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Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Once More With Feeling: Growth v. Fixed Mindsets

It's the Olympics, in case you missed the memo. 'Tis the season of goal setting, of winning, of losing, and of TV-packaged success and failure stories with lessons for us all. Here's a lesson I can't resist  ramming down our collective throat, readers: a growth mindset is a better tool for success than a fixed mindset. Call it growth or incremental, call it having "getting better" goals, whatever you want, it's just a better choice.

Compare these photos:

The exuberant reactions of Wells and Harper to winning silver and bronze medals in the 100 meter hurdle race last night stand in stark contrast to the sour pusses of Mustafina and Komova, who won Silver and Bronze in the all-around gymnastics contest last week.

Last night, listening to Harper and Wells talk to the microphone after their race, it struck me. They were excited, they were happy with their performances, they were pleased with their second and third places and grateful they'd had the opportunity to participate. They each talked about how, aside from the medal, they'd reached their personal goals in their race times. In fact, they almost seemed more happy to have met their personal time goals than to have won medals. So if they'd come in fourth and fifth, but met those personal, incremental goals, they'd have been satisfied. Not thrilled, of course, but not devastated. They were certainly not devastated not to win gold. I turned to the husband, who was eating cookies, and said, "That is the growth mindset at work." He ignored me, so I repeated myself, because I am willing to work and work to achieve my goals, one of them being his attention, from time to time.

Meanwhile, interspersed with the running and the commercials was women's gymnastics on the balance beam. Komova was pacing around looking miserable and anxious before her turn, and the announcer told us that she'd been dissatisfied with her bronze in the all-around competition, and that she'd said she just knew she "had a gold" inside, and nothing was going to satisfy her but that gold. Then she went up on the beam and wobbled and messed up, and came down, looking more miserable than ever. Fixed mindset. Entity mindset. Be good mindset. It's the all-or-nothing attitude, the idea that unless a particular goal is reached, you are worthless and a failure. It's the mindset that makes you look like a sore loser  while holding a bronze medal. At the Olympics.  It's the mindset that, if you perform at less than perfect, will nag you until you choke.

Are we clear on this? Okay, then let's move on.

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