“G” is for Growth Mindset

I just watched a very enlightening video, and I wanted to share it with you all. It’s about the impact different types of praise can have on children’s growth mindset.

If you don’t have time to watch the video (it’s about four and a half minutes long), let me sum it up for you:

In the practical study, children who were praised for their effort on an IQ test, rather than their intelligence:

  • Were more likely to choose to tackle a harder challenge rather than a simple one they’ve already faced
  • Worked harder and were more resilient during a very difficult task
  • Scored approximately 30% higher on an IQ test similar to the first, compared to the cohort praised for their intelligence, which performed around 20% worse than before

Carol Dweck, the psychology professor who conducted the study, explained that when children are praised for their intelligence, skills, or talents, it can cause stress and stunt their personal growth. They will avoid new or difficult challenges because they want to continue to appear intelligent, skilled, or talented. They will worry more when approaching tasks they’ve done in the past, because they don’t want whoever praised them to be proven wrong. And when they do fail, they feel that they are no longer worthy of praise. Their performance dictates their skills or talents, which in turn dictates their worth. Actually, if you watch the video, you’ll notice that I’m extrapolating a little bit in quoting Dr. Dweck.

Because this is me. That child, being praised for intelligence and then being afraid to fail, is me. And now, I struggle with trying new things and coming up short, as I feel it discredits my intelligence and diminishes my value. Sure, that’s an oversimplification, but the gist of it.

I actually found this video embedded in an article on this topic, which you can read right here. The author discussed the differences in parenting across the generations: the Baby Boomers were encouraged to be disciplined with their kids; Gen X resented this in one way or another, and were therefore much more likely to become helicopter parents, to some degree, and provide endless praise to their own children. They had good intentions, of course. It was all in the interest of building self-esteem. But unfortunately, tying praise to intelligence also means tying it to the successes that made them recognize the intelligence in the first place.

Instead, what does Carol Dweck recommend?

Encouraging a Growth Mindset.

When you praise someone for their effort, they become more likely to work hard in the future — basically, in order to receive additional praise. It’s just human nature to seek out approval this way, but now, the focus is on the process, rather than just the result. And now, a negative result isn’t an automatic failure and discouragement.

I think there’s a huge misconception out there that praising effort, rather than achievement, is just a magnified version of providing children with endless praise. If they don’t have to accomplish anything, then aren’t we just praising them for no reason at all? Not every kid deserves a gold star! But I think that’s a backwards understanding of the concept. Praising a child for their effort is the same as praising them in spite of failure. If they fail because they didn’t work hard, that doesn’t warrant the kind of praise discussed here. And if they succeed without much effort, that success shouldn’t be the focus, either. There’s always room for a growth mindset.

While this specific study was geared toward children, I definitely believe this is applicable to everyone. And, to take it one step further, I think when it comes to self-evaluation — giving yourself praise, essentially — this is the focus that will yield growth and an attainable definition of success. Honestly, this isn’t an easy thing for me. But maybe the hard work and effort will be worth it in the end. 😉

What do you think of this research? Share your thoughts on the growth mindset below!