The Simple Way to Encourage a Growth Mindset
We won’t try something that’s hard because we think that our ability is just our ability and we were born with it and that’s it.
Ellen Galinsky, President and Co-Founder of Families and Work Institute (FWI) helped establish the field of work and family life while at Bank Street College of Education, where she was on the faculty for twenty-five years. Her more than forty-five books and reports include the best selling Mind in the Making: The Seven Essential Life Skills Every Child Needs, Ask The Children, the now classic The Six Stages of Parenthood and the highly acclaimed Workflex: The Essential Guide to Effective and Flexible Workplaces. She has published over 125 articles in academic journals, books and magazines. At the Institute, Ms. Galinsky co-directs the National Study of the Changing Workforce, the most comprehensive nationally representative study of the U.S. workforce—updated every five years and originally conducted by the U.S. Department of Labor in the 1977. She also co-directs When Work Works, a project on workplace flexibility and effectiveness first funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation that has produced a series of research papers, and has launched the Sloan Awards as well as conducted the National Study of Employers, a nationally representative study that has tracked trends in employment benefits, policies and practices since 1998. Information from FWI’s research has been reported in the media more than three times a day since January 2010. In 2011, the Society for Human Resource Management and the Families and Work Institute formed a ground-breaking, multi-year partnership that takes When Work Works out to businesses around the country.
At FWI, Mind in the Making projects include professional development for early childhood educators, interactive learning opportunities for families, 0 – 8 systems building within the Community Schools context, a video series that highlights cutting edge early childhood research, the development of materials for pediatricians, and small grants to diverse learning community partners. Mind in the Making has sold more than 100,000 copies and had more than 1.5 billion media impressions since April 2010. A leading authority on work family issues, Ms. Galinsky was a presenter at the 2000 White House Conference on Teenagers and the 1997 White House Conference on Child Care. She was a planner and participant at the March 2010 White House Forum on Workplace Flexibility and worked with the Women’s Bureau of the Department of Labor on the Regional Forums on flexibility that continued the work of the White House Forum. She served as the elected President of the National Association for the Education of Young Children, the largest professional group of early childhood educators. Ellen Galinsky is the recipient of numerous awards, including the 2004 Distinguished Achievement Award from Vassar College. She was elected a Fellow of the National Academy of Human Resources in 2005.
A popular keynote speaker, she appears regularly at national conferences, on television and in the media, including the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric, World News Tonight and Oprah. Ms. Galinsky holds a Master of Science degree in Child Development/Education from Bank Street College of Education, a Bachelor of Arts degree in Child Study from Vassar College and numerous honorary doctoral degrees.
Ms. Galinsky is also a photographer. The latest shows of her photography were at the New York Hall of Science (2006 and 2012), UMA Gallery in New York City (2004 and 2007), RiverWinds Gallery in Beacon, New York (2008), GaGa in Rockland County, New York (2009), Blue Door in Yonkers, New York (2012) and Upstream Gallery in Dobbs Ferry, New York (2009, 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013). Ellen Galinsky is married to artist Norman Galinsky, and they are the parents of two grown children: Philip, an ethnomusicologist and founder-director of Samba New York—an inspiring new performance group—and Lara, Senior Vice President at Echoing Green—whose mission is to unleash the next generation of talent to solve the world’s biggest problems—and co-author of Be Bold and author of Work on Purpose.
Megan Gunnar from the University of Minnesota has studied stress for many years and she finds that stress is when the demands of our life, or expectations of what those demands are, exceed our ability to cope with them. So expectations is a very important word.
Sometimes we can expect the worst when the worst might not always be happening. So stress is brought on by both the realities of things that are difficult to cope with or expectations that they’re difficult to cope with.
There have been a number of studies that have shown how children and how adults not only cope with stress but how they try that next hard thing – how they take on a challenge. How they take that problem that they don’t think that they could do, and do it. Among the things that studies have found is that if we have some control over what’s happening, we cope with it better. One study that was done put kids in front of mechanical toys. They were loud and a little scary and the kids all freaked out. But if they had the switch they could turn the toys on and off and they were much better able to cope.
Another thing that matters is in taking on challenges and coping with stress is having support. Having the people around you help you either by thinking of what you’re going to do in a different way or by actually helping you deal with a challenge. And interestingly enough we communicate that support not just in words but by our faces.
There’s a wonderful study by Joe Campos that showed that when parents made different kinds of faces when children were supposed to do something hard – they were crossing a platform that was plexiglas on the top and then there was a visual cliff. The plexiglas went all the way across the top but the kids could now see down to the floor. You know, it’s like one of those places where you walk over a glass and you can see down to the floor below and it’s a little scary. You don’t feel quite as safe as if you can’t see down to the floor.
And if the parent made a fear face, the kids wouldn’t cross that visual cliff. If the parent didn’t make a fear face but made an encouraging, smiling, "it’s okay" face – and just their facial expressions or nodding, the kids were able to cross.
One thing that’s very important in taking on challenges is our mindset. If we think that we are born with the capacities that we’re born with – what Carol Dweck from Stanford University would call a fixed mindset - we won’t try something that’s hard because we think that our ability is just our ability and we were born with it and that’s it.
If we understand that we can always grow and learn from things, we have what she calls a growth mindset, we’re much more willing to take on a challenge. She has done studies with children that have found that the way that adults praise children affects whether or not they’ll take on the next hard problem. You can use the kind of problems that you give kids in intelligence tests. Like match this picture. And if the kids are praised when they have an easier problem to solve by, "Oh, you’re so smart" and then they’re given a choice about whether they would take a harder problem or an easier problem next, they’ll take the easier problem because they don’t want to lose that label of being smart.
If the kids are praised for having a good strategy or they’re praised for putting in a lot of effort, they will try that next harder problem. So the way that we praise our children or the way that we support each other by, in a sense, saying you can learn from your experiences, that was a good strategy – wasn’t quite the right strategy, makes all the difference in whether or not we’ll take on a challenge.
In Their Own Words is recorded in Big Think's studio.
Image courtesy of Shutterstock
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