In my work with college students, I have become a fan of Carol Dweck’s concept of the Growth Mindset. Here’s a youtube video on the subject that I quite like.
When all is going well, it may not matter how you tackle your endeavors–a fixed mindset won’t necessarily get in your way. When you face setbacks, however, adopting a growth mindset may increase your ability to overcome them… or at least feel better in the face of them.
One strategy for cultivating this mindset is to change the way you speak of your challenges. Here are a few examples:
Fixed Mindset Language: I am not good at Chemistry, and the professors cover too much material too quickly.
Note–the above statement may be, more or less, factually true. You may not have experienced success when working on Chemistry content, and your faculty may indeed move very quickly. Yet this statement would inspire me to do… very little. It feels as if there is no reason to try when I speak of my challenge in this way.
Here’s the same factual information reframed:
Growth Mindset Language: This Chemistry class is very challenging for me *right now*, therefore I will need to approach this situation differently. I need to dedicate more time every day to working with the material, I will seek out tutoring or study groups, I will visit my professor’s office hours as frequently as I can, I will find extra review materials in the library and online, and I will ask for advice from students and faculty who enjoy Chemistry.
Same facts. Different way of looking at this challenge. Note the phrase *right now*–growth mindset means that we can imagine a future in which there is change.
Sometimes, students run into setbacks because of huge challenges–health issues, family crises, financial woes. Those are the kinds of challenges that can be very difficult to overcome. Yet even when the challenges are significant, and the near future does not look very hopeful, the language you embrace can affect your ability to move forward.
Fixed Mindset version: There’s no way to succeed under these circumstances.
This is an understandable perspective. Indeed, this may be 99% factual. But this language will again inspire me to give up rather than move forward.
Here’s a growth mindset version: I am managing some severe challenges, so I need to be strategic in prioritizing my time and connecting to resources.
This is factually true, and indeed, I did not make any overly optimistic claims about how soon the challenges will be overcome. But I emphasized actions that I can/should take that make sense given the challenges I face. I don’t know what the future holds, but I am focusing on what I can do rather than on what I cannot.