Growth Mindset: An Essential Tool for Learning

“Becoming is better than being” - Carol Dweck

Have you ever heard a colleague, a friend or maybe even your own child say "I can't draw" or "I'm just not good at math" or "I could never do that"?

Have you wondered why it is that some people seem to excel in any field in which they choose to apply themselves, and others cannot manage to make it, despite visible talent? Research shows that it's the way people think about their ability that really counts.

Many people believe that they are either good or bad at certain things, and that there's no changing this. Unfortunately, this is a mindset that we are taught - but it's inaccurate. We all have the potential to continue to learn and grow. However the precursor to this infinite learning is achieved by a new mindset about realizing how we learn. 

According to researcher and Stanford psychology professor Carol Dweck, the belief and attitude that you cannot learn something is part of a mindset, and it’s something that we can change. When we talk about mindset, people fall into one of two expected frameworks - they learn to adopt either a growth mindset or a fixed mindset. Fortunately, these fundamental beliefs are a learned behavior and can be changed.

Here’s how Dweck describes the difference between these two mindsets and how they impact student performance:

"In a fixed mindset students believe their basic abilities, their intelligence, their talents, are just fixed traits. They have a certain amount and that’s that, and then their goal becomes to look smart all the time and never look dumb. In a growth mindset students understand that their talents and abilities can be developed through effort, good teaching and persistence. They don’t necessarily think everyone’s the same or anyone can be Einstein, but they believe everyone can get smarter if they work at it."
                                                  —Carol Dweck, Stanford University

To expand upon Dweck's explanation, in a fixed mindset, you come to believe that your skills, traits, and talents are permanent. What you know is unchanging, and therefore, you can’t possibly learn anything new. Phrases you've heard like “I’m just not a math person” or “I’m not creative” are examples of a fixed mindset. Often, students have not taken the time to practice or work through something to acquire a new skill. Instead they disregard their ability and conclude that they just "can't" do something. 

In contrast, a growth mindset is centered around a belief that challenges and learning new skills are opportunities. Failure is seen as an opportunity for growth. Rather than measuring success by a failing or passing grade for example, students with growth mindset focus on process and progress, looking for opportunities to extend their existing capabilities.

Tips for promoting a growth mindset in your children and yourself:

  • Reward your children for the process of working and learning, not the outcome. Working on difficult problems should be recognized.
  • When your children successfully complete something, try out phrases that reward their ability to learn and grow, not their inherent success.
  • Embrace failures and missteps. Children often learn the most when they fail. Let them know that mistakes are a big part of the learning process. There is nothing like the feeling of struggling through a very difficult problem, only to finally break through and solve it! The harder the problem, the more satisfying it is to find the solution.
  • Don't attribute your success or failure to ingrained skills; instead, notice the hard work and effort involved in both.
  • Record the entire process (struggle and all) and begin to link the struggle with the adventure of learning.
  • Help children understand that the brain works like a muscle, that can only grow through hard work, determination, and lots of practice.
  • Create a list of phrases with your children to help them begin to adopt the growth mindset way of thinking. Here's an example: 
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Check out these additional tips on adopting growth mindset and learn more about this concept and Carol Dweck's work by watching her inspirational Ted Talk.

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Every student has a different learning style. For an individualized plan customized to your child's needs, please contact Dana Aussenberg at or email