• Diana McLaren

Is growth mindset the cure to apathy?


We live in an apathetic society. We are very comfortable binge watching a TV Show for half a day while there is corruption in our government; social injustice everywhere we look and we are resigned to a mediocre life full of consumerist joys. Sorry to sound so bleak. I am one of these people, I have binged watched with the best of people and been happy to not put in any effort because ‘I can’t change anything.’ The world is shit anyway and I might as well be happy and comfy on the couch. Or to be succinct ‘What’s the point?’

This is the fixed mindset and it’s where I’ve been operating from in many parts of my life for a long time. However there is another option called the growth mindset that takes a very different view.

I’m new to the official concept of ‘growth mindset’ but let’s break it down. The fixed mindset revolves around accomplishment as the idea of success and thus you can win or lose and it’s rarely completely within your control. While the growth mindset is all about effort as the marker of success and therefore you can’t win or lose because trying is winning, and it’s always in your control.

Or as Yoda once said, ‘Do or do not. There is no try.’ Which from the fixed mindset means you always win or lose and effort is irrelevant. From the growth mindset this means that trying is doing so you either do try or you don’t try, either way the effort is success. I think I prefer the later.

Granted that is a simplification of a big concept full of fascinating research but it’s the best I can do. In this growth mindset, learning and effort are the hallmarks of success. When things are hard or outside of our reach we say ‘excellent, a chance to learn!’

In this mindset it’s hard to sit around all day watching television because that does not feel successful (even if I’m really good at it) because no effort is required. That’s not to say I still don’t indulge occasionally it’s just harder to feel joy in doing nothing, staying still, and letting your mind go numb when you develop a sense of stagnation not being the goal but the only form of non-success that exists.

As I said I am new to the mindset and in many ways I still approach the ‘growth mindset’ from a ‘fixed mindset’ but in learning to think of my time as a chance to do things, learn, be challenged I am noticing change. It seems impossible to be apathetic when effort is the only way to measure yourself.

This is normally the part in an article like this where I give you a list of top ten things like ‘stop caring what others think’, ‘challenge yourself’ and ‘know that failure is just a chance to learn.’ But let’s be real, it’s all a bunch of bumper sticker phrases that offer no instruction as how to change, it just tells you the desired end state. So let’s talk about what you can really do.

Firstly STOP praising achievement. The end result is not the goal. START praising effort. Replace ‘wow you’re smart’ with ‘wow look how much effort you put into figuring that out’. Instead of ‘wow you’re a natural’ or ‘you’re doing that so well’, try things like ‘your hard work and dedication are paying off’ and ‘it’s easy to see your hard work has lead to improvement and that’s the most important thing’.

STOP putting grades on people, including yourself. You’re not a certain level. You’re still learning. START noticing the hard work and effort. You are not an A student, you’ve been getting A’s. Which either means: you’ve been putting in a lot of good effort or the subject matter is too easy. You’re also not an F student, you’re just ‘not yet’ where you need to be. Equally you’re not ‘first place’. You got a first place because of your hard work and dedication or because you need to compete at a higher level.

STOP saying I don’t know that or I’m stupid. START using the phrase ‘Not Yet’. If you don’t know something, can’t do it, or it’s too hard… you’re wrong. You’re just not there, yet! Easy is about ease. And ease comes from repetition. Everything is hard when we haven’t done it before and everything is easy the in the thousandth hour of practice. So keep practicing. And when something is hard remember this is a chance for effort, a chance to learn and say I can’t do it yet, but I will, if I want to.

And to learn more about the growth mindset try the book Mindset: the New Psychology of Success by Carol S. Dweck.


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