It’s the most natural thing in the world – for an American parent especially – to praise a child for her intelligence or talent, rather than for how hard she has tried. “Wow! You solved that puzzle so quickly! What a smart girl!” But a series of classic studies by psychologist Carol Dweck shows that this kind of praise promotes a “fixed mindset” – the belief that success is a zero sum game: you either got it, or you don’t. People with a fixed mindset, when confronted with a difficult challenge, tend to give up easily – blaming themselves for not having what it takes to succeed.
It’s ironic, but what we misleadingly call “success” comes more often to those who don’t think of success and failure in the black and white terms those terms imply. A “growth mindset” – one that views challenges as learning opportunities and failure as a temporary setback – is a commonality among people who score high on most measures of success, from good grades in school to artistic achievement, from personal happiness to salary.
The Grant Study at Harvard – a famous longitudinal study that tracked two cohorts of men, a class of Harvard undergrads and an economically disadvantaged group from Boston’s inner city, from young adulthood through old age – offers some of the most compelling evidence of this. A willingness to take on challenges in spite of setbacks was the most consistent predictor of the men’s long-term success in relationships, career, and personal well-being.
In session 6 of her workshop for Big Think Mentor on The 7 Essential Life Skills , Ellen Galinsky reviews the research on the willingness to take on challenges, and offers strategies for cultivating this invaluable mindset.
Video: Essential Life Skill #6 Taking on Challenges, with Ellen Galinsky (free preview: full video available with subscription to Big Think Mentor
In a fast-changing world, only our higher-order thinking skills can keep us aware, engaged, and growing. In The Seven Essential Life Skills, her workshop for Big Think Mentor, Mind in the Making author Ellen Galinsky teaches lessons learned over decades of psychological research into how humans learn throughout the lifespan. The seven essential skills she teaches here, and demonstrates with stunning video footage of classic psychological experiments, are invaluable tools for adapting to, learning from, and thriving within a world in rapid flux.
The seven essential life skills you’ll hone in this workshop are:
Focus and Self-Control
Taking on Challenges
Self-Directed, Engaged Learning
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