There’s been a lot of talk recently about ‘growth mindset’ as a means through which people can become more successful. Most routinely, it’s discussed in the fields of business, education, and sports though its applications are widely relevant. The concept of the ‘growth mindset’ comes from Carol Dweck, a Psychologist from Stanford University who has undertaken a great deal of research surrounding what drives achievement and success. She has identified a significant difference between how individuals perceive their own intelligence and how these perceptions ultimately influence our behaviour
To some people, intelligence and abilities are static, meaning that we either have them or we don’t. That’s called having a ‘fixed mindset’. To others, these skills and smarts can be developed or enhanced with effort, commitment, and resourcefulness. That’s called having a ‘growth mindset’. And here we have the fundamental difference – those who foster a growth mindset do so through nurturing a fondness for challenge, a capacity for overcoming, and a determination to improve. This latter group not only generates effort, but continues to do so in the face of obstacles.
(Check out this visual of the differences between a growth mindset and a fixed mindset.)
In her book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Dweck says, “becoming is better than being” and this is so very apt when it comes to parenting. As mothers and fathers, we are indeed also born the day our children come into this world but it is only through a long process of becoming that we really grow into these roles. We do not know everything we need to know the instant our children are born, we must learn, and love, and overcome. These roles demand that we reflect upon our efforts and adapt to changing conditions.
So, what does it mean to have a growth mindset as a parent?
It means recognizing that failure is inevitable and in fact, essential to learning and growth. This necessitates better management of the critical voice inside your head that adopts a defeatist attitude when you (or your children) are faced with adversity or disappointment. WE WILL ALL FAIL in different ways and at different times, whether it’s in our work lives or our personal lives. The only way to learn from it is to reframe it as an opportunity to do things differently and work toward a different outcome. It means not comparing yourself to others but knowing where you are in terms of your own hopes, dreams, and goals.
It means learning from mistakes through reflection, compassion, and problem-solving. We must be able to shift our perspective with regards to failure. It’s comfortable to avoid failure and disappointment but we do not grow from that place. We grow when we can be courageous and kind-hearted to ourselves in facing challenges. We grow when we acknowledge our imperfections and accept our worth anyway, letting that guide us forward.
“Why waste time proving over and over how great you are, when you could be getting better? Why hide deficiencies instead of overcoming them? Why look for friends or partners who will just shore up your self-esteem instead of ones who will also challenge you to grow? And why seek out the tried and true, instead of experiences that will stretch you? The passion for stretching yourself and sticking to it, even (or especially) when it’s not going well, is the hallmark of the growth mindset. This is the mindset that allows people to thrive during some of the most challenging times in their lives” (Dweck).
It means not panicking when you feel stress in your work or personal life. Because raising a family is inherently disruptive, it takes time for parents to recalibrate as individuals, as intimate partners, and as a functioning team. Expect for there to be difficult days, weeks, even months, and try to better understand those experiences for yourself. Try not to panic and jump ship at the first sign of trouble unless there’s a real concern for safety or well-being.
It means cultivating an attitude of encouragement, toward yourself and your children. This does not mean that we need to praise everything our children do but that we show them how to work at something, how to engage with disappointment, how to approach failure with a sense of curiosity. The same goes for ourselves.
“If parents want to give their children a gift, the best thing they can do is teach their children to love challenges, be intrigued by mistakes, enjoy effort, and keep on learning. That way, their children don’t have to be slaves of praise. They will have a lifelong way to build and repair their own confidence” (Dweck).
It means being ok with seeking out the information, help, guidance, and support that will help you succeed, whether that’s through peers, colleagues, or mentors, through formal training, through therapy, or through information-gathering. Collaborating in these ways allows us to seek input and feedback, both of which are highly effective in advancing our problem-solving capacities, and therefore our likelihood of success.
“Important achievements require clear focus, all-out effort, and a bottomless trunk full of strategies. Plus allies in learning”(Dweck).
So, take some time and think about your own mindset – how do you respond to frustration? What do you say to yourself in those moments? How do you respond when your children experience frustration? For more on this, check out your own Mindset Parenting Self-Assessment.