The Importance of Developing a Growth Mindset

In the groundbreaking book Mindset, Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck, Ph.D., describes two ways of looking at the world: a fixed mindset, where we see skills and abilities as innate talents that can not be changed, and a growth mindset, where we see skills and abilities as changeable. People with a growth mindset tend to respond positively to challenges, seeing them as opportunities to learn and grow. People with a fixed mindset, on the other hand, have a hard time with challenges and take failures very personally because they interpret those events as proof that they are not smart/talented/etc.

How can you tell if you have a fixed mindset?  Do you see intelligence and talent as things that you are either born with or not?  Do you think that people are just who they are and no one really changes?  Do you avoid doing things you aren’t good at or putting yourself in situations where you might look foolish?

If you have a growth mindset, you likely enjoy the process of learning.  You know that failing doesn’t mean you should give up, and you see obstacles as opportunities.  You like trying new things, even if you’re not great at them right away, because you know that you can improve with effort.

I encounter these mindsets every day with my students.  Some of them love a challenge. Some students have a really hard time with criticism and take it very personally. As they learn to adopt more of a growth mindset toward their music, it becomes easier to see feedback as constructive and helpful. After all, knowing where there is room for improvement simply tells you what to work on! I emphasize that feedback is just information, and that we should take what is useful and let go of the rest.

Another way that I help my students develop a growth mindset is by praising effort rather than talent. I’ll say things like, “Wow, nice work! This is sounding really good!” rather than, “You have such a great voice!” This may seem counterintuitive at first, but let me explain– if I am only ever praised for my talent (i.e. you’re so smart/talented) then anything that suggests I might not actually be as talented as everyone thinks (i.e. a disappointing score or result) is going to feel much more painful and discouraging. When I learn to appreciate my growth and progress, it is easier to see challenges and failures as experiences that can be learned from.

I’ve seen these mindsets in my own life as well.  As a “smart kid,” I was praised for my intelligence a lot.  I did well in elementary school, but didn’t handle challenges or unexpected situations well at all, and it got worse as I got older.  Like many with a fixed mindset, I eventually settled into self-sabotage, since if I’m not REALLY trying my hardest, then I can cling to that rather than feeling the rejection of doing my best and still coming up short.  This mindset showed up in my singing as well, and I had a really hard time with criticism and rejection.  Each time I’d audition and not get the part, I’d feel like I just wasn’t good enough, and it was devastating.   I’ve come a long way since then, but this is still something that I am working on with myself as well as my students.   There is always room for improvement!  🙂

If you are reading this and realizing that you have a fixed mindset in certain areas of your life, don’t worry– it’s changeable!  There are lots of resources out there that can help.  If books are your thing, then I highly recommend Mindset by Carol Dweck.  You can also find videos online of several talks and interviews she has done on the topic, if that’s more your style.

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