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Learning a growth mindset is like planting a seed in rich soil. If the ground is abundant with a nutrient content that encourages the plant to flourish and bear fruit, then it's successful nurturing is pretty much a guarantee. However, if the soil is dry and barren and the seed is not cared for while it matures, then it will struggle and wither, and eventually, die.
Our young learners’ brains are much like that soil. For them, learning the growth mindset early on ensures many beneficial things in terms of their holistic development. So you may ask, what exactly are the advantages the growth mindset education can provide our learners with throughout their lives?
Advantages of Learning a Growth Mindset
Let’s begin with a quick growth mindset definition to get us going. In this case, there’s none better to ask than the godmother of growth mindset, Carol Dweck. This is how she sums it up:
“In a fixed mindset, students believe their basic abilities, their intelligence, their talents, are just fixed traits … in a growth mindset students understand that their talents and abilities can be developed through effort, good teaching and persistence.”
It’s unfortunate but true that for a long time we believed that our intelligence was fixed. You knew what you knew and you could do what you could do, and that was it. There was no room for growth and potential because the brain wasn’t wired that way. Thankfully, that belief died out ages ago.
Brain plasticity research, specifically over the last few decades, has uncovered remarkable insights into how the brain rearranges its structure with new knowledge and experiences. Like a muscle, the more we exercise the brain, the stronger it gets. However, those aren’t the only benefits for our children in learning a growth mindset. These are some of the most crucial developmental advantages it can gift young people with.
A growth mindset helps you enjoy learning and exploring your potential—and messing up—without worrying about what anyone thinks. When you’re learning, you understand it’s a journey with no perfect conclusion. It’s messy and it’s challenging, and it’s worth every moment. Additionally, you recognize both your strengths and weaknesses, and you put work into both.
We never stop learning throughout life, but what can make or break our desire to be lifelong learners is how we perceive the whole idea of learning. If we learned growing up that mistakes were failures and meant we weren’t good enough, then learning becomes something we’re afraid to do.
Now, imagine if our young ones learn to see failure as a chance to grow and succeed, no matter how long it takes, much like a baby taking those first few steps. Imagine what they’d be capable of all throughout their lives, seeing every day as a chance to break another record, cross another barrier, and gain a new experience. That’s the gift of the growth mindset.
Have you ever heard anyone say any of these things, or worse yet, said them to yourself?
- I've always thought this way. I can't change now.
- I'm not good enough for ________.
- It’s easier for everyone else. I’m different.
- This is how I was raised, so it must be the truth.
- Why even bother? It'll never happen.
- It's too hard.
- It’s going to take too long.
- I'm too old/fat/broke/stupid, etc.
Interestingly enough, the majority of us tend to underestimate ourselves. We shouldn’t, because we’re powerful beyond measure, and this is part of accepting the growth mindset. It means we have a stronger sense of what we can accomplish in the face of adversity, as well as a deeper appreciation for the successes we do enjoy.
But what if it goes the other way, and we begin to overestimate our greatness even if it isn’t justified? That’s called the Dunning–Kruger effect, which is basically a mental bias where we believe our cognitive ability is better than it actually is. This has nothing to do with a growth mindset. Instead, when we have a growth mindset we learn to temper triumph with humility because we know that there is always a way to improve.
Having self-esteem also means being unafraid to take risks and strive for better, even if it seems daunting. A growth mindset helps us understand our own strengths and weaknesses as we approach new challenges, thus increasing our capacity for navigating toward success. It also means we no longer practice approval-seeking because we realize the path we’re on is ours and ours alone, and we’re more than okay with it.
The Power of a Three-Letter-Word
In the end, much of our lives are spent focusing on what we learn and what mistakes we make. It’s inherent in our academic careers, our working lives, and relationships of every definition. Unfortunately, we’re often conditioned to believe that it’s our errors more than anything else that defines us.
There’s one simple word that can sum up the crucial connection between failure and learning with a growth mindset. That word is “yet.”
In all cases, the growth mindset practice centers on potential and possibility. It teaches us to tell ourselves “I’m not where I'd like to be yet, but hard work and perseverance will get me there in good time.”
Teaching our learners the power of “yet” can have a keen impact on their outlook of themselves and their personal experiences. In essence, it’s a way of saying that life and learning are both a journey, and they are meant to be experienced to the fullest.
Let’s face it: whether we’re kids or adults, we’re going to stumble. We’ll fall short, we’ll be denied, and we’ll take a step or two back on what Paul McCartney called “the long and winding road.” Facing these setbacks with a growth mindset helps us remember that, even though we’re not there yet, we are well on the way.
A Growth Mindset Through Problem Solving
It’s our hope that helping your kids with learning a growth mindset seems attainable to you as you consider these benefits above. However, one of the best ways to encourage growth mindset practice is through giving our learners relevant problems to solve that matter to us all. We’ve built a roadmap for you to do this in our popular resource, The Solution Fluency Companion.
Editor's note: This post was originally published in 2019 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.
Originally published Jun 16, 2019, updated September 29, 2021