One of the many important jobs of being a parent is teaching our kids to be successful. But does that lesson mean making sure our kids never fail? In this popular post, originally published in 2010, Chief Pickle Rana DiOrio reviews a book that may change the way you think about failure vs. success.
One of the best books I have read is Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D. It is a game-changing book for parents, teachers, coaches, and managers of any kind.
What is a mindset? Dr. Dweck explains that entering a mindset is akin to entering a new world. In one world, success is about proving you’re smart, IQ matters and is immutable, failure is a setback and means you are not recognizing your potential, effort is a bad thing because it means that you’re not naturally talented. This is the world of someone who has a fixed mindset. In the other world, it’s all about developing yourself, challenging yourself to learn new things, IQ doesn’t really matter and can be improved, failure is a valuable way to learn, and effort is what makes you talented. This is the world of someone who has a growth mindset. Radically different approaches, wouldn’t you say?
The pitfalls of praise and positive labels. In one of the more powerful chapters of the book, Dr. Dweck explores how praise can reinforce the fixed mindset. She and her team conducted studies involving hundreds of students, mostly early adolescents. They first gave each student a set of 10 relatively difficult problems from a nonverbal IQ test. The students largely did well on these, and when they finished, Dr. Dweck’s team praised them. They praised some of the students for their ability (i.e., “Wow, you got [say] eight right. That’s a really good score. You must be smart at this.”). They praised other students for their effort (i.e., “Wow, you got [say] eight right. That’s a really good score. You must have worked really hard.”). The latter group of students was not made to feel as though they possessed special gifts; rather, they were praised for doing what is necessary to succeed. Both groups were identical at the outset, but right after the praise, they began to differ. “As we feared, the ability praise pushed students right into the fixed mindset, and they showed all the signs of it too: When we gave them a choice, they rejected a challenging new task that they could learn from. They didn’t want to do anything that could expose their flaws and call into question their talent.”
Dr. Dweck underscored another finding in her team’s study, “that was striking and depressing at the same time.” They told each student that they were going to go to other schools and that they imagined that the students in those schools would like to know about the problems. Then, they gave the students a page to write their thoughts and left a space for them to disclose the scores they had received on the problems. Stunningly, 40 percent of the ability-praised students lied about (that is, improved) their scores! Dr. Dweck observed, “In the fixed mindset, imperfections are shameful—especially if you’re talented—so they lied them away. What’s so alarming is that we took ordinary children and made them into liars, simply by telling them they were smart.”
Reorienting your messages. Consider adopting strategies that reinforce a growth mindset in your children and yourself. Dr. Dweck suggests that at the dinner table, ask each child (and one another):
- What did you learn today?
- What mistake did you make that taught you something?
- What did you try hard at today?
Try going around the table with each question, and “discuss your own and one another’s effort, strategies, setback, and learning.” Underscore the value of constructive criticism and of having people in our lives who challenge us to grow. Furthermore, encourage your children to talk about things they have always wanted to do but were afraid to, and help them to make a plan to do it. You’ll discover that the growth mindset world is more exciting and fulfilling!
Readers, please leave us a comment about the type of mindset most common in your lives!