If our mental well-being is poor as a result of childhood trauma, one thing we can do, which comes from the scientific discipline known as POSITIVE PSYCHOLOGY, is to practice improving our mindset.
The psychologist Dweck, from Stanford University in the USA, proposed that there are essentially two types of mindset. These are :
1) THE FIXED MINDSET
2) THE GROWTH MINDSET
Let’s look at each of these in turn :
– People with a FIXED MINDSET tend towards the belief that their personal qualities and abilities (eg intelligence) are ‘carved in stone’ and unchangeable
– People with a GROWTH MINDSET, on the other hand, believe these same personal qualities and abilities can be changed and improved over time.
Dweck’s research found that the type of mindset we have has a strong effect on our behavior and our general approach to life. For example, according to Dweck, someone who is depressed and anxious and also has a FIXED MINDSET will assume that they will permanently remain so, whereas the GROWTH MINDSET may, for example, believe they will emerge from their ordeal a stronger and better person was more empathy with the suffering of others.
According to the research, there are 4 main areas of behavior that our particular mindset affects. These are:
1) OUR GOALS IN LIFE
2) OUR RESPONSE TO FAILURE
3) THE EFFORT WE PUT INTO ACHIEVING OUR GOALS
4) OUR WILLINGNESS TO TRY OUT NEW SOLUTIONS IN THE FACE OF DIFFICULTIES
Let’s look at how these areas are affected by our mindset :
– GOALS: Fixed mindset people tend to set PERFORMANCE GOALS which are easily measured; for example ‘I must get at least 70% in my test.’ If they get 70% or more, they consider themselves ‘a success’. If they don’t meet their target, they consider themselves ‘a failure.’ This is sometimes called ‘all or nothing’ thinking or ‘black and white’ thinking.
Growth mindset individuals, on the other hand, are less concerned with the specific performance outcome, but, instead, with what is termed ‘learning goals’ – they would therefore be more focused on what they learned from the experience of working toward and sitting the exam, rather than dwelling on whether they should label themselves a ‘success’ or ‘failure.’
In summary, to use a traveling metaphor, the FIXED MINDSET individual is concerned only with the destination, whereas the GROWTH MINDSET individual is much more focused on what they learned from the experience of having taken the journey to the destination.
– RESPONSE TO FAILURE : Again, according to Dweck, people with a FIXED MINDSET feel ‘hopeless and helpless’ and also ‘feel depressed and lose confidence and motivation’ when they fail. They tend to believe if they fail at a task once, they are doomed to always fail at it. They, therefore, give up and right themselves off. For example, the FIXED MINDSET individual who fails an exam may decide never to re-sit it as s/he believes s/he would be bound to fail again. The GROWTH MINDSET individual, on the other hand, may well form the attitude that with some extra work s/he will be able to pass the exam the second time around.
– EFFORT PUT INTO ACHIEVING GOALS: People with FIXED MINDSETS tend to believe they can either do something or they can’t; that they are good at it or bad at it and that this state of affairs will remain permanently in place, The GROWTH MINDSET individual, on the other hand, may take the view that you can become pretty good at just about anything if you put your mind to it and are not afraid to put in the practice. Therefore, the latter group is less likely to quit trying and are less prone to becoming discouraged if they find something difficult at first.
– WILLINGNESS TO TRY OUT NEW SOLUTIONS: When faced with a problem, difficulty, or challenge, individuals with a FIXED MINDSET will tend to keep applying the same behavior in order to attempt to overcome it. When they finally realize that performing the particular behavior is to no avail, they will tend to give up. Their GROWTH MINDSET counterparts, on the other hand, will be much more willing to try to apply various new and novel solutions, which, in turn, leads to a greater probability of overcoming whatever the particular problem happens to be.
DEVELOPING A GROWTH MINDSET :
One of the main techniques employed by Dweck to help people develop a GROWTH MINDSET is to teach them about the brain’s neuroplasticity . When we learn something new, the brain physically changes – for example, it grows new neural connections (neurons are just another name for brain cells) and increases its density in the area of the brain related to the particular skill. A well known example comes from London taxi drivers. Studies revealed that the part of taxi drivers’ brains that deal with spatial awareness are denser than the same brain area of non-taxi drivers. The brain, in this respect, is rather like a muscle – by practicing a particular skill, the area of the brain related to that skill actually physically develops.
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David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).