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Change Your Mindset – Raise Your Self-Esteem

Mindset, EF's and Self Esteem

What would you do? Things are not going your way and you are having one of those days. You know, the kind of day that you struggle to write that report, meet deadlines, you burn the new recipe, or fail at something that should be easy for you. You have messed up and you and everyone else know it.

What does that internal voice say to you when that happens? Do the ANTS (automatic negative thoughts) come marching in or are you understanding and patient with yourself? Will you pick yourself up and try again or resign yourself to not being “good at” X? Things like this happen throughout our lives and based on your level of self-esteem and your mindset you may either never attempt that again or jump back in with both feet and push through it until you get it.

Imagine that two students have received low grades on their test. Their initial reactions are similar as they are confused and disappointed in themselves. What happens next determines which of them has a stronger sense of self-esteem and a growth mindset. Student A is frustrated and discouraged and hides the test in her notebook and refuses to even look at it. She makes excuses about not having enough time or not understanding because of the teacher. (Empty)Promises to do better will likely not work out and her confidence in that subject will continue to decline.

Student B takes the oppsite approach. Although she is upset, she tries to figure out what she did wrong. She asks a friend about one part and goes after school to ask the teacher about the rest of the test.

How each had studied for the test, really doesn’t matter. They both felt confident going in. Student A takes the failure as an attack on her intelligence rather than on the effort she did or didn’t put in. Student B understands that whatever happened is a matter of the amount of effort she put in.

So if self-esteem according to Webster is: “a feeling of having respect for yourself and your abilities” what would you say about the amount of self-esteem demonstrated by Students A and B? There is a more important piece to this puzzle and it is responsible for that level of self-esteem…..mindset.

Dr. Carol Dweck’s premise is that there are two kinds of mindsets; fixed and growth. “Believing your qualities are carved in stone – the fixed mindset – creates an urgency to prove yourself over and over. “  So you strive for the good grades in order to feel good about yourself. Then when you do poorly on something, you feel like a failure. Your motivation dwindles because in this mindset, nothing you can do can improve your grade. You’re stuck in a fixed mindset.  (Click here to watch a YouTube video of Dr. Dweck)

On the other hand, “The growth mindset is based on the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts….everyone can change and grow through application and experience.” Same failed test causes the student with this mindset to study harder and to work at it until they get it (like Student B in our example). They are motivated to improve and believe there is no limit to what they can do with enough effort. While Student A may tend to give up before they even get started, blame circumstances or others for their failure rather than accept that they are in charge.

Here’s a chart from Dweck’s book, Mindset that clearly shows the differences between the two mindsets.

Fixed Mindset

Growth Mindset

Wants to prove intelligence or talent.

Wants to improve intelligence or talent.

Avoids challenges for fear of failure.

Engages challenges to improve.

Gives up in the face of tough obstacles.

Persists in overcoming obstacles.

Avoids hard labor.

Sees labor as the path to success.

Treats criticism as an attack.

Treats criticism as an opportunity.

Feels threatened by others’ success.

Feels inspired by others’ success.

So, what’s a parent to do? Here are three things you can do right now:

  1. Understand that students do not “try” to fail. Clearly their strategy for studying or learning in class needs help. Rather than taking away privileges, grounding or punishing, which will further encourage a fixed mindset, help your child figure out what went wrong and what they can do to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
  2. Stop telling your kids how smart they are. I know it sounds counterintuitive but the smarter they think they are the less likely they are to take risks and so will make excuses to save face if they fail. Notice instead, the effort they are putting in, the attention to details, the creativity and the process.
  3. Once kids are familiar with the two mindsets,(and feel free to talk out loud when you can use yourself as an example) they can give a silly name to the fixed mindset so that it acts like a reminder to switch their thinking. Ex. Oh no Nervous Nelly is here, I need to dump Debbie Downer, etc.

Wouldn’t it be great if we started the new year by focusing on having a growth mindset? There would be no end to what we could accomplish knowing that it isn’t a matter of our intelligence but of our mindset. We could make excuses and run from challenge or we can stand firm understanding that it is all about the effort we put in and the courage to keep at it until we get it. That boost in our self confidence could be felt throughout the day in everything we do and in everything we think we might want to do. You have to believe in yourself (that’s actually the definition of self-esteem) and your abilities in order to succeed. A growth mindset is not just for kids – it’s for everyone!