Judy had always been a top student throughout her early years education as well as upper primary education. She did her assignments well and with little effort and was often puzzled by her classmates who would appear to struggle through assignments and not perform as well as her. In response, her parents would tell her that she is very smart and gifted. Things took a turn for Judy when she got to lower secondary education. As her grades began to drop, she lost interest in her studies. Her parents tried to motivate her by continuing to emphasize her natural gifts and intelligence, but her grades continued to drop well into her senior education.
In today’s society, talent, ability and intelligence are highly favored. Many of us believe that the recipe for success and prosperity is having a certain talent, ability or superior intelligence as well as confidence in that talent, ability or high level of intelligence. However, more than 35 years of scientific research have shown that the opposite is true; overemphasizing talent, ability or intelligence causes people to avoid challenges, become defenceless against failure and are less keen on working on their limitations.
This phenomenon is evident in children in relation to their school work. Children, like Judy, who grow up being told that they are naturally smart, gifted or talented tend to associate this with having to put in less effort in their work; because after all, it is something that comes naturally to them. Furthermore, they hold the belief that putting an effort into their work, as well as mistakes and challenges, are a sign of lacking talent, ability or intelligence. When faced with difficulties in their school work, they lose confidence in themselves which consequently leads to stagnation and reduced confidence. This is known as a fixed mindset.
The overemphasis on talents and abilities from a child’s parents (and significant others) reinforces this type of mindset. It is not only seen in children but also manifests itself in adult life. For instance, when an individual with a fixed mindset is faced with a certain challenge in their marriage or at the workplace, they will not try to put in the effort to fix it. Moreover, psychological research shows that having a fixed mindset makes people less likely to own up to errors or mistakes in their work, school and social life. Consequently, they will be less likely to correct their mistakes or work on their limitations.
In contrast to the fixed mindset is what is known as the growth mindset; which emphasizes the process of putting in personal effort and hard work rather than talent, ability or intelligence. This mindset is positive, and healthy and leads to productivity, motivation, achievement and success.
Parents and significant others (such as teachers) can instil a growth mindset in children by praising them for their continued personal effort or hard work (rather than talent, ability or intelligence) and sharing with them success stories that place an emphasis on hard work and effort rather than the easy road. Praising children for the effort or hard work they put in to accomplish something enhances their confidence and motivation by focusing them on the intentional actions that lead to achievement and success. Children can also be taught to enjoy and take pride in the process of learning or achieving a certain goal. Moreover, parents and significant others can teach children about the brain as a ‘learning machine’. The brain is like a muscle- it gets stronger with continuous and constant use.
A growth mindset helps mould children into high achievers in school and in life. Children instilled with a growth mindset will grow up into healthy and prosperous adults. The Word of God tells us to “Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.” Proverbs 22:6 (NIV)
As an adult, a growth mindset has a great, positive impact on your relationships, your work and career, your studies, your social life, your health and fitness, your finances and wealth, your personal growth and your spirituality.
Audrey is a counselling and wellness psychologist and training expert with a passion for helping individuals and organisations attain their highest emotional and psychological health levels.
As the lead consultant at Halisi Counseling & Wellness Services, her consultancy portfolio spans a wide spectrum of sectors and includes services such as psychospiritual counselling, adolescent psychological counseling, trauma counseling, self-awareness and development and training and facilitation sessions for groups and organisations.
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