Being praised for being intelligent or creative couldn’t possibly have negative consequences, could it? Well, it all depends on how you perceive abilities: whether you consider them to be learned or innate. In other words, this is described as having a “growth mindset” or a “fixed mindset”.
Social psychologists such as Carol Dweck developed mindset theory to examine how we look at abilities and how this is linked to recovering from failure or mistakes. People with a “fixed mindset” believe that intelligence and abilities are inherent traits, while those with a “growth mindset” are more likely to consider these traits to be acquired through effort and practice.
The downsides of a fixed mindset
Professor Jill Klein from the University of Melbourne’s business and medical schools believes that having a fixed mindset can be highly problematic. “If you either have [an ability] or you don’t, when something suggests you don’t have it — a failure or a set-back or hearing criticism — that is a big blow to identity,” she told the ABC last year.
This kind of identity crisis could lead people to deflect their mistakes by blaming others. Internalising criticism and focusing on the negatives could also potentially lead to depression.
Even people who are used to being praised for their intelligence are in danger of developing a fixed mindset, says Professor Klein. “When the world starts to be a bit more honest with you about what your strengths and weaknesses actually are, and you start hearing negative things about yourself, if you’ve developed a fixed mindset you become very brittle,” she says.
Why a growth mindset is the way to go
Someone with a growth mindset, on the other hand, believes that skills and abilities are malleable and developed through practice, a lot of experience and probably some setbacks along the way. This makes them more likely to adapt to criticism by viewing it as an opportunity to develop new skills.
This kind of mindset isn’t just useful on the individual level, but also in workplaces. By encouraging staff to learn from mistakes, rather than chastising them for making them, the entire workplace benefits, says Professor Klein.
“Particularly when organisations want to be more innovative and more adaptive to change, there’s a lot of good outcomes that come from being growth mindset.”
Ways to develop a growth mindset
There are heaps of strategies you can adopt to work on developing a growth mindset:
- Acknowledge and embrace your weaknesses
- View challenges as opportunities
- Try different learning tactics: what works for one person may not work for you
- Replace the word ‘failing’ with the word ‘learning’
- Make a new goal for every goal accomplished
- Value the process over the end result
- Celebrate growth with others
Author: Larissa Fedunik-Hofman
Larissa is the editorial assistant for Careers with STEM and a Chemistry PhD student. Larissa’s goal is to promote public engagement with STEM through inspiring stories.