Growth vs Fixed Mindset at Work - Northgate High School Parents

Abby Medcalf, PhD
New Bridge Foundation
Berkeley, CA
Private Practice
Berkeley, CA
•Optimism vs. Pessimism
•Raising Optimistic Kids
•Growth vs. Fixed Mindset
•Practical Tips and Tools
Evolution of Feeling Negative
•Natural selection likely favored growth of
negative emotions as life saving innovation
•Fight to the death = extreme negative
•Those ancestors who felt negative emotions
strongest likely fought and fled the best,
and passed on relevant genes
Evolution of Feeling Positive
•Positive emotions have grand purpose in
•They broaden intellectual, physical, & social
resources, building up reserves for when a
threat or opportunity presents itself
•When in positive mood, people like us better
and friendship, love, & coalitions cement
•Mental set is expansive, tolerant and creative;
open to new ideas and experience
Heritable or Changeable
•High heritability does NOT equal
•Traits like height and weight don’t change
•Pessimism and fearfulness are very
Pessimists are….
•8X more likely to become depressed when bad
events happen
•Do worse at school and sports
•Have less demanding jobs than their talents
•Have worse physical health and shorter lives
•Have rockier interpersonal relations
•Lose American Presidential elections to their
more optimistic opponents.
When we’re unhappy, we….
•Become distrustful
•Turn inward
•Focus defensively on our own needs
•Looking out for number one is more
characteristic of sadness than of well-being
•Have better health and live longer
•Happy people are half as likely to die or become
disabled as unhappy folks
•Better health habits, lower blood pressure,
feistier immune systems
•More productive with higher income
•Endure pain better and take more health and
safety precautions
•Display more empathy and willing to donate
more time and money
•Make approx. 4X more money
When kids are happy they are….
•Less self-focused, like others more, and want to
share good things
•Less likely to use drugs or alcohol abusively and
wait longer before even trying drugs and
•Less likely to have unprotected sex and wait
longer to engage in sexual activity beyond
•More altruistic, overall
Mechanics of Optimism
Styles and
the “Three
Explanatory Styles
•We are constantly talking to ourselves; this is
our internal dialogue
•We are always interpreting events; both positive
and negative
•Seligman identified 3 primary elements of
explanatory style: The Three P’s
•Permanent versus Temporary
•People who believe good events have
permanent causes are more Optimistic than
people who believe they have temporary causes
•Optimists explain good events to themselves in
terms of permanent causes: traits, abilities,
•Pessimists name transient causes: moods,
efforts, sometimes
•It’s my lucky day
•I try hard
•My kid never
•I’m always lucky
•I’m talented
•I ask my kid to do
things when he’s
absorbed in a
video game
•Specific vs. Universal
•Do we think the results of this one event
apply to everything in our lives, or just that
•I get toothpaste on my shirt in the morning.
Is my whole day ruined, or do I just change
my shirt?
•Do you catastrophize and generalize?
•All trainings suck versus this training
•Homework is a waste of time versus
this particular assignment, in this
particular class, is not helpful
•Whether or not we have hope depends
the first 2 P’s
•Finding temporary and specific causes
for misfortune is the art of hope
•Finding permanent and universal
causes for bad stuff is the practice of
•“I’m stupid” versus “I’m a normal
parent who missed some signs in my
•“Men are bad” versus “My husband
was in a bad mood today”
•This is your most important score
•People who believe they cause good
things tend to like themselves better
than people who believe good things
come from other people or
•Locus of control: am I responsible for
an event or was something outside of
my control responsible?
•People who blame external events do not lose
self-esteem when bad things happen
•On the whole, they like themselves better than
people who blame themselves
•“I have no talent at poker” versus “I have no
luck at poker”
•“I’m insecure” versus “I grew up with parents
who were neglectful and abusive and this
impacts how I act”
•Optimism is not always a good
thing: I like a pessimistic pilot
•Pessimists are not more realistic
than optimists
California Education
•1986: The State Task Force to Promote SelfEsteem and Personal and Social Responsibility
•Academic failure, substance abuse, crime,
poverty, violence, teen pregnancy, etc. all due
to low self-esteem
•1990:“Toward a State of Self-Esteem”
•No more red pencils
•Ribbons for everyone
Dr. Roy Baumeister
•Reviewed 15,000 scholarly articles
written on self-esteem from 1970-2000;
found that only 200 had scientifically
sound way to measure self esteem and
•Concluded that high self-esteem didn’t
improve grades or career achievement,
reduce alcohol/drug use, reduce sexual
activity or violence among youth
The Optimistic Child
• Self-esteem is a feeling
state (embarrassment,
contentment), but these
feelings are rooted in the
success of our commerce
with the world
• What a child does
(mastery, persistence,
overcoming frustration
and boredom, meeting
challenges) is at the core
of self-esteem
•Feelings of self-esteem and
happiness develop as side effects
of mastering challenges, working
successfully, overcoming
frustration and boredom and
•The feeling of self-esteem is a byproduct of doing well.
•Until the 1960s depression was a fairly
unusual condition, typically reported in
middle-aged women
•Currently, this is considered the “common
cold” of mental illness with depression
being diagnosed in junior high school or
•People born after the “feeling-good” era
and self-esteem movement are suffering
depression at about 10X the rate of people
born in the first third of the century
But, Why?
Change from an
“achieving” to a “feelgood” society: Happiness
and high self-esteem are
the new goals instead of
Michael Jordan
•Cut from his high school varsity team.
•He wasn’t recruited by the college he wanted
(North Carolina State).
•He wasn’t drafted by the first two NBA teams
that could have chosen him.
•When he was cut in high school his mother
told him to go back and discipline himself.
And that is
why I
“I’ve missed more than 9000
shots in my career.
I’ve lost over 300 games.
26 times I’ve been trusted to
take the game winning shot
and missed.
I’ve failed over and over and
over again in my life…
Answer this….
• Your intelligence is something very basic about you that you can’t
change very much.
• You can learn new things, but you can’t really change how
intelligent you are.
• No matter how much intelligence you have, you can always change
it quite a bit.
• You can always substantially change how intelligent you are.
• Is your answer the same if you substitute “artistic talent” or “sports
ability” for “intelligence”?
“Drawing with the Right Side of Your Brain,” Betty Edwards
It’s in the Genes
• Neuroscientist, Gilbert Gottlieb: not only do genes and environment
cooperate as we develop, but genes require input from the
environment to work properly.
• Intelligence guru, Robert Sternberg: the major factor in whether
people achieve expertise “is not some fixed prior ability, but
purposeful engagement.”
• Each person has a unique genetic endowment as we start with
different temperaments and aptitudes, but experience, training,
personal effort take them the rest of the way.
Malcolm Gladwell
“People prize natural
endowment over earned
ability. Deep down, we revere
the naturals.”
Fixed Mindset
• Your abilities are carved in stone.
• Will I succeed or fail? Will I look smart or dumb? Will
I be accepted or rejected? Will I feel like a winner or a
• Risk and effort might show your inadequacies.
• Effort is bad. It, like failure, means you’re not smart
or talented. If you were, you wouldn’t need effort
(geniuses don’t have to try hard).
• Always want to succeed (and on the first try).
Fixed Mindset
•Setbacks are traumatic.
•This mindset gives you no way to overcome
•Students with fixed mindset have higher
rates of depression because they ruminate
over their problems and setbacks and believe
they are incompetent or unworthy.
•Students with fixed mindset told Dweck that
their main goal in school – aside from looking
smart – was to exert as little effort as
Growth Mindset
•The hand your dealt is just a starting point
for development.
•Effort is good. It’s what makes you smart
or talented.
•Everyone can change and grow through
application and experience.
•Passion for stretching yourself and
sticking to it; even (especially) when it’s
not going well.
Growth Mindset
• Success is about stretching.
• Don’t just seek challenges, they thrive on them.
• Failure still a painful experience, but it doesn’t define.
It’s a problem to be faced, dealt with and learned
• Success is in doing you best, in learning and
• Setbacks are motivating, informative, a wake-up call.
Dweck’s Research
•Studied effects of praise on students
at 20 NYC schools over 10 years.
•Kid takes puzzle IQ test (simple) and
told kid score and gave one line of
•Some praised for their intelligence
(‘You must be smart at this”).
•Some praised for their effort (“You
must have worked really hard”).
•Why one line? “We wanted to see how
sensitive children were.”
Next, students given
choice of test
•Choice #1: more difficult test than first,
but students told they’d learn a lot from
attempting the puzzles.
•Choice #2: easy test, like the first one.
Guess what happened?
•Of those praised for their effort,
90% chose the harder set of
•Of those praised for their
intelligence, 71% chose the easy
•The “smart” kids took the cop
But, Why?
“When we praise children for
their intelligence, we tell
them that this is the name of
the game: look smart, don’t
risk making mistakes, and
avoid the risk of
Next round, test is 2 yrs ahead of
their grade level
•Everyone failed.
•BUT, those praised for effort on first test
assumed they simply hadn’t focused hard
enough on this test; they got very
involved and tried multiple solutions.
•Those praised as smart, assumed their
failure was evidence that they weren’t
really smart at all. They were miserable.
It gets worse…
•After the artificially induced
“failure,” students given test as easy
as first one
•Praised for effort students
significantly improved on 1 st score
(about 30%)
•Praised for intelligence students did
worse than they had at the
beginning (about 20%)
Dweck Concludes
“Emphasizing effort gives a child a
variable they can control…they come to
see themselves as in control of their
success…Emphasizing natural intelligence
takes it out of their control, and provides
no good recipe for responding to failure.”
Yes, your kid too
Repeating experiments found this
effect of praise on performance
held true for students of every
socioeconomic class, boys, girls,
ethnicity, and every age group,
(even pre-schoolers).
Wrong Praise Can Lead to…
•Frequently-praised children get more
competitive and more interested in
tearing others down.
•They often become entitled and feel they
shouldn’t have to work for things.
•Develop a fixed mindset.
•Are often more pessimistic.
Mindset at School
“The growth mindset and
this way of thinking is
critical because it
reframes mistakes and
failure as a natural part of
the change and growth
process. Students need
to perceive falling down
as learning, not failing.
Teachers and coaches
need to model this
Growth Mindset Tips
• Focus on the process,
not the kid
• Focus on effort, not
• When giving negative
feedback use the word
“yet” so it gives kids a
time perspective
• Give positive feedback or
rewards for mistakes and
thinking outside the box
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Coach John Wooden
Did I win? Did I lose?
Those are the wrong
questions. The
correct question is:
Did I make my best
effort? If so, you may
be outscored, but you
will never lose.”

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