August 16, 2009

The learning mindset

"In order to succeed, people need a sense of self-efficacy, to struggle together with resilience to meet the inevitable obstacles and inequities of life."
--Albert Bandura

I've written before about mindsets. Although everyone gets into both mindsets at some time in their lives, people usually fall into one or the other most of the time. A fixed mindset is where you think of abilities as either something you have or you don't. Someone with a growth mindset sees achievement as something that you can work for and improve over time. If you haven't read it already, I highly recommend Carol Dweck's book, Mindset. I've read a lot of books about emotional intelligence, parenting, and education, but I learned more about myself and what sort of parent/home educator I want to be- from this book.

I've spent a good portion of my life in a fixed mindset. One of the problems with this way of thinking is that it is easily picked up by those that live with you. I've been trying to change my mindset, but it takes a lot of mental work to even want to redirect negative thoughts, and then to embrace challenges and mistakes. Knowing how important something is and then seeing proof that you are on the right track is a very gratifying feeling. That's how I felt when I read about this study linking positive outlooks with better learning. While not specifically talking about mindsets, the researchers were using two programs to change how the students think.

The PRP promotes optimism by teaching students to think more realistically and flexibly about the problems they encounter. PRP also teaches assertiveness, creative brainstorming, decision-making, relaxation and other coping and problem-solving skills.
The second program asked the students to reflect back on positive parts of their day:
One exercise involved the students' writing down three good things that happened each day for a week. Examples were: "I answered a really hard question in Spanish class," "I helped my mom shop for groceries" or, "The guy I've liked for months asked me out." Next to each positive event, the students answered the following questions: "What does this mean to you?" and "How can you increase the likelihood of having more of this good thing in the future?"
These are exactly the sorts of exercises that are helping me change to a growth mindset. It's always helpful for me to tell myself that nothing goes perfectly, and to remember to take a break if I am feeling overwhelmed, etc. Thinking back over the day, especially the difficult ones, can help me see that there were some good moments too. Then I try to figure out how to have more of them.
The bottom line:
Teaching children how to foster their own resiliency, purpose in life and positive feelings can bring "new prosperity" to people's lives, Seligman said. "It is important to start in the formative school years, so positive thinking and resilience are instilled and available to handle future challenges."


  1. Not only should we foster it in children, but we need to reinforce it in adults. "What did we learn from this?" and "how do we repeat this good outcome?" should be asked in our relationships, to our family members, and to coworkers in the workplace. Thanks, a lot to think about here.

  2. It's very inspirational. I like the idea of changing to a growth mindset. I always talk to my daughter before she goes to bed and ask her about her favorite parts of the day. I would like her to be an optimistic child, and it means trying new things and giving up perfectionistic thinking. It will not be easy for her - her father is definitely a perfectionist, and she inherited some of it, but we'll keep trying :)

  3. Meredith- I often imagine how if I can just pass this one thing along to my children, then how much easier it will be for them as adults.

    Raising a Happy Child-My son and I are both perfectionists and that's actually a fixed mindset characteristic. I want to foster the drive to do things to the best of our ability, but at the same time eliminate the beating ourselves up when we fall short. It's a balancing game for sure. Have you seen this site?

    Christine Carter did a few podcasts on raising happy kids and one of them was about the importance of family time. What you do with your daughter each night sounds just like something she recommends. She's also a huge fan of Carol Dweck and mindsets.