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I have a question for our readers - How many of you have a bad habit?
Exactly! We all have them, but here's something important to remember: We can both curb old habits and create new, better habits using our brain.
I want you to think about your "bad" habits as these strong neural pathways that your brain has built up. They're those old familiar paths that you know how to do so well (and then you can be really hard on yourself when you do them). But they are habits because they are strong responses you have developed in your brain - it's so easy to keep doing them! And so are your established "good" habits. I know you have those too.
This new year, how about we all promise to be kinder to ourselves about our bad habits and see them for what they are: proof that we have grown strong neural pathways in the past to develop habits, and inspiration that we CAN DO SO AGAIN.
While teaching in California, I had a unique teaching assignment: Honors English 9 and Reading 10. So my school day went from thinking about how to hold "high-achieving" students to a high level of challenge in an honors environment to actually doing the same thing for "underachieving" students in a remedial environment. I loved the challenge and experience of watching non-readers become successful readers, writers and speakers while also pushing the higher performing students to stretch themselves to reach greater heights.
At times though I was discouraged by the underachievement of all of my students, as well as by my colleagues' messages about them. Colleagues told me to be happy with the honors students work when I KNEW they could do better. Or to accept the Reading students sub-par efforts when I ALSO knew they could do better.
This post was originally published on Houghton Mifflin Harcourt's Blog, The Spark (4.29.2016)
If you have had the pleasure of hearing Carol Dweck speak in the past few months, you will have heard what we have learned in recent years about cultivating a growth mindset in ourselves and in others. One of her slides that really resonated with the audience at the Learning and the Brain conference in San Francisco suggested that adults talk the talk, but don't walk the walk. On a stick figure graphic, a disembodied head is traveling in the opposite direction from its body. And this is a major issue: adults forget that we can't effectively cultivate or influence a growth mindset in others unless we are cultivating one in ourselves. We have to take the journey, walking in the same direction that we are talking.
This couldn't be truer for leaders. Leaders (whether that be by title or merely by influence) can influence the mindsets of other adults. No, you can't change another person. However, you can have great influence over others.
Helping People Tip Toward a Growth Mindset
It is really exciting to learn about the concept of a growth mindset at first; it makes so much sense! "Yes! When we believe we can improve, we take action to do so, and we get smarter - we change. It's so simple!"
Except it isn't. At some point, we find ourselves thinking, but wait a minute. If it's this simple, why is it that I know so many people who do not change at all? And how come, even when we share growth mindset concepts with some people, it does not seem to make any difference? What is going on here?
It might be easy at that point to blame the fixed mindset, label the person and move on. But that doesn't have to be our choice, and it certainly isn't tapping into our own growth mindsets to take that tact.
There are good reasons why many people are not changing much. Here are four reasons that I've learned about. Later I will share what these look like and what can be done about it.
Just Tell Me What To Do
One of the most frustrating classroom experiences occurs when students disengage from learning because they're scared to be wrong. As a teacher, I met many students who wanted someone to just give them the answer and now with my own children, I see it again. In many schools, students will sit and wait for the answer, whether that answer comes from another student or from the teacher. And if that answer doesn't come, many are unwilling to look for one themselves. Students often feel that the quest is only for the "right" answer, and they are more willing to wait and copy it down than to risk the possibility of putting in the work only to find out that it was wrong. Unfortunately, this perspective oftentimes generates surface learning, not deep learning. It can interfere with a student's entire notion of what learning is, causing them to think that school is a place to complete work, rather than grow one's mind.