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About Psychologist Carol Dweck And His Theory of Fixed and Growth Mindsets

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When we hear stories of famous theorists conjuring theories from thin air, or impressive intellects memorizing hundreds of pages, we cannot help but sit in awe. It may be discouraging to see how much these fathers/mothers of history gave to society; however, their success was not simply inherited at birth. As a matter of fact, many were told they would amount to nothing at a young age. Society has a habit of publicizing only the achievements of these intellects, paying little heed to the years of perspiration, stress, loss, and sacrifice each individual had to endure in order to achieve success. One of the few to recognize the effort that goes behind success is renowned psychologist Carol Dweck who divides the human mindset into two categories. The first is known as the “Fixed Mindset,” believing the human mindset is not variable and cannot change, and the second is known as “Growth mindset,” believing the human mindset is subject to change. Individuals are simply not born with a “fixed intelligence;” an individual must analyze how to establish, build, and maintain a “growth mindset.” Data was collected by Stanford buiness professor Eyar Nir on fixed intelligence, which drew conclusions from personal experiences, in order to elucidate that intelligence is not determined by genetics.

Indeed, the formation of growth mindsets contradicts the ideology of inherited intelligence. According to The Guardian an online journal, at a young age famous physicists, Albert Einstein, was told he would amount to nothing due to his difficulty focusing in school. If the claim that intelligence is fixed were to be true, Einstein could not have progressed from his current state. Nevertheless, through implementing a growth mindset, Einstein proved that even he could escape his fixed state, discovering physics theories that are taught all over the world today. Psychologist professor, Carol Dweck, gives a more detailed template on how success, such as Einstein’s, leads to a desire to simply do more. Within Dweck’s findings, she addresses why many believe they have a fixed mindset. Dweck’s article Scientific American states, “I’ve seen so many people with this one consuming goal of proving themselves— in the classroom, in their careers, and in their relationships. Every situation calls for a confirmation of their intelligence, personality, or character. Every situation is evaluated: Will I succeed or fail? Will I look smart or dumb? Will I be accepted or rejected? Will I feel like a winner or a loser?” In essence, Dweck addresses why many believe intelligence is fixed. Individuals believe success is attributed to how others view them; this belief is what causes many to remain in a fixed state, without any thought of growing their potential. Nevertheless, Dweck combats this by introducing the “Growth Mindset.” Within her publications, Dweck states,

“There’s another mindset in which these traits are not simply a hand you’re

dealt and have to live with, always trying to convince yourself and others

that you have a royal flush when you’re secretly worried it’s a pair of tens. In

this mindset, the hand you’re dealt is just the starting point for development.

This growth mindset is based on the belief that your basic qualities are

things you can cultivate through your efforts.”

In elementary terms, Dweck systematically explains that individuals with a “Growth Mindset” look to continue their development, regardless of how society views them. Within a growth mindset, individuals view failure as an opportunity to grow and improve, rather than an undefeatable obstacle. This is crucial for it gives both a solution and a contradiction to individuals believing in only fixed intelligence. In order to begin climbing out of the fixed mindset state, a person must first begin at the foundation of the issue,which is attitude. Building a good foundation would require fixed mindset individuals to embrace challenges rather than avoid them. After creating this solid foundation, a person would need to build upon this base by “persisting in the face of setbacks” (2), allowing for a continued and steady progression of a growth mindset. As a final point, a fixed mindset individual would have to maintain this constant state of progression by learning from past experiences and the criticism of others. This procedure becomes essential for proving intelligence is not fixed, because it outlines a clear guideline for fixed mindset individuals to ultimately escape their already “predetermined” fate.

Moreover, many fixed intelligence advocates require physical evidence rather than Dweck’s systematic approach. To combat this, Eyal discusses many studies within his book, Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products. The book itself focuses on business strategies for starting entrepreneurs; however, the studies could also be used to prove intelligence is constantly progressing throughout society. At the beginning of Eyal’s research, behavior causing humans to remain fixated was tested when he writes, “The study demonstrated that people suffering from symptoms of depression used the Internet more. Why is that? One hypothesis is that those with depression experience negative emotions more frequently than the general population and seek relief by turning to technology to lift their mood.”(45). Although this study outlines how to take advantage of technological opportunities, if a person refrains from applying a myopic view, another reason to why people have fixed intelligence is revealed. Individuals who face difficulty in life, regardless of the severity, tend to look for distractions rather than a solution.

This ideology instills a sense of hopelessness causing the development of procrastination, ultimately crushing a person’s hope for developing their mindset. After introducing the issue of fixed intelligence, an unexpected solution arises through another study Eyal conducts, a study regarding the car company known as Toyota. Eyal writes, “One method is to try asking the question ‘why’ as many times as it takes to get to an emotion. Usually this will happen by the fifth “why.” This is a technique adapted from the Toyota Production System described by Taiichi Ohno as the “5 Whys Method.” Ohno wrote that it was ‘the basis of Toyota’s scientific approach … by repeating ‘why?’ five times, the nature of the problem as well as its solution becomes clear” (83). In essence, Eyal’s analysis of Ohno’s study provides proof that intelligence can progress. Within the study, Socrates’ philosophy of answering a question with another question challenges the human mind to make secondary connections, which inherently leads to a consistent progression of the human intelligence. This becomes crucial for proving intelligence is not fixed, for it provides physical evidence fixed mindset advocates simply cannot deny along with an explanation to the human psyche.

Surely statistics and research studies provide physical evidence, but nothing aids human understanding of fixed intelligence the same way personal experiences do. In my case, the journey to growing my intelligence was not established until my first year in high school. For most of my childhood, I lived in the middle eastern country of Palestine. In 2006 my family decided to permanently reside within the United States. The transition required me to adjust to many new changes, language being the hardest. I spent many hours during and after school learning English from scratch. Nevertheless, I managed to learn English fluently after one to two years. This personal experience becomes essential for showing intelligence is not fixed, considering I managed to expand my knowledge and learn an entirely new language. If intelligence were truly fixed, then my personal experience should have resulted in my failure to learn English, which clearly was not the case.

Indeed I successfully learned English; however, the actual implementation of the language within my school work proved too much to handle. As a result I ended failing most of my English classes in elementary and middle school, causing me to attend summer school while the rest of my friends enjoyed their summers off. My consistent failure in my English classes led me to adopt a “Fixed Mindset” attitude, leading me to believe I had no chance of succeeding in my other classes. This fixed state continued until my transition from middle school to high school. In order to determine which level entering freshmen were placed in, the high school Board of Education had each student take an EXPLORE exam. I approached the exam the same way I had in middle school, putting in little effort and simply guessing on the Scranton portions. After EXPLORE exam results posted, my scored not only ranked me into higher level honor classes, but also placed me a semester ahead assigning me to AP courses starting freshman year. It would be my unintended success that would pave the way for my upper level thinking.

During my high school career, I came to realize I was not the only foreigner adjusting to the English education system. Within my AP classes, three students shared my same experience. As the semester progressed, I formed a strong friendship with these students, who in turn taught me how to handle the excessive workload and exams AP courses required. Equipped with this knowledge, I continued to excel in my coursework and ACT scores graduating high school at the age of sixteen. In essence, my lengthy personal experience outlines why intelligence is not fixed, for I was able to expand and build upon my knowledge. Lebanese poet, Khalil Gibran, sheds light onto why people tend not to change their mindset within his poem, On Work. Gibran writes, ‘’For if you bake bread with indifference, you bake a bitter bread that feeds but half man’s hunger.”An individual must learn to love what he or she is engaging in to properly form and grow intelligence. I chose to relate this to my personal experience, for I had no will to expand my knowledge before transitioning to high school. Although this was the case, my experience proves one’s intelligence is not fixed, for I learned to love learning, and in return was rewarded with more wisdom.

All in all, intelligence is most definitely variable as apparent through Dweck’s “Fixed” and “Growth” mindset explanation, Eyal’s analysis of consumer statistics, and my own personal experience. When individuals face difficulty they cannot overcome, they give such difficulty a name and claim it cannot be changed; however, once we embrace optimism, a whole new world unknown to humanity becomes known.

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