flower in a field

At some point during your childhood, you likely had a conversation with an adult that went something like this:

You: “I’m just not good at math. I’m never going to pass this exam.”
Adult: “Well of course not with that attitude.”
You: “It’s not my fault. My brain just doesn’t work that way.”

You stomped away, rolling your eyes at the idea that your attitude could make you magically good at math, or writing, or any other challenging task.

But what if that adult was right? Scientific research over the last 30 years suggests that attitude, or mindset, has a huge impact on your performance in school and in life in general. In fact, students with a growth mindset consistently outperform their fixed mindset peers. 

Now that you’re an adult, you can be the wise one who knows how to adjust your mindset to achieve your goals. With a growth mindset you can learn more, get better grades, and even be a better example to your children or anyone else who looks up to you.

What is a Growth Mindset?

The concept of the growth mindset comes from the work of professor Carol Dweck of Stanford University. People with a growth mindset believe they can develop their talents and abilities through hard work, good strategies, and the application of constructive feedback.

By contrast, people with a fixed mindset believe that a person’s ability is more or less unchangeable. If someone is a good student, or excels in a particular subject, it’s because they’re naturally gifted.

When a student with a fixed mindset comes across something hard, they throw up their hands and say “I’m just not good enough.” They might even try to hide their lack of knowledge because they think it’s a reflection on their fundamental character. Not a great learning strategy.

In contrast, when a student with a growth mindset encounters something difficult, they recognize that challenge is a natural part of learning and start looking for ways to improve their skills.

In short, a student with a fixed mindset is worried about looking smart, while a student works to become smarter. Now most people aren’t 100 percent fixed or 100 percent growth - they’re a mixture of both. You probably are too.

How Do I Get a Growth Mindset?

Shifting your mindset can make a big difference in your education and in the rest of your life. Instead of viewing challenges as tests of your intelligence, you’ll view them as ways to grow your intelligence.

If you suspect you have a fixed mindset, don’t panic. Most people are a mixture of fixed and growth mindsets. You might have a growth mindset about learning a language, but believe that artists are just born talented.

You might flip back and forth between the two depending on whether you got enough sleep, how your boss interacts with you and how stressed out you are.

Fortunately, Professor Dweck has found that you can change your mindset. All you have to do is consciously shift the way you think. It’s as easy, and as difficult as that.

Recognize that challenge is a natural, in fact an essential, part of learning. View each challenge like a fun puzzle rather than a tedious chore.

Instead of saying, “This class is challenging, I must be dumb.” Say: “This class is challenging, that means I’m going to learn a lot. How exciting!”

Instead of: “I’ve never been good at math.” Think, “What are my weak points in math? What can I do to address those points?”

Then, and this is important, go put in the effort to build your skills. Many people stop at changing the way they think and don’t apply their change of mind to what they do. To really win with a growth mindset, you have to change your mind and then put in the hard work to succeed.

sitting on books

Action Steps for Developing a Growth Mindset

Surround yourself with growth minded people and organizations - You’ve already made a great start by choosing a school that values growth and recognizes your ability to improve. Penn Foster gives you plenty of resources to build your skills and support your growth mindset.

As a Penn Foster student, you have access to mentors, peers, and self-paced learning modules that can help you focus on the specific skills you most need to grow. Your professors are there to help every step of the way.

Ask for help when you need it - If you’re struggling, don’t be afraid to ask for help. That’s what your teachers, mentors and peers are for. It doesn’t make you look dumb (fixed mindset). It shows that you’re ready to put in the work to improve (growth mindset).

Shift your perspective - When you find yourself thinking fixed mindset thoughts, consciously make an effort to change them into growth mindset ones.

Search for new strategies - If flash cards aren’t working for you, try getting a study buddy, or walking while you listen to lectures, or drawing pictures of important concepts. There are as many ways to study as there are people in world. You’ll find one that works for you if you keep trying.

Banish excuses - You have a lot going on. A job, a family, bills to pay, and on top of that you’re taking classes. You can use your other responsibilities as an excuse to fail, or you can turn them into reasons to succeed. For example: I’m working on a certification so I can get a better job, so I can support my family and pay my bills. I’m going to do what it takes to succeed. No excuses.

Model it for others - Strengthen your mindset shift by modeling it for others. Pay attention to how you interact with your children, your partner, and your coworkers. Stop labeling people as smart or dumb, lazy or driven, talented or mediocre. Start praising their growth minded actions like working hard, trying new things, and looking for solutions.

Keep trying! - You might get discouraged or overwhelmed, but don’t quit. Tell yourself that you will learn this and keep using the action steps above until you succeed.

Developing and maintaining a growth mindset takes consistent effort. You might find yourself slipping into old mindset habits, but keep reframing your thoughts. Eventually, the growth mindset will be second nature.

Apply it Everywhere

A growth mindset is valuable in school, but you don’t have to stop there. Imagine what you could achieve at work if you saw challenge as an opportunity instead of proof that you’re not good enough. Imagine how your relationships would improve if you didn’t view every flaw in your partner’s character as proof the relationship is doomed to fail. Imagine how your kids would excel if you praised their hard work instead of telling them “you’re so smart.”

Build your growth mindset and it will carry you everywhere you want to go, in school and in life!