I was the student speaker at the commencement ceremony when I graduated with my Associate’s degree. I managed to graduate in a year and a half, just two months after I turned eighteen. Many people told me that I must have just been unusually smart, intellectual, or gifted.
I always responded that, while I may be avidly curious, I am a normal student with a normal brain. The difference between my ability to be successful and some others’ apparent inability to reach their goals is a combination of discipline and mindset. While discipline is equally as important, this article will focus on the power of Mindset as described by Dr. Carol Dweck.
In her book, "Mindset," Carol Dweck defines Mindset as a way of thinking that determines your success rate. Basically, your success is dependent on what you believe and how you approach different situations in life, rather than innate intelligence or talent. In fact, intelligence can be increased through your life; you aren’t born with all the potential for intelligence you will ever have.
Dr. Dweck describes two mindsets that students can have, the fixed and the growth mindset. Generally, there are five situations that the two mindsets differ on: challenges, obstacles, effort, criticism, and success of others.
Students with a fixed-mindset will avoid challenges at all times because if something is difficult then the student feels less intelligent. Similarly, students with a fixed-mindset will give up easily on obstacles because it is easier to give up and make excuses than to admit that you are struggling.
Once again, struggling is seen as weakness. Effort and criticism are not useful or desired because both of these imply that the student is imperfect. Finally, success of peers is negative because it threatens the student’s personal success. If a classmate is more successful then it means that the student is less intelligent, capable, talented, etc.
An example of the fixed-mindset can be seen during testing. A student with a fixed-mindset would complain about the test because it is challenging. The student would not study much or accept constructive tips from professors because this implies that the student is not smart enough to succeed easily and unaided. The student would guess or give up on difficult questions. Lastly, the student would be angry if his or her peers scored higher on the test.
Students with a growth-mindset will persist through challenges and obstacles. These situations are opportunities for the student to grow and become more intelligent. Effort is not vain or insulting, rather it is the only way to grow and become successful. Similarly, criticism is helpful rather than upsetting because it helps the student become more successful. Finally, the success of other students is not threatening to students with a growth-mindset because these students are able to support each other and learn from each other.
The testing example can also illustrate the growth mindset. A student with a growth-mindset will embrace the challenge of the test, and study hard to ensure he or she is equipped. The student will not expect that he or she already is capable of succeeding without studying. The student will push through any obstacles on the test because the student will anticipate that he or she does not know all the answers. If the student receives a bad grade or a classmate scores higher, the student will not be upset, rather he or she will view it as an opportunity to reevaluate studying patterns. If the student receives the desired score then the student will attribute it to studying, not talent.
In summary, students should correlate hard work with success and intelligence with potential. Also, in day to day interactions, students and educators should never praise talent or call a student smart, rather praise the student’s effort and dedication to hard work.