In 2021, I was introduced to the work of Stanford professor Carol Dweck on the growth mindset and the fixed mindset. It was the year I conquered, for the first time ever, the hardest academic subject in my life. That would be mathematics.
Thanks to Dweck’s groundbreaking book Mindset: Changing The Way You Think To Fulfil Your Potential ( plus help from BYU Pathway and maths tutorials on Khan Academy), I did the unthinkable. I sat mathematics exams that tested my basic, and not so-basic, knowledge of algebra, geometry, trigonometry, statistics, and so on. Things like equations, functions, variables, and slopes became part of my everyday thoughts and talk for nearly a whole year. It was an unbelieveable adventure. And I loved it.
Transforming my relationship with Maths
Life-changing. Dweck’s research helped me overcome my erroneous belief about myself and maths. In fact, I went from being someone who always believed I was dumb at mathematics, to a grown adult who now knows differently. If mathematics was the only subject you could study at university, I would never have been accepted as a student onto the maths program.
I put in the effort studying and practicing maths for the exams in 2021. And as I did so, I found success as a maths student. It wasn’t easy. But I had fun learning and I had supportive fellow students on the same journey. If I applied myself, and studied hard, then I knew I could succeed. I believed it wholeheartedly. I persevered when the going got tough, and it paid off.
It felt great to correct my incorrect self belief about my maths ability. I overcame a childhood fear about maths. I gained confidence tackling hard things in other areas of my life, in ways I hadn’t seen before.
The recommended reading list
It happened during a semester in a university pathway course. Although I was not the target group for the course, because I already have an undergraduate degree, I felt inspired to do the course anyway. I checked in with my daughter-in-law first because I didn’t see the point in me doing it. She had done the course and enjoyed it, even though she already had a degree. Her feedback was so positive that I decided to enrol. The course became an invaluable circuit breaker after work days on COVID-19 Response.
If I hadn’t done the course, given that it included learning mathematics and its different branches, I’m not sure I would have ever conquered my fear of maths. Because I had wrongly assumed I could never learn maths and gain a level of competency in it. Carol Dweck’s pioneering research in Mindset: Changing The Way You Think To Fulfil Your Potential was on a recommended reading list for students who wanted to learn more. Reading it took me on a new and personal journey of learning and discovery that changed how I viewed what was possible in life, including maths.
How does this apply to learning communication skills?
So when people ask, how can I improve my communication skills, I begin by asking people to think about their personal beliefs and attitudes. Because if you believe you can master new skills and improve your communication skills, then you will. Believing that about yourself is called the growth mindset. But if you don’t believe you can, that’s also true if you really believe that.
As a man thinketh, so is he.James Allen
Before 2021, I believed I was really dumb when it came to maths. I struggled with maths all through the school system. It was such a relief when I got to senior high school and knew I didn’t have to take it anymore. The way it was taught to me was one of the most uninspiring school experiences I’ve ever had. Although I have a university degree, it wasn’t in mathematics. Thank goodness for other university subjects like communication studies, political studies, digital technology, multimedia, and learning foreign languages.
Speaking of the education system
Dweck’s research challenges the status quo that schools and the education systems, including many teachers and academics, have promoted about being smart. That some people are born smart and some people aren’t. But here’s the thing: it’s not true. Much of it isn’t true when you consider Dweck’s scientific research.
If you can believe that you can do it, and view effort and hard work as something to be proud of as a student, then you’re on your way.
One of the most heartening discoveries about Dweck’s research is how it has helped children who are struggling at school. Amen.
Let’s talk equality…there are groups of students who chronically underperform. For example, children in innner city or children on native American reservations. And they’ve done so poorly for so long that many people think it’s inevitable. But when educators create growth mindset classrooms steeped in ‘Yet’, equality happens.
And here are just a few examples. In one year, a kindergarten class in Harlem, New York scored in the 95th percentile on the national achievement test. Many of those kids could not hold a pencil when they arrived at school. In one year, fourth grade students in the South Bronx way behind became the number one 4th Grade class in the state of New York on the state maths test. In a year to a year and a half, native American students in a school on a reservation went from the bottom of their district to the top. And that district included affluent sections of Seattle.
So, the native kids outdid the micro soft kids. This happened because the meaning of effort and difficulty were transformed. Before, effort and difficulty made them feel dumb. Made them feel like giving up. But now, effort and difficulty, that’s when their neurons are making stronger connections. That’s when they’re getting smarter.Carol Dweck, Ted Talk: The Power of Believing You Can Improve
The power of Yet refers to Not Yet. It refers to using Not Yet as a grade, instead of grading students with a fail mark. Grading using Not Yet, instead of a fail, gives students an understanding that they are on a learning journey and that their abilities can be developed. That’s what a growth mindset is about.
A fixed-mindset student would see the absence of an A grade as a devastating failure. Instead of a learning journey where they can improve, a person with a fixed mindset would see it as a failure. The fixed mindset can also tempt a student to resort to cheating to get an A grade if they are focused only on the outcome, rather than the learning.
But the growth mindset helps a student to see the difficulty and hard work and effort as opportunities to engage the brain, the mind, and the heart in further learning and growth.
The power of believing in yourself
Serial entrepreneurs are one unique group in the world who know the importance of believing in themselves, regardless of the obstacles and challenges that come their way. One example is American James Altucher. I find his personal story and his book inspiring. He’s the author of the Wall Street Journal bestselling book Choose Yourself. (and no, I don’t earn anything by sharing this with you.) He is a serial entrepreneur and investor who started 20 companies, and 17 of them failed. But did he give up? No, of course, he didn’t.
British author J. K. Rowling also offers an example of believing in ourselves, no matter what. Her manuscript Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was rejected at least 12 times by publishers. In fact, the publisher who did accept it told her that she would never make money out of children’s books.
Whether you’re embarking on a new journey, something you’ve never done before, or you’re stepping out on your own, preparing your mind for the journey and life’s challenges is half the battle. Believe in yourself. If you can transform how you view difficulty and effort, you’ll gain knowledge and skills, no matter what the outcome.
A powerful mindset change helps you see situations like so-called failure, setbacks, and mistakes as learning opportunities and lessons.
Don’t judge yourself. Believe in yourself. Dream. Imagine. Set Goals. Take Action. Work Smart. Work Hard. Continue to learn and grow.
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