again!). When they confront failures, these individuals would want to lie about their abilities just to protect their self-esteem

Individuals with a growth mindset are rooted in the belief that their efforts indicate success, and if they don’t “succeed”, they see it as a learning experience. These individuals do not internalize stereotypes, thereby not letting them affect their performance. Their growth mindset lets them use and develop their minds fully, despite being targets of negative labels (Think about Rancho here). As a result, they are more likely to embrace their uniqueness and use it to their best. 

Read More: The Psychology of Discipline

Growth mindset can make individuals feel belonging

People with fixed mindsets consider other’s success as their failure, and as a threat to their self-esteem. These individuals usually practice downward comparison, wherein they compare their abilities, talents and performance with other individuals who are lower than them. On the other hand, individuals with a growth mindset engage in upward comparison, wherein they compare their abilities, talents and performance with superior individuals so that they can learn from them. In the process, they gain the connection of mentors and a wider professional network. Further, these individuals cherish other’s success and learn from it. Again, this would get them more friends, thereby widening their social network as well. 

Read More: The psychology behind self-motivation

Growth mindset can lead to a better love life

Yes, you read that right. Let’s consider you like someone and you confessed. But sadly, they did not reciprocate your feelings. What would you do? Disappointment is a common response. But, what would you do after that? Do you let the experience scar you and prevent you from forming satisfying relationships in the future? Or, do you attempt to heal and move on? If you said yes to the first question, then you might have a fixed mindset. You might feel judged and permanently labelled by the rejection.

Read More: Rejection Does Not Mean the End of Life

You might also end up inflicting pain or taking revenge on the person who rejected you. This is especially true in cases where the reasons for rejection are tied to identity, like body image for instance. But, if you said yes to the second question, you have a growth mindset. This mindset will give you the recipe for healing your rejection wound. This phase would help you understand, forgive, learn from the experience and move on. I know it’s hard, but hey, not everyone has to like everyone, isn’t it?

Let’s consider another scenario – the person you confessed to, also confessed back (Yay!!) You have been in a happy committed relationship for a few months now, but you realize that the “honeymoon” phase is starting to wear off. You start to notice the big and small flaws of your partner, and so does your partner. What do you do now? Do you think that your qualities and that of your partner are fixed and that you cannot change anything in the relationship? Or do you think that you and your partner are in the same team and can work on your flaws and strengthen your relationship?

If you answered yes to the first question, you guessed it right, you might have a fixed mindset. You might believe that the ideal relationship is instant, perfect and perpetually compatible. You might even say, if it requires work, it is not meant to be. But if you answered yes to the second question, you have a growth mindset. You believe that your tendencies and that of your partner can be developed. You see your relationship as a collaborative team, and therefore, you rise above the blame, understand the problem and try to fix it – together. As a result, you have a
a stronger, deeper connection. 

Now that we have seen the benefits of fostering a growth mindset, you might ask how do I foster it? Here are the steps. 

  1. Start by accepting that it is normal to have both mindsets
  2. Then, learn to recognize what triggers your fixed mindsets. It could be failures, criticism, deadlines, disagreements, or anything else. 
  3. Now that you understand what happens to you when your fixed-mindset “persona” is triggered. Give this “persona” a name. What does it take you to think, feel, and do? How does it affect those around you?
  4. Educate your “persona” and invite it to join you on a growth-mindset journey. Gradually, you will learn to remain in a growth place despite the triggers. 

Finally, once you are on the journey and have seen its benefits, it is always a blessing to promote learning among loved ones and witness them learn, grow and transform. Feel free to share this with your friends and family, if you find this useful!

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