There was a pin-drop silence in the third grade of the elementary school- the class which was responsible for most of the hustle-bustle in the entire building.
The pupil sat tight in as terror as third graders could be.
Mr. Jason, the tyrant teacher of mathematics, stood tall and strict, his eyes scouring through his students as if a predator searching for his next prey.
The teacher loved putting up complex mathematical equations on the black board, and challenge the students to solve the given problem. It was his way of mocking the pupil and the little knowledge they had.
This day was no unusual. The equation written was much more horrific and mysterious than they had ever saw.
The students kept looking at the board, confused and helpless.
The whole class was cloaked in stillness. The fear was in the air.
“You?” the teacher pointed his finger at a chubby boy. The boy shook his head, frightened.
“You??” he pointed to another terror ridden student. “Maybe you?” he pointed to yet another student.
Every one of them refused to know the solution to the question. None of them wanted to be wrong and be embarrassed in front of their classmates.
“Does not any one of you know the answer to this simple question?” bellowed the teacher.
The ticking of the rusty clock above the black board was the only response he got.
But when it seemed as if the class will remain grave-silent until the end of the hour, a shrill voice from back corner of the room broke the long-drawn eerie stillness.
A little blonde girl in red and yellow attire, with rosy cheeks raised her hand.
All heads turned to the girl.
“Yes?” said the haughty teacher looking at the tiny creature who was stupid enough to speak up.
Every eye in the room gazed at the girl in disbelief and concern. She had put herself on the line.
“The answer is 5…” she said with the confidence that would put even Zeus to shame.
“You are wrong, girl!!” exclaimed the teacher.
“I know…” remarked the student in a snap.
“Then why did you raise your hand?” asked the puzzled, now slightly annoyed teacher.
“To get corrected…to learn.”
For a long time it was believed that the human traits such as intelligence, smartness, and creativity were innate- you were either born with them, or you weren’t.
Psychologists and researchers around the globe put forward the theory that such traits were inherited, or ‘carved in stone’, and there was not much you could do to alter them in any meaningful way.
Even today, there are fields consisting of reputed experts who state that there is even physical basis for the intellectual differences among the individuals. These differences include size and shape of the skull, bumps on the skull, and nowadays the argument is that most of our characters stem from our genes that we inherit form our parents.
Then there is a line of experts on the opposite end of the spectrum who argue that all the human qualities can be attained through consistent effort, and practice.
They hold the stance that the environment plays as much role, if not more, than the person’s genes in deciding the makeup of the person.
But let us put the debate about whether it’s about nature or nurture which decides a person’s abilities, and focus on the implications of such a belief.
Today we are going to see how a simple difference in a basic belief-that either talents are innate, or they can be developed, create a number of thoughts and actions that profoundly affect the way you lead your life.
WHAT IS MINDSET?
Latest research in the field of human psychology reveals that our belief towards our traits play a significant role in deciding how successful we are going to be.
The most prominent and extensive work has been done by Carol Dweck, a psychologist at Stanford University.
Putting over two decades of research into the topics of achievement and success, she has proposed that people can be divided in either of the two categories based upon their mindset- Fixed, and Growth
Fixed mindset, as the name indicates, consist of the people who believe that all the human qualities are, in essence, fixed.
People having the fixed mindset hold the belief that a person born with set of traits is bound to live with them all his life. In other words, his cards have been dealt with, and if he is stuck with the wrong cards, well, poor soul.
Whereas people with the ‘Growth Mindset’ believe that they can get better, and cultivate any quality they desire through learning, and rigorous practice.
The Two Mindsets…Explained
Let us understand both the Mindsets- Fixed and Growth, and the kind of thoughts and actions that they lead to, by an example(taken from the book ‘Mindset’ by Carol Dweck) :
I want you to imagine yourself, as vividly as possible, as an adult having a the following day:
You wake up and go to your college and the professor is returning the mid-term papers. You got a C+. When you go back to your car to drive home, you find out that you have been given a parking ticket. You decided to end the horrible day by talking to your best friend on the phone, but he politely tells you that he is on his way to London for vacation, and won’t be able to talk to you for a week.
Answer me, now- What would you feel? What would you think? What would you do?
Really take time to answer those questions. This way you can figure out which of the category you fall into.
Did you answer the above questions? Great.
The same scenario and questions were presented to the people having the Fixed mindset, and this is what they replied:
“I would feel horrible“, “I am a total failure“, “I am a loser“, “Everybody is better than me“.
When asked about how they would feel about their lives, those people replied: “I don’t have a life” “Everybody hates me“, “My life is pitiful“, “The world is out to get me“, “My life really sucks“, “My existence is meaningless“.
If you will but excuse me, I want to remind you that these responses were the result of a single bad day- a day where you got a bad grade, a parking ticket, and a bad call. That’s about it.
But not for the fixed mindset persons. For them, it was almost as if it were the end of the world.
You would guess that the people who were interviewed were the victims of low self-esteem, and pessimism.
But Dr. Dweck believes otherwise.
She argues that when everything is going great in the lives of these people, they are extremely optimistic and exhibit the Growth mindset- not a sign of a person suffering from low self-esteem.
In case you are wondering how the persons with the Growth Mindset would respond to the same scenario, and the questions, here are their replies:
“I need to study harder for the next exam, be more careful parking the car next time, and will be happy about my friend.”
“I will figure out where I need to improve to up my grades, parking tickets are no big deal, everybody gets them once in a while, and ask my friend what his plans are.”
What a significant difference between the way both the mindsets look at the same event!
When it comes to learning, people with the fixed mindset focus on success and seeking validation.
They abhor the word ‘effort’ because effort would translate into they being not as talented, or as prodigious as the world thought them to be.
In simpler terms, for the people having the Fixed mindset success means ability. If they fail at something, then that means they are not ‘gifted.’
They feel that whatever happens is a direct measure of their competence, and self-worth.
These people also create dialogues inside their minds where they are always judging, and labeling themselves and other people based on their performances:
“I am a loser if I fail at this“, or “Only suckers can’t play basketball“.
Nevertheless, for people having the fixed mindset, admitting that they need to develop for something is a sign of weakness. And this trait paralyses and inhibits their growth and development like nothing else.
They then turn to addictions to avoid feeling the pain.
People with the growth mindset, however, have their focus on learning, and improving.
They feel successful when they give their best, and improve upon their current abilities. If they fail at a task, it means ‘put more effort.’
Failure doesn’t mean the end of the world- it’s the starting point of their betterment.
For them, success is about learning. Talents are to be developed. There is no skill that they can’t acquire through hard work and consistent practice.
But the fixed and growth mindset isn’t all about learning, it permeates into every area of your life.
In relationships, people having the Fixed mindset are the ones who believe in the concept of ‘true love’, wherein if their relationship with their partner is not perfect picture, then the relationship was never meant to be.
Carol Dweck says: “As their are no great achievements without setbacks, there are no great relationships without conflicts and problems along the way.”
But not for the people with the fixed mindset.
They believe in perpetual compatibility and a “perfect partner” (also known as the soul mate), which is not possible and they keep jumping from one relationship to another without ever experiencing happiness that a relationship provides.
Daniel Wile, a prominent couples therapist says that choosing a partner is choosing a set of problems, which are needed to be dealt with and learnt from, for both the partners to become more mature and
the relationship even stronger.
In the area of athleticism, it’s the innate ability for the Fixed mindset people that determines their level of success, because they believe that they cannot improve their performance in any way.
People with the growth mindset, however, practice and develop the skills needed to dominate their competition. They believe that their genetic make up is just a part of the picture, and the rest depends
upon them to cultivate and get ahead.
The most successful sportsperson are the ones who had the growth mindset. An example of a sports person having the growth mindset is Muhammad Ali.
Muhammad Ali was not built for such a hardcore sports as boxing. He failed to meet the physical requirements of being a boxer. He didn’t have the strength, boxed all wrong, and didn’t block the opponents’ punches right.
When he was reviewed by the experts, they said ” He is not one of ‘them’…”
But Ali was not the one to be discouraged by their words. With consistent practice and determination, he improved his boxing and emerged as one of the best boxers the world has ever known to exist.
So where does all this discussion leads us? It is simply this-you are not set in stone. You can improve any area of your life if you take time to develop skills and not believe in the myth of being fixed and irreparable beyond measures.
That would be your own detriment.
Your learning abilities, sociability, attractiveness, and even your relationships can and should be developed, and improved upon.
Twyla Tharp, a famous choreographer and an author hailing from America, said that there are no naturally talented people.
She is right.
You may have certain advantages, but to use those advantages in the most efficient manner is your responsibility.
Whatever abilities and talents that you seek, can be developed and cultivated. It’s a matter of practice and perseverance. Consider yourself on a learning curve instead of being set at a point.
As a whole, you are a person to create. You are a lifetime project and you can become who you want to be. More often than not, it means admitting to yourself that you may not be as special or gifted as you think you are.
Most people over estimate their abilities and potential. This is known as Dunning-Kruger Effect. This creates a vacuum for those people where there is no growth, only a self deluded sense of grandeur. They enjoy little to no success and remain only a percentage of what they could have been.
So take a hard look at your life and admit your shortcomings to yourself. It’s the start, and then take it from there.
Get into the state developing yourself instead of being already developed, and work on yourself everyday. Ultimately, that is what will bring you true and long lasting happiness.
Let’s wrap the entire discussion with a story to hammer the point:
Wilma Rudolph was twentieth of the twenty two children of a couple living an average everyday life.
She was physically weak, constantly sick, and almost died at the age of four by double pneumonia, scarlet fever, and polio which caused her left leg to paralyze.
The doctors said that there was little hope that she would be able to use her leg again, let alone walk like a normal being.
But she didn’t believe them.
After eight years of physical therapy, she was able to walk again, and that too without braces.
And when the critics called her a natural, she modestly said-