Recently I have come across amazing articles about researches by professor Carol Wreck from Harvard University on Fixed and Growth Mindset when coming to learning. Here I’m gonna interpret her concept with my own digestion, and share with you my own ideas combining the professor’s insight.
Here is the brief explanation with possible results springing from both belief systems:
A fixed mindset means IQ cannot be changed throughout our lives. Our potential to develop capability/ability/talent is limited by inborn fixed intelligence, so improvement by further effort can be insignificant. Since birth our intelligence had been fixed, and so, for example, the same person would come first of the whole grade every year for the rest of school life as she was born to be the most intelligent. By continuous effort of others with less IQ they could never beat her.
Result of believing in fixed mindset:
Being smart means one does not have mistakes or weaknesses, so people try to act smart and cover their weaknesses. They dislike challenges due to fear of failures, which will be recognized as dumb.
A growth mindset means IQ can be changed by continuous effort. If one continues to work on his/her area, improvement can be seen. The once-lagged-behind could strive excellence or become expert in her field by continuous effort.
Result of believing in growth mindset:
People are willing to challenge themselves and are not afraid of failures, because they can learn and improve by failing.
The rabbit might be faster than the tortoise, but if a rabbit becomes lazy in the running race, the tortoise might win through sustainable effort, but not the rabbit.
Throughout school life I was a firm believer of the fixed quantity doctrine. My old society was full of believers of that doctrine like me: my mother, classmates, teachers and so on. Now I understand it was not a wise decision to follow their custom.
Here is my new perception of IQ: Intelligence is potential to understand and achieve things. Our IQ can be affected by mental and physical health, society, culture, confidence and more, so it can vary during our life. It can be true that some people are born smarter so they might have won by miles already since birth, but this does not guarantee success in adulthood with plenty of evidence. They can become the ‘tortoise’ in adult world. Also, as our brain growth doesn’t stop until 20 something years old, our capacity of intelligence can vary until adulthood. Our personality, belief, confidence to ourselves, even the foods we eat (junk food or healthy brainy choices of nutrition to unleash our potential?) are factors to this variable —– IQ.
Even IQ tests have score systems with completely distinct methodologies. Why bother for EXACT DATA OF IQ when the same person can score differently in each IQ test score system? Ultimately, why bother how much of your intelligence is innate?
Throughout my childhood I heard a lot of times that ‘IQ scores are most accurate when tested in very young age, because when people get older, they can cover their true IQ by learning’. My mother told me numerous times, together with gossip of other adults, that ‘no matter how hardworking XX is, he can’t do anything with his academic performance because he’s not as intelligent’.
It seemed to me back then our future achievement, earning and social status were already determined by the FACT that HOW INTELLIGENT WE SCORED. That’s fate defined since birth. End of story.
They have righteous reasoning behind these arguments based on FIXED MINDSET, but after I grew up, my experience together with observations of others as well as comparison between Asian and Western learners made me believe that OUR MINDSET, INSTEAD OF INTELLIGENCE, IS MORE IMPORTANT WHEN COME TO ACHIEVEMNT.
Both of the mindsets are valid in some ways, and the results of believing each of them can be totally different. Mr. Ford is right; we are who we believe. If we believe we can never achieve better by continuous effort, then we won’t bother to try, embrace challenges and appreciate failures.
I was startled when I figured out how the findings from professor Wreck precisely explained my personality back then when I was a fixed-mindset student.
My vivid experience was lively proof. You can see how terrible I failed in the last years of my school life. I was regarded as one of the most brilliant students in one of the best schools in that region (sorry to repeat the same bullshit :P, but it’s necessary to explain my point), people started to say I was ‘smart’ —-then, oh hell, being a bright student means to be invincible right? I am supposed to be flawless with no mistakes right? As an inborn perfectionist, I tried to DENY MY WEAKNESSES. I felt very embarrassed when being found weak at something, so challenges discouraged me. I hated competitions because I was nervous that I would make incorrect answers so my team would be disappointed.
Not only me, my classmates were kind of passive and would not dare raise their hands to answer questions, as they could not bare the embarrassment of being wrong. In fact, some educators point out this is a general habit when come to Asian students —— passive and afraid of being wrong, which, in turn, afraid of facing challenges. For western students, they seem to be relatively more willing to raise their hands and accept challenges from peers. A friend who studied in Harvard told me they even dared challenging their professors, and are much more willing to express their opinions openly.
Furthermore, a lot of classmates, including me, tried to appear or act lazy to hide our true potential so no one could judge by LABELING every one of us with academic scores we achieved, as academic performance reflects our potential, which is IQ, which, is an fixed asset. This labeling basically certified us for life, discouraging potential development. We were afraid of COMPARISON, because people judged our worth by FIXED intelligence, so we did not want to show other how much we’ve got.
I knew some classmates were hard-working while trying to appear lazy in order to cover their true potential. For me, I should say I was hard-working sometimes and did not try hide my effort; instead I hid my potential in another way—-becoming the Mighty Queen of Procrastination. I was playing games: studying last minute and then beat my classmates in style, at least to win some of my classmates THROUGH COMPARISON to ATTAIN SELF-WORTH. i knew there were some classmates doing the same unconsciously.
The games were so much fun right? But you see, this revision approach works only for internal exams but never serious public examinations. I failed big time.
So, who got the last laugh? Rabbit or tortoise?
Or maybe let’s put it this way —- if there’s a river right before the finish line in the running race? Only tortoise knows how to swim, but not the rabbit. Who will win?
Moreover, IQ needs to be replenished by learning the most up-dated knowledge. Without the desire to learn CONTINUOUSLY, IQ is unsustainable. It’s like trees without sun and water.
IQ is never a fixed quantity. It’s expansive.
To me, it’s similar to TIME —— time looks limited—-every day has fixed amount of hours, it depends on how you arrange and utilize your time that matters. And the result, is limited potential.
After believing in the Bible of Growth Mindset, I experienced personal growth in all aspects. I am less narrow-minded, I embrace challenges and appreciate failures. I applause for others’ success sincerely, and I am willing to expose my flaws and mistakes, which are unpreventable if I want to learn fast—–I must ask questions that sound dumb to professionals. This has made me learn much faster than ever, and I feel much happier as I won’t need to bother comparing with others with a sense of threat when people are doing great. Those irrational mental burdens are lessened. Learning has become much more enjoyable. Perfectionism taking its last gasp. Dudes, just get comfortable with imperfections. They are inevitable in life, so why bother?
My friendships have even strengthened and become more sincere! I now acknowledge my mistakes so I am much less aggressive. I also believe that every one of us can grow and improve together, so I do not overly stress on people’s negative personality or flaws, because they can be improved.
This blog is a reminder for myself to become more ‘growth-oriented’. Sometimes I might forget to be understandable and open-minded, so by writing blogs I can remind myself those great principles I have learnt, and to share wisdom with like-minded.
What I Wish I Knew When I was 20, Tina Siglig
Other readings I did in these few years, including brief biography of celebrities and talks of inspirational speakers.