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Growth mindset vs. fixed mindset

These mindsets are based on our perception and response to failure and challenging tasks

By Amelia Alexander
As I promised in an earlier article, I’m writing an article about the growth mindset. In school, I learned about this mindset, and it has given me some perspective.  

This may be oversimplified, so be sure to take what I say with a grain of salt.  

There are two different mindsets. The growth mindset and the fixed mindset. These mindsets are based on our perception and response to failure and challenging tasks.

People who have a fixed mindset do not grow nearly as much as people who have a growth mindset because people with a fixed mindset believe that their abilities/intelligence is “fixed” or stagnant.

On the contrary, people who have a growth mindset are able to move past failure with sustained effort because of their optimistic outlook. 

The growth mindset is an approach to learning that is designed to yield the most growth. This mindset treats failure as a necessary step of learning. This mindset calls us to do new, challenging things, rather than trying to keep doing the things we already know that we are good at.  

Accepting failure is hard.  
Failing can make you feel like an idiot. The growth mindset can make you feel uncomfortable. Pronouncing a word incorrectly, doing a math problem on the board incorrectly, being corrected on your bad grammar, etc. are embarrassing experiences.

But in most cases, they shouldn’t be. How can you do something correctly if you have never done it, or you have never been taught how to do it correctly? How can you always remember everything you have learned when our brains are fallible?

Plus, it takes time to commit knowledge to memory. We are bound to mess up. These “embarrassing” mistakes are often what causes us to learn and grow.  

Yesterday I got my driver’s license. The first time I took it, I failed. I hit a cone and I didn’t pass maneuverability. I was upset. I felt like a failure because... well I was a failure! Truth be told, we’re all failures!

Try to think of one person who has never failed, made a mistake, or looked “dumb.” You probably can’t. The failure isn’t what is important. What’s important is our response. It’s easy to succumb to anxiety, hopelessness, and self-doubt as a response to failure.

Notice these emotions, but try not to dwell on them. Failing is how we learn and grow. Being a failure is beautiful and endearing. Like when babies stumble as they try to walk. The little failures eventually succeed and grow. They don’t assume they’re just “bad at walking” when they fall. They persist because they know that they want to walk, and they trust their growth process.  

Humbly confused 
In school, especially during Algebra and Chemistry, it frustrates me to not understand exactly what is going on immediately. These are the classes that we learn about completely new concepts the most often.

This is where people with a fixed mindset give up. Students will say “I’m just bad at math.” because they don’t understand a new concept as they are learning it for the first time.

It’s unrealistic to always understand everything, especially in a learning environment. Learning a new skill or concept should be confusing. In most cases, you should fail at first. If you are never confused, you aren’t learning enough.  

Failure precedes growth. If you’re trying to develop a growth mindset, this can be a useful mantra.  

Doing difficult things 
Studies show that children who read books that are above their reading level grow much more academically than children who continue to read books that are very easy for them to understand. 

Personally, I like poetry. Sometimes I completely misunderstand the meaning of a poem. My younger self would have given up poetry because it is not always easy to read. I would have said “I am confused; therefore, this is not for me.” I would have deprived myself of what’s now one of my favorite things had I responded like that.  

If you exercise regularly, you probably understand that you need to push your body for the best results. Working out is kind of uncomfortable, but it also releases dopamine and makes us feel really good. Brains are kind of like muscles. You need to challenge them for the best results to yield the most growth.  

I hope learning about this mindset promotes your personal growth! Happy failing, being confused, and growing!

Amelia Alexander, Icon columnist, is a student at Ada High School.


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