"In a growth mindset, you don't always welcome the setback, you were hoping to move forward, but you understand that it's information on how to move forward better next time. It is a challenge that you are determined to surmount. In a fixed mindset, a setback calls your ability into question." -Carol Dweck, 2013 interview
Setbacks are hard. So much so that many people avoid learning anything new, taking exciting risks, or opportunities because of a fear of mistakes or that we might not be "good" at it. We want to spare ourselves from feelings that are unpleasant: embarrassment, failure, clumsiness, disappointment, jealousy. But these very natural and necessary emotions are not something we should avoid or try to keep our children from experiencing. What is more important is teaching our children how to handle these feelings and experiences. If we learn to handle these experiences well, a world of opportunity opens up to us.
Our behavior and ultimately our achievement all stems from our mindset. In a growth mindset, we see intelligence, behaviors, and responses as malleable. When one is in a growth mindset, one is more likely to experience a disappointment or a setback as an event that will teach us something. In a growth mindset, it is easier to reflect about what we learned and consider how to move forward in a productive way rather than wallow in self pity, hide ashamed, or quit...
A growth mindset also makes us more tolerant of others' mistakes and setbacks and allows us to rally behind and next to each other in our lives, careers, and homes!
When is the last time your children or your students saw you make a mistake? Whether it was a very big one or a very small one, you better believe they noticed. When an adult owns the mistake, apologizes if it is needed, reflects about how it all went wrong, and makes a change, then that is a great model for kids. But if the adult tries to cover for the mistake, lies about it, becomes defensive or hostile, and sticks to his/her guns, then that becomes a damaging example. Either the children will see it as justification for behaving that way themselves or they will feel betrayed and disconnect from the adult. Our children need guidance here.
What can parents and other adults do?
I. Think aloud
Go public. Identify the feeling. It is important for children to see that their feelings are normal, not unique to them. They just need to learn strategies for dealing with them. Doing this will also help the person identify the emotion and move on from it to the next step.
"Wow, I really messed up."
"That made me feel embarrassed."
"THAT was not what I expected! I realize I need to slow down next time."
"That was disappointing. I will learn from it and work hard to bounce back from this."
II. Consider a "failure bow"
Own that mistake. Matt Smith's 2012 TEDxBellevue talk on failure bows is a must-see. He encourages people to stand up, state your failure in a proud voice, hands over your head, and bow deeply with a big grin!
Here is my personal failure bow: "I didn't put sun block on my very fair children, now they are burned, and their father is angry with me." (deep bow)
"I am so glad I made that mistake because now I know... "
" Today, I do not win teacher of the year."
"My work was just not good enough."
The intent is humor; we have to learn to laugh at ourselves and not take it all so seriously. Every moment of failure does not have to be a big deal. And you will find if you learn to handle the little mistakes well, the big ones don't hurt so badly either. Here's one more - "I forgot to pick you up at the recess line because I was giggling with Ms. Raft in the office and now you are all wet (rainy day you know)."
III. Accept Consequences
Although you can choose your behavior, what you cannot choose are the consequences. If an adult behaves in an outraged and hurt manner when consequences come her way, her children and students will too. Show them what acceptance looks like. Show them how to place yourself in an objective viewpoint and recognize where you messed up. Be fair and transparent.
"I guess this is what happens when you are rude to your boss. I have to do better next time."
"All the parents are mad at me for forgetting the soccer snack. I get it. It's so hard to have hungry and thirsty kids and nothing to give them."
"I know I reacted poorly to yesterday's events. It will take you a little while to forgive me."
Adults don't have to beg for forgiveness, but we do have to show how consequences are opportunities to teach us how to change. If children observe adults who use consequences to improve their behavior, they will see how they too can learn from consequences that come their way.
IV. Make a change
Show that you are able to improve; you can change through effort. How can you use this lesson to be better yourself or make life better for your colleagues, your family, or your students? You aren't pledging to not mess up - you are human! What you are pledging is growth, change, and continuous improvement.
"I think that my strategy of letting you get extra sleep and then rushing to get out the door in 25 minutes isn't working. What do you say I get you up 15 minutes earlier and we try a slower morning?"
"From now on, I will tell you all the materials you will need before we begin the lesson and before I begin directions. That way you will be able to prepare so that you can listen to me without feeling like you want to dig through your stuff."
"If I am on edge from a hard day, I will tell you right when I get home so you know I need some quiet and space."
And I promise, I will put sun block on my kids before we leave the house.
About Emily Diehl
Emily Diehl is a Curriculum and Professional Learning Specialist for Mindset Works. She works with K-12 educators, school leaders, and parents in helping to develop agency and life-long learning. She has contributed many lessons and experience to the Brainology program, the MindsetMakerTMand the Mindset Works LeaderKit. You can contact Emily for more growth mindset conversations on Twitter @EmilyADiehl or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org
About Mindset Works
Mindset Works was co-founded by one of the world's leading researchers in the field of motivation, Stanford University professor Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D. and K-12 mindset expert Lisa S. Blackwell, Ph.D. The Company translates psychological research into practical products and services to help students and educators increase their motivation and achievement.
Mindset Works and Brainology are registered trademarks of Mindset Works, Inc.