Everyone has their own unique relationship with learning. Some associate it with school and have negative feelings about it and others find it extremely positive.
In any case, to re-imagine your relationship with learning and motivate or reinforce your passion for it, let’s look at a model that’s been developed by Carol Dweck, professor of psychology at Stanford University. Her model distinguishes between two kinds of mindsets: what she calls a fixed mindset and a growth mindset.
Recognise a fixed mindset
A fixed mindset is characterised by a person who thinks that their ability to grow and develop is predetermined and limited. If you have a fixed mindset, you have a static view of what you are capable of doing. A fixed mindset is characterised by psychological constraints, often called “limiting beliefs”.
The first is called learned helplessness. This results from negative experiences, such as being punished or humiliated by getting poor marks at school. This kind of negative experience can create a very pessimistic view of your ability to learn.
Another type of conditioning is modelling. By surrounding yourself with people who share and express a fixed mindset, you typically begin to imitate the same behaviours and beliefs. In other words, a fixed mindset is contagious.
However we explain these psychological conditionings, the result is the same: The development of an unhealthy relationship with learning. And in particular, an unhealthy relationship with failure and criticism. Rather than seeing them as an opportunity to learn, people with a fixed mindset usually see failure and criticism as a disincentive to learn more. But failure is only failure if we don’t learn from it. In fact, failure is a crucial part of everyone’s learning process.
I particularly like the concept of “excellent mistakes” – those that happen when you are making your best efforts. These are often growth opportunities since they are unrelated to your effort but rather your knowledge and ability – which can always be improved by learning.
A fixed mindset is also nurtured by the idea that we are born with a certain “amount” of intelligence that remains unchanged throughout our life. This was the original idea behind IQ: the measurement of your fixed “Intelligence Quotient”.
Thankfully, we now know that this idea does not correspond at all with our biological reality.
That’s what we’ve learned from the field of neuroscience – the science of the brain. The evidence is clear – your brain is highly plastic and continuously changing. In fact, your brain creates new connections from moment to moment throughout your entire life. As a human being, you learn all the time; but the ease, efficiency and joy with which you learn will depend on how you develop your capacity to learn.
Adopt a growth mindset
The opposite of a fixed mindset is a growth mindset. A growth mindset is characterised by the view that intelligence and abilities are not predetermined or limited, but rather, that they develop and evolve. People with a growth mindset exhibit more resilience and perseverance when they encounter obstacles. They understand that they can’t master something without effort and difficulty, and this pushes them to actively look for feedback and criticism. A growth mindset is one of optimism, determination and humility.
Reflect on your own mindset and ask yourself:
What’s my relationship with learning?
A fixed mindset: the view that the ability to learn is predetermined and limited. A fixed mindset is characterised by limiting beliefs, such as:
Modelling, i.e. imitating other people who have a fixed mindset.
A growth mindset: the view that intelligence and abilities develop and evolve.
Intelligence is not just dynamic, it's diverse! Let's look at what that means in the next chapter.