Setting Your Mind to It

Last week my grandson received something called a Growth Mindset award at his elementary school’s Friday morning assembly. He’s only been in kindergarten three weeks, and I’m not sure he quite understood the reason he’d been called to the front of the cafeteria to have his photograph taken with the other recipients. Nor did I, his 61 year old grandmother, have any idea what a Growth Mindset Award was about. Was this peculiar to his school, one known for its progressive ideas about education?

Connor Sept 2017 College week at school.jpg

My daughter in law explained that growth mindset was a very important concept in schools, especially in their district. “It’s about believing you can learn new things,” she said, “and not being afraid to try."

As often happens when presented with a new concept or phrase, it begins to appear in your awareness all the time. The term Growth Mindset suddenly began popping up everywhere. I heard it referred to in a podcast, I came across a reference to it in a novel I was reading. And yesterday my friend Andi wrote about it in her newsletter to writers.

“In a fixed mindset,” Andi writes, "we believe that we cannot get better at something, that what has always been will always be. That mindset is devastating for a writer. But in a growth mindset, we believe we can learn. We believe we can develop tools to tame our ADHD. We believe we can find a way to tune out the kids for an hour a day to write. This mindset is life-giving for a writer."

I dare to say this particular mindset is life giving for anyone of any age. 

I grew up in the 1960’s, a time when parents were not advised to lavish praise on children. My parents and grandparents apparently didn’t believe in that dictum, and instead instilled in me from the beginning that I was smart, pretty, and good, a winning combination that I desperately wanted to uphold. I believed that numerous talents had been bestowed on me at birth, but along with that belief, as positive as it sounds, came the idea that those talents were fixed in place. I was the way I was, and there wasn’t much I could do about it. I was good at reading and writing and music and history. I learned through experience that I was NOT good at math, art, crafts, or sports. I accepted those areas in which I was not naturally proficient and spent all my time and effort on the ones that came easily and brought satisfaction.

Clearly, I would not have received any Growth Mindset awards in my elementary school days. And though I’m tempted to say I’m too old to change my mindset - too “set in my ways” as the old saying goes - I’m not so sure that’s the case. In fact, recently I’ve actually demonstrated the ability to learn some new tricks, old dog that I am. I’ve been doing weight training for the past six weeks and I’ve discovered I really enjoy it. (I especially enjoy the fact that some very disturbing fat has disappeared from certain areas of my body.) I also gave up sugar six weeks ago, an experiment I told myself I’d try for a week, and discovered I felt so much better that I think I’ll continue it indefinitely. 

The idea of mindset and it’s relationship to achievement may be relatively new, but it "brings to mind" a world of sayings and ideas that I’ve been familiar with my entire life.  My grandmother was fond of saying she “had taken a mind” to do something - usually something involving work around the house. Or that someone had “made their mind up,” meaning they weren’t likely to change it.  

But I also recall her telling me that I could “do anything in the world” if I would just “set my mind to it.” And while I believed that to a degree, I realize that I also believed the abilities I had to work with were set in stone, inserted into me like a chip into a computer, fixed and forever the same.

"In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment. Virtually all great people have had these qualities,” writes Carol Dweck, Psychologist and author of a book called Mindset. 

My grandson has a remarkable love of learning just about everything. He is particularly excited about music and books and car dashboards, but just as joyfully takes on the 10-frame concept for addition and subtraction. I marvel at the enthusiasm he has for all of life in general. He definitely demonstrates the “love of learning and resilience that is essential for great accomplishment,” and he clearly deserved his Growth Mindset award last week. 

Even if he didn’t know what it was. And really, that’s all the better. He’s didn’t even have to set his mind to it - he’s a natural.