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I played quite a few sports growing up and believed that I was athletically talented to play those sports over others. In turn, I didn’t end up trying other sports outside of the ones that I had a natural talent in. Looking back, I may have had skills that increased my athletic ability but I wouldn’t have gone far without determination and effort. If I enjoyed a sport, I would practice for hours, watch sports clips, learn from my mistakes and commit to becoming a better athlete. If I didn’t enjoy a sport as much, I would give up once things got hard. 

Dr. Carol Dweck coined the terms fixed mindset and growth mindset to describe the underlying beliefs people have about learning and intelligence. On the topic of athletic ability, I had demonstrated a fixed mindset, believing that as hard as I would try for some sports, I was unable to become a better athlete. 

When we embody a growth mindset we believe that success depends on time and effort. People with a growth mindset feel that their skills and intelligence can improve with effort and persistence. Relating this back to my personal experience, I ended up becoming a good lacrosse player and won a few awards from my team, Western Mustangs, and the OUA. Did this happen just because I was born with the talent to play lacrosse? Or was this a factor of multiple hours put into practice, training, and learning from mistakes?

We manifest a growth or fixed mindset from a very early age, which determines a great deal of our behaviour and our relationship with success and failure in both professional and personal circumstances. 

We notice children at a young age use a growth mindset and display behaviours such as volunteering answers in class even when they’re unsure or seeking out problems that would push them instead of problems that would keep them safely within their comfort zone. 

Having a growth mindset is important because it can help us overcome obstacles that we may face when developing a skill or learning something new. Instead of giving up when things become difficult, or the desired outcome is not reached, we understand the importance of persistence, determination and practice.

I’ve come to learn that practice doesn’t make perfect, it makes progress. When we understand this perspective, we can learn from our mistakes, be responsive to criticism, and face challenges head-on. This results in feeling a greater sense of achievement, giving us a greater sense of free will. 

So, how can we change the way we teach mindset? Through research, we have found that it is possible to promote a growth mindset by teaching and understanding that the brain is malleable and gets stronger through effort. We can start by trying new challenges and seeking help when necessary. Researchers have also learned that we can encourage students to adopt more of a growth mindset by changing the way in which we interact with them. Teachers have started to use the term “not yet” instead of “fail” when it comes to giving the results of tests and graded work. Changing the language around the end result of their work teaches a student that with more effort and persistence, they have the opportunity to work on that skill or improve their intelligence to reach the desired outcome. 

Despite our age, we can adopt a growth mindset and begin to challenge the way we think and approach difficult learning experiences. 

6 steps to adopting a growth mindset:

  1. Focus on learning 
  2. Challenge your current beliefs 
  3. Use the word “Opportunity” instead of “failure” 
  4. Value the process over the end result 
  5. Celebrate growth with others 
  6. Take ownership over your attitude 

Ultimately with the use of a growth mindset, we are looking to create a passion for learning instead of a hunger for approval. I’ve learned to embrace my mistakes, seek uncomfort and work towards goals that I would not have thought possible if I hadn’t decided to change my mindset about learning and intelligence. It’s important to remember that skill is something to be cultivated and not something that one is born with. Instead of wanting to be the best athlete, let’s commit to the process of becoming the best athlete. 

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