Exploring a growth mindset under quarantine

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Illustration by Brinda Ambal

This graphic illustrates how a growth mindset allows you to expand your abilities.

Under the St. Louis City and County stay-at-home order, we all now have plenty of time on our hands. We have all also invariably experienced a little bit of disappointment. Your season might be canceled. You might not go on that college visit. You might not take that vacation. You won’t take the ACT until June.

You have two different options right now: to stay in bed doing the bare minimum to get through online school or to get off your butt and challenge yourself. It can be difficult to do this when you don’t have to go to school or practice anymore, but by adopting a growth mindset, you can continue to further yourself and your abilities, especially in these unprecedented times.

Carol Dweck, author of “Mindset: the New Psychology of Success” defines having a growth mindset as when a person truly believes that all of their abilities can be improved through dedication and desire to take on new challenges. This is the opposite of a fixed mindset, which is when people believe they can do no more to improve the traits and abilities they were born with.

In one of her studies, Dweck gave a test group of 10-year-olds a challenging puzzle. While some of the children threw their hands up in frustration or gave up and made excuses as to why they couldn’t figure out, others rubbed their hands together in anticipation when the going got tough and said things akin to “I hoped this would be a challenge.”

The theory of growth mindset centers around its adaptability; anyone can choose to have either a growth or fixed mindset. But, which one do you start off with? It is commonly agreed that, like most of the qualities children and teens exhibit, it stems from our parents and teachers.

There are two kinds of praise that each encourage a different mindset. Person-praise is when you praise the person for a result, like “wow, you got an A, you must be so smart.” This implies that they were able to get the result they did because of an inherent trait. Instead, process-praise like “wow, you got an A, you must have worked so hard,” encourages effort and cultivated abilities, and therefore, a growth mindset.

A growth mindset is beneficial because it holds you accountable and absolves limitations placed on you. This then allows you to achieve more, and, of greater importance, take joy in your achievements.

Michael Jordan is a common example of the results a growth mindset attitude can yield. As a sophomore, Jordan failed to make his high school’s varsity basketball team. For the next year, he woke up early and practiced for three hours before school everyday. Even in recruitment, he was rejected from his first choice college, but he kept playing and went on to become top scorer in the NCAA Atlantic Coast Conference for two consecutive years.

Convincing yourself to fully believe in the growth mindset can be difficult at first, because it is such a foreign notion. Our society centers around praising people for what they already have, rather than encouraging people to work toward achieving their goals, no matter what they may be. 

Pick a specific thing you want to get better at and set aside time everyday to practice it and improve your skills. You might even be able to improve your IQ, a test whose results were long believed to remain fixed throughout your lifetime, though more research is needed.

Try improving one skill at a time through a growth mindset. And while you improve your own skills, make sure to dole out plenty of process-praise to others as well.

We hear a lot about how this is an “unprecedented time” and how we are in the midst of a “historical moment.” It might feel like you don’t have any control over the situation. But the one thing you do have control over is yourself and your actions. 

You have control over making the decision to take a free college course about a subject that interests you, deciding to experiment with your own recipes in the kitchen, even just getting up and doing a quick ab circuit. You have control over making the decision to get better at something, purely for the sake of learning and getting better at something. Right now more than ever, (considering the ample time we all have), take full advantage of your inherent control, and challenge yourself, because you are the only person who possesses the power to do so.