Widgets Magazine

OPINIONS

Praising the process

Growth mindset — those two words have been everywhere lately. People meet a failing grade on a midterm with a shrug and a solemn “Growth mindset, right?” The Academic Resource Skills Center prescribes the words as a remedy to a dip in GPA.  

For those of us who haven’t heard about it before, the Harvard Business Review describes people who have growth mindset as “individuals who believe their talents can be developed (through hard work, good strategies and input from others)… They tend to achieve more than those with a more fixed mindset (those who believe their talents are innate gifts).” The more we believe that we have the ability to fine-tune and develop skills (especially the ones that do not come as easy to us), the more successful we are in doing what we set out to accomplish.

At the start of the quarter, I heard more about how educators (particularly in pre-schools and day cares) put growth mindset into practice. For example, if a child is painting a picture, educators are discouraged from saying “That looks really cool!” or “What a pretty painting!” Instead, they are encouraged to say something along the lines of “I can see that you have been working very hard,” or “You have been spending a lot of time painting the sky.” The point is to praise the process instead of the outcome.

Sometimes my roommate and I wonder how we might have been different if our parents had adhered to the mode of parenting that encouraged growth mindset in our childhoods. When I was younger and I would paint a picture and show it to my mom, she would say something like, “Very nice!” The same went for my grades. A’s were greeted with “Good job!” and a pat on the back — the same way she would shout “Go Amanda!” when I hit a home run in Little League baseball.

We wondered what might have happened if, instead of rewarding the A’s, our parents acknowledged the C’s on tests that we had spent hours studying for with “I saw that you worked very hard. I’m proud that you did your best.” Or, if I went an entire soccer game without scoring a goal, if my mom would have said, “You ran a lot, even when you got tired.” Would we have more patience when things did not go our way, despite all of the effort we put in? Would we be able to more easily view failure as a learning opportunity instead of as a setback?

At the same time, the gratification we received for doing well may have played a role in fueling our desire to get all A’s, to overachieve, to keep pushing ourselves. After all, there is a certain satisfaction in accomplishing something we set out to do, and that satisfaction can have a reinvigorating effect. But if we depend on positive reinforcement as a source of energy, what happens to our motivation when we are just expected to perform well without any acknowledgement? After 18 years of having a fixed mindset, I guess the only thing we can do is start adopting the growth mindset now.

 

Contact Amanda Rizkalla at amariz ‘at’ stanford.edu.