Secret of Success: Hard work and a belief that we can learn underpin the growth mindset
IT is said that nine tenths of the reason we succeed in life lies in our character. Self-esteem, integrity, ability to deal with setbacks; all manner of hard to define dispositions, habits and character traits make up our personality and frame our more obvious abilities.
Without characteristics such as persistence, grit, a solid work ethic and self-belief, it is hard to see how people can go far -- even given their high set of skills.
In other words, basic human capital needs to be balanced by positive social capital, personal grit and character and soft skills which help people realise their goals.
Many of the social skills, personal traits, dispositions and abilities that we rely on for success are often less tangible, difficult to measure and teach than the harder more tangible abilities and skills which we usually associate with an educated and successful individual.
One of the critical qualities of successful people can be understood by the processes that characterise their work and attitude to problems.
From the classroom to the boardroom, effort and tenacity are keys to success. Carol Dweck (Mindset: The New Psychology Of Success) argues that a growth mindset is the path to success and learning.
If we always receive compliments for our intelligence then we may inadvertently provide a disincentive for growth and risk-taking.
If we praise for effort, we provide students with a variable they have some control over. If we simply assume we are smart or talented and expect everything to fall our way due to this, the chances are we will stagnate.
People with a growth mindset know that if they try, work hard and put in some effort, they may improve.
People with a fixed mindset believe that failure is something to be dreaded and that their success is simply to be assumed or that the game is to do all you can to look smart and avoid risk.
After all, they may think they are intelligent so failure must be due to some external cause or hiccup. If what is important is to appear smart and receive praise for that then there is an active disincentive to taking risks and learning. Cover it up and move on.
Encouraging a growth mindset in students entails praising effort rather than success. A desire to learn drives a learning mindset.
If I think I am naturally good at something why seek to improve? If I always receive praise for my innate ability or easily acquire success, surely I can expect that to continue?
People, however, can improve and change, and learn to overcome hurdles through determination and effort. Carol Dweck argues that: "The growth mindset is based on the belief in change, and the most gratifying part of my work is watching people change.
"Nothing is better than seeing people find their way to things they value. This chapter is about kids and adults who found their way to using their abilities. And about how all of us can do that."
Effort, good work and a belief that we can learn and change nurture the growth mindset, which informs success. Dweck's argument focuses on the processes and important effort and activity that underpin success and learning.
The social cognitive approach that informs Dweck's argument and the focus on affective mediators of behaviour are important aspects of her approach (Carol Dweck and Ellen L. Leggett. A Social-Cognitive Approach To Motivation And Personality. Psychological Review).
|The late Russian author Leo Tolstoy is one of many successful people who
were not considered geniuses when young.
— Photo courtesy of commons.wikimedia.org.
Many successful people were not considered geniuses when young and the thing that set them apart was their willingness to learn and, above all, learn from mistakes. Dweck points out: "Did you know that Darwin and Tolstoy were considered ordinary children? That Ben Hogan, one of the greatest golfers of all time, was completely uncoordinated and graceless as a child? That the photographer Cindy Sherman, who has been on virtually every list of the most important artists of the 20th century, failed her first photography course? That Geraldine Page, one of our greatest actresses, was advised to give it up for lack of talent?"
Another thinker whose work deserves special mention, given the theme of this article, is Paul Tough. His book, How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity And The Hidden Power Of Character, is an excellent discussion of the positive role that character and hard work can achieve.
However, Tough's book is more than a celebration of character. He recognises that its development needs support.
According to Tough: "What matters most in a child's development, they say, is not how much information we can stuff into her brain in the first few years.
"What matters, instead, is whether we are able to help her develop a very different set of qualities, a list that includes persistence, self-control, curiosity, conscientiousness, grit and self-confidence.
"Economists refer to these as non-cognitive skills, psychologists call them personality traits, and the rest of us sometimes think of them as character."
The key point that can be derived from Tough and Dweck's arguments are that helping students to develop positive attributes, an ability to persevere and learn, especially when things do not go their way, is central to future success.
Character matters and it is formed in large measure socially. Tough argues: "The character strengths that matter so much to young people's success are not innate; they don't appear in us magically, as a result of good luck or good genes.
"And they are not simply a choice. They are rooted in brain chemistry, and they are moulded, in measurable and predictable ways, by the environment in which children grow up. That means the rest of us -- society as a whole -- can do an enormous amount to influence their development in children.
"We now know a great deal about what kind of interventions will help children develop those strengths and skills, starting at birth and going all the way through college. Parents are an excellent vehicle for those interventions, but they are not the only vehicle.
"Transformative help also comes regularly from social workers, teachers, clergy members, paediatricians and neighbours. We can argue about whether those interventions should be provided by the government or non-profit organisations or religious institutions or a combination of the three. But what we can't argue anymore is that there's nothing we can do."
The key to these ideas is that we can change and improve, but improvement relies on effort and openness to learning.
Furthermore, the support we get, the processes and feedback we receive are critical to helping develop the mindset, the grit and character that are so important for success. Dweck's work on the importance of an open mindset to learning and the importance of praise, which focuses on the effort and risk that students put into their learning, is significant.
Tough's recognition that character traits such as determination matter and can be reinforced through good teaching is another example of the kinds of insight that educational theory rooted in social cognition and the importance of the affective dimension to learning and teaching offer us. Such understanding reinforces the importance of what some may call the more intangible dimension to learning and success.
James Campbell New Straits Times Online Learning Curve 17/11/2013