Changing Your Mind
This week I find myself wondering how many of us don’t really understand how we think, or realise how important our thoughts and outlook are, or how much our mindset can affect our everyday lives, either negatively or positively. As I am currently preparing to deliver mindset training to staff and students in a local school, I feel positively excited. The opportunity to introduce a whole school to such powerful ‘tools’ that could help them to cope better with the stress, support brain growth (in size and neural connections) and maybe even help them to become smarter and more successful is just… brilliant!
On visiting the school for an initial chat, the deputy head teacher explained that some students taking mock GCSE exams were having a ‘melt down’ with the stress of it all. I was instantly transported back in time to my own experience of high school exams.
I have always felt nervous before exams and can vividly remember taking one look at a maths ‘O’ level paper and bursting into tears, saying ‘I can’t do any of this!” The invigilator spoke quietly to me and suggested I take a few breaths before taking another look at the paper. I did calm down enough to complete the exam and scraped through with a grade 6. I didn’t care that this was the lowest grade pass, I was just so delighted because I had convinced myself that I had failed: my inner talk being “I am no good at maths; my brain isn’t wired that way”.
I never really enjoyed going to school much and left at the first opportunity to study ‘A’ levels at college, which although still stressful, were more enjoyable because I could choose what to study: I was interested in taking psychology as an option and they didn’t offer that in school so it gave me a way out.
I passed and went onto train as a nurse and then a registered holistic therapist (enjoying both but still experiencing periods of stress) before studying for an MSc in Applied Positive Psychology as a mature student. It was the MAPP course that helped me to understand why I have experienced stress in every exam I have ever taken.
Mindset: Fixed v Growth
On the second weekend at university, we were introduced to the concept of fixed and growth mindsets. We completed an exercise that asked us to:
“Think about a time when you felt measured and write about how this felt”.
I immediately thought back to my 11+ which I failed (almost certainly due to stress) and that subsequently defined which ‘set’ I was put in for English and Maths at high school. I had been measured and failed; I was no good at Maths. Even once I had settled in at high school and was ‘promoted’ into the top maths set and entered for the GCSE’s a year early, my fixed mindset didn’t change, so neither did my stress levels. I gave up advanced maths after a few weeks because I was suffering from migraine headaches – before every maths lesson – which stopped when I left.
In a fixed mindset, the belief held is that ability is static, you are born with a certain amount of intelligence or ability (such as creativity, musicality) and that there is not much you can do to change this. This can lead to feelings of helplessness, avoiding challenges, giving up easily and an inability to accept constructive criticism. Effort is viewed as a sign that you are ‘dumb’ rather than smart and both failure and success cause anxiety. As Dweck (2012) states, “fixed mindset makes people into non-learners” (p.18).
In a fixed mindset, an action becomes an identity: ‘I failed the exam’ becomes ‘I am a failure’…
From a growth mindset perspective, the belief held is that we can all grow and learn through failure and effort is viewed as essential for learning and mastery of new skills. When in a growth mindset people embrace challenges, persist in the face of obstacles and learn from their mistakes.
Carol Dweck (2006) describes how “The view you adopt for yourself profoundly affects the way you lead your life,”(p6): I can understand now how my fixed mindset as a child went unchallenged and continued to show up into adulthood (mainly at exams). Personal development and maturity has helped a lot and I am now predominantly growth mindset, although can ‘slip’ without continued effort.
So you can see why I am really excited at the chance to tell young people, teachers and parents that ‘measures’ are merely a snapshot at one moment in time; that we are all able to grow, get smarter and reach for our dreams with the right tools…
- There are some great resources out there too, giving information about how to discover your individual mindset and how to adopt a growth mindset. Go on… change your mind!
Dweck, C. (2006). Mindset: The new psychology of success. New York: Random House.
Dweck, C. (2012). Mindset: How You Can Fulfil Your Potential. Robinson. Kindle edition.
Maggie Bevington worked in both conventional and holistic medicine before achieving an MSc in Applied Positive Psychology (MAPP 2014). She now delivers Upward Spirals workshops: a unique, integrative, research-based approach to health and wellbeing – combining Positive Psychology, mindfulness training, nutrition, exercise and sleep – for individuals, groups and organisations.