Growth Mindset


22 September 2020

Reading time: 9 minutes

Abhinav: Hello audience! We have Sweta Raghavan with us. She has a background in Software Product Management and has spent a considerable amount of time designing e-learning products in the USA and India.  

She has run several user research studies with student and teacher groups to improve their learning and teaching experiences.  

Sweta is a Gold Medalist from Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, and has won the Best Debut award for Product Management at Yahoo! 

At Cuemath, Sweta has taught Math and Coding to children in India and the USA. 

She believes that every child can learn anything if taught the right way.

Sweta you told, that you wanted to talk about the Growth Mindset. So what is a Growth Mindset?

important notes to remember
"Every child can learn anything, 
  if taught the right way"

Sweta: Hi Abhinav, thank you for having me on the show. Yes! I did want to speak about the growth mindset, which is a powerful concept that can help us realize the true potential. 
Broadly speaking, a growth mindset is a belief that an individual is in control of their abilities. So when we believe that we can build our skills and talents with practice and perseverance, then we can learn and grow at any point in time. 

Abhinav: That’s interesting, can you explain the growth mindset?

Sweta: To bring out the actual meaning of growth mindset, let me talk about the other extreme too. The other extreme of the growth mindset is the fixed mindset. I believe that we are born with a limited set of skills and talents, and these don't change over time. These are responsible for the success and failures we face in our lives. This is a fixed mindset.

A growth mindset is where we believe that our skills and abilities can be built with practice and perseverance.

Now, to explain this, think about a situation where one is faced with a new challenge outside our comfort zone. Someone with a growth mindset is more likely to embrace challenges as an exciting opportunity to learn, grow, and discover it. 

On the other hand, someone with a fixed mindset would probably not take up that opportunity or shy away from it if they feel they are not prepared to go for it. So that would be an ideal example where this kind of a mindset sort of manifests itself. 

important notes to remember
"A growth mindset is where we believe that our skills and abilities can be built with practice and perseverance"

Abhinav: How does a person with a growth mindset deal with different situations?

Sweta: Let's talk about the word "effort." Someone with a growth mindset finds the word "effort" as magical. So effort can change the dynamics of a lot of things. Somebody with a growth mindset can achieve a higher level in whatever they're trying to craft.

But somebody with a fixed mindset, on the other hand, would think that no matter how much effort they put, it's not going to give any results. It's going to be of no use.

Abhinav: So you're saying the person with the growth mindset has a slightly more optimistic quotient as compared to somebody who has a fixed mindset.

Sweta: In one aspect, definitely yes, but it is just not about having a positive attitude.  Of course, a positive attitude drives one to learn and grow.  It is more about our belief in ourselves.

For instance, in the past I have tried my hand at something and I did not succeed. If I have a  growth mindset, I will not give up.  I will analyze and put in focused work to get better at it. So for a growth mindset, you need to believe in yourself and that is coupled with an optimistic outlook.

important notes to remember
"For a growth mindset, you need to believe in yourself and that is coupled with an optimistic outlook"

Abhinav: How does a person with a growth mindset take feedback, and how do you compare it with a person having a fixed mindset?

Sweta: That's an excellent question and it's so relevant. Feedback is information that somebody who wants to get better at whatever they are doing or going to use it to analyze, strategize, and to decide the focus areas they need to work. Feedback is good for someone with a growth mindset.

But someone with a fixed mindset does not take the feedback in a positive approach most likely to get defensive. They don't want to accept the fact, being validated by someone. These are the two different kinds of reactions that you would see with people grown with different mindsets.

It is a very natural human first reaction to feel bad about something that did not go right.  What one could work on is how to deal with the situation after the initial reaction.  There could be multiple reasons to feel disappointed but that is the best opportunity to apply this principle.

Abhinav: So do children think about their disappointment in themselves or about the image? “I'm not going to take this feedback.” So, How does it play on Children? 

Sweta: Of course, children are sensitive and image-conscious. It depends on what kind of ecosystem they're in. There are many factors in the ecosystem, from parents to teachers to peer groups. If they are used to get validated, they expect validation and the image that comes with it.

It depends on the ecosystem to drive them towards a fixed or growth mindset. Some factors can pull them to a fixed mindset, including validations from teachers, parents, peer groups, siblings, etc.


important notes to remember
"Feedback is good for someone with a growth mindset"

Abhinav: How does a person with a growth mindset deal with mistakes?

Sweta: Someone with a growth mindset would again use the mistake as an opportunity to analyze and improve their work. Because once you've made a mistake, and you know what went wrong, you would receive a lot of feedback that can arise with that mistake. So there could be different aspects of whatever you try to do.  You can ask questions on  what could have been better, more practice, readiness etc. and use that for the next similar opportunity.

Someone with a fixed mindset, after they have a failure or a mistake it can be extremely discouraging and one may lose confidence to try something similar again.

important notes to remember
"Use the mistake as an opportunity to analyze and improve work"

Abhinav: How does one build a growth mindset?

Sweta: Let's talk about, starting at a very young age, the earlier we can help children develop a growth mindset, the longer it's going to be sustainable.

  • The first thing that comes to my mind is that when seeing as individuals, we should focus on the effort and the hard work to do the task rather than the outcomes from it. So when we're patting a child on the back, it should be for the effort that they have put in to achieve something.
  • To build the growth mindset in children, we should praise the efforts they took to complete the work or any life event, the child is facing and not the outcome. Praising the efforts will make the child more flexible and perseverant.
  • Instead, if we just go to the kid and say, "You came first, that's the best. Take the amazing trophy! You won it. Well done." Then the child will become vulnerable because having won the trophy once, he/she would feel the pressure or attachment to the first price which will not develop the growth mindset. It's very important to focus our praise on the effort and the hard work and all the strategies that the child would have to put in to achieve.
important notes to remember
"We should praise the efforts they (children) took to complete the work, not the outcome"
  • The focus should be on setting incremental goals. As Teachers and Parents we should set incremental goals and expectations. If a child is scoring less or struggling with a certain skill or subject, for eg: Have an incremental goal to go from 50-60 percentile instead of 50-80/90 percentile right away.  Support the child with whatever aid is needed in reaching this milestone and motivate them to put in the effort. 
  • The most important and influential thing that happens as we grow is labeling. If a child is labeled while growing up, then that plays very strongly on the psyche. I'm sure a lot of us have experienced being called different things like intelligent, smart, gifted, slow or weak. So when we label children or human beings, that puts a limit on what one can achieve.
  • In many parts of the world in schools, you get slotted and assigned to different sections based on your grades. For example you have the “TAG - Talented and Gifted”, “Remedial” sections. So a child thinks ok “I’m gifted”, or “I am not capable” etc. and that stops them from being their best in both cases.
  • So when we protect our children from labeling, we are actually giving them the greatest gift.
  • If a child develops a growth mindset, then the child will have the right mindset to accept victory or failure. Sports are a wonderful example of learning the growth mindset because you are faced with victories and failures every time you take part. So children engaged with sports are more likely to develop the benefit of a growth mindset.
important notes to remember
"When we protect our children from labeling, we are actually giving them the greatest gift"

Abhinav:  Is it possible to have a growth mindset permanently or how do you think it works?

Sweta: I think it would be wonderful to have it permanently but it is easier said than done.  Everyday life presents many challenges for us, and how we react to the challenges depends on many factors. 

There are a few methods that we could practice in our lives. We could be more mindful about how we deal with circumstances and could focus on responding more than reacting, which may build a strong mind to stay closer to the growth mindset than the fixed mindset. There are lots of situations in life where you will be gradually attracted to a fixed mindset.

Abhinav: Why is it natural for us to get pulled towards a fixed mindset?

Sweta: There are so many studies to show that a brain remembers more of negative experiences than positive experiences.  As it is the natural dynamic of the mind, and it also depends on one’s self-belief and confidence. We have to be aware of these negative defaults and consciously take control of how to best handle the situation.

Abhinav: I have a fresh example. Just before this interview, I was a little nervous because I was doing this interview for the first time and then I was tempted to say, “I don't want to do this,” Or “maybe, I don't know how I'm going to put up there.” But then I thought that I would still go ahead with this because I felt a sense of beginning. Later I thought to go ahead and try. “I don't know what's going to come out of it, but I'm just going to.” 

So how do you see this, is it a growth mindset or a fixed mindset?

Sweta: That’s a great example; it happens with all of us.

This is the first time I'm on social media, which is not my comfort zone. Here, the growth mindset is only about being in my comfort zone and feel the resistance to try something new. As said before, I have an image not living up to my expectations, which could hurt that image.

But when a growth mindset pushes you to give it a try, if it's not good, you could get another opportunity to learn from your mistakes, to take feedback, and the transition of you would be better than the previous.

Like everyone, you defaulted to a fixed mindset, but then you cleared your mind and pushed yourself to come out of your comfort zone, so now you are actually in the growth mindset zone.

Abhinav: Well, as a teacher. What has been your observation to build a growth mindset in children?

Sweta: That's a very relevant question. What happens is this manifests itself in different situations. So if I'm working with a child who's perhaps struggling with a particular concept, you know, and is ready to give up because he or she is not, no matter how he or she is trying.

As a teacher, you have to open up the limit on the number of tries one can have and work on clearing the concept and helping the child gain the confidence to try again.

Children who have a fixed mindset and have done well academically might hold back from asking questions because they don't want to look awkward. That limits them in reaching out to the teacher and freely ask questions. I do have children who don't want to ask me that out because they feel that, it would make them look bad. S

So as a teacher, one has to give them the comfort level, saying that, "you know what, you can ask whatever you want to. You know, that no matter how much you learn, there is always so much more to learn."

Once the children learn how to learn, they have achieved a growth mindset.

important notes to remember
"As a teacher, one has to give them (children) the comfort level.
Once the children learn how to learn, they have achieved a growth mindset"
Abhinav: So any last comments on growth mindset to our audience.

Sweta: Sure. 

A growth mindset is the most powerful tool that one can use in our lives to realize our true potential. 

A growth mindset is something that people in different locations of different ages have benefited from it to make their lives more satisfying and comfortable. Many Companies have had training on the growth mindset for their workforce to increase productivity.  

We should start at a young age and inculcate the development of a growth mindset in our children. It helps us to become better individuals, better leaders, and better collaborators.

As a teacher and parent, I have had innumerable “AHA” moments with the execution of this life principle.

It is my mantra for sure!

Abhinav: I hope all our audience watching the interview would have benefited. It was interesting to talk to you and learn more about the growth mindset. Thank you for your time.

Sweta: Thank you!

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