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    Articles | growth mindset

    What is growth mindset?

    By David (Jacko) Jackson

    “Why do some people seem more positive than others? Why do they believe in themselves, and often us, even more than we do?”

    It often comes down to one’s mindset.

    I first came across the term ‘growth mindset’ when I was exploring sports psychology more deeply as a Performance Mindset Coach. I was working for Paralympic athletes, supporting them in the build-up to major competitions like world championships and Paralympic Games.

    I wanted to add to knowledge from my previous studies, having experienced the difference ‘mindset training’ made with my own performance whilst I was playing professional rugby. I came across the book ‘Mindset’ by Dr. Carole Dweck, and it forever changed the way I look at things like positivity, feedback, compliments, and verbal coaching!

    It’s an amazing book and you can read it yourself (highly recommend getting it – Amazon link), and Carole is an amazing woman pioneering the use of growth mindset. I want to share with you some of the research stories in the book that I found most powerful.

    What is growth mindset? 1

    One of the most astonishing findings was conducted with research into school children’s behaviour when given a choice about how hard or easy a task they’d like to tackle — I couldn’t believe what they found!

    It started with giving a class of children all the same puzzle to solve. They all completed the puzzle, but the difference came from the feedback the teacher gave them. To half the group, on completion of the puzzle they said “we’ll done, you must be really smart.” To the other half of the group they said “well done, you must have worked really hard at it.”

    Both groups received positive feedback and only a few tiny little words were different, but the impact they had on the child’s mindset was worlds apart. For the next puzzle, the two groups were asked if they would like a harder puzzle, or one similar to the last one. The group that was told “you must be smart” chose to have a puzzle similar to the last. The group told “you must have worked really hard” chose a harder puzzle next.

    It was incredible. Carol Dweck put this down to installing either a ‘fixed’ or ‘growth’ mindset. The first group took on a fixed mindset for the task. The feedback they received was positive, but more of a label that they were smart because they did it, and they didn’t want to lose that tag of being smart. It was nothing about the process, but purely the outcome. In Dr. Dweck’s opinion, this group chose a puzzle similar to the initial one because they became afraid of failing and losing the label of being smart. They became focused purely on the outcome and not the process in which they got there.

    The second group, encouraged into a more growth mindset, praised for the effort and hard work, ended up focusing more on the process. When asked if they wanted a harder puzzle next time, they jumped at the chance because they had a process to trust in, based on effort and work ethic. Yes they wanted praise again, but were encouraged to focus on the process and not fear of failing. All from a difference in a few different words given to them in their feedback.

    Crazy, right?

    What is growth mindset? 2

    It could be hard for some of you who are reading this right now to believe, especially if you’ve been encouraged into a ‘fixed’ mindset yourself over the years. But this is what the research Dr. Dweck observed,  and I encourage you to embrace it yourself in your training… and in your whole life for that matter.

    “For those of us that are coaches and teachers it highlights the importance of the words we must wisely choose, as the impact of our feedback can be dramatic on their mindset”

    However, I really want to focus on encouraging those of us who have experienced the ‘fear of failure’ like those children not wanting to lose their tag of being smart after completing one puzzle.

    We’ve all been there. Putting off or never attempting something because we’re scared of failing. It’s actually normal to feel like that, so firstly don’t be hard on yourself. Just notice it and try to understand why you are thinking that way.

    Take a step back, focus less on the end point and try to think about valuing the journey toward that goal and what you’ll learn through any failings along the way.

    “We need to start measuring success differently.”

    The longer something takes, the more you’ll learn. It takes hard work, commitment, dedication, and a level of worth ethic that I’d personally admire more than anything else… certainly more than learning something quickly simply because it comes naturally.

    These days, when it comes to redefining my impossible, I want it to be a struggle. That’s where the true value is, and that’s when I grow closer to the person I was designed to be.

    Ultimately, how you view challenges is a choice.

    Choose a growth mindset.



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