Early childhood is the time when a child’s brain develops at the most accelerated pace. As the Central Nervous System develops in the first decade, it gathers information from its surrounding environment and gets conditioned. Children often acutely observe the behaviour of their parents, teachers, friends and acquaintances to determine the activities which are rewarded and actions which are condemned. Often there are cases of high school wonder kids going on to lead lives of underachievers and children who were mediocre in their early years to finally pick up the pace and lead high achieving lives.

But why does this happen?

The answer to this phenomenon is more psychological than biological. In early childhood, every child has a different level of psychomotor, psychological, social, emotional, and cognitive development when she starts her school education. As a child’s academic journey progresses, with similar learning challenges and opportunities, the disparity of learning levels reduces. Advanced and slow learners start converging towards the class median performance, thereby reducing the growth percentage of the class on an average. At the same time, there are some learners who hit a learning plateau and are unable to move beyond it due to a variety of reasons.

This happens due to a fixed mindset which children develop over the years, and the only way to move past this is by inculcating a growth mindset among children.

What is Fixed and Growth mindset?

Psychologist, Dr Carol Dweck, first coined the term fixed and growth mindset around 30 years ago, while she was researching on student’s behaviour and attitude toward failure. Fixed or Growth mindset, whatever a student possesses, is an individual thinking process, an acquired trait not a natural selection of a human brain.

Students with fixed mindset will demonstrate the following traits:

1. Think all have fixed sets of capabilities.

2. Think skill is an innate quality. Every person has a fixed set of skills by birth, and new skills cannot be incorporated.

3. They are not willing to come out of their comfort zone and take initiative to learn additional things apart from their prescribed text-book.

4. At the first sign of probable defeat, they refuse to put further efforts, missing out on an opportunity to learn from failure.

On the other hand, students with a growth mindset demonstrate the following traits:

1. Believe capabilities are not fixed and can be enhanced.

2. Believe skills are not innate traits and can be achieved by practice.

3. They are not comfortable within a comfort zone. They wish to explore deeper to learn further and enhance their capabilities.

4. Even if they get defeated, they enquire about the reasons and willing to learn how to be successful in their subsequent efforts.

5. They emphasize efforts rather than achieving success.

6. They are open to challenges and willing to learn from them.

So, how to change a student’s mindset?

In order to improve the fixed mindset of a student and facilitate the development of a growth mindset, the first and foremost step is to diagnose and recognize the existence of a fixed mindset. Once the mindset type is determined, efforts can be made to slowly progress towards better learning approach and consequent development of mixed and growth mindset.

Furthermore, systematic behavioural and attitudinal changes can be encouraged in students to develop growth mindset.

i. Anticipate and be prepared to fight negativity:

When students face defeats, failure, or obstacles, their minds enter a turbulent state. ‘What will others think?’ ‘I should have thought more before accepting the task.’ ‘I have no talents.’ ‘I cannot do any better than this.’ Most of these inner voices impact their psyche negatively and further dampen any motivation for improved effort and achievement. However, anticipating this onset of negativity and proactively preparing to avoid it is a good way to move from a fixed mindset towards mixed and growth mindset.

ii. Identify opportunities:

It is understandable that some of the tasks can be very challenging, and seems almost impossible to accomplish for students. Students need to understand, even if they fail; they are closer to success more than ever. They have already learnt a lot by their efforts and accompanying this lesson they can achieve the objective in next try. Thus identifying challenges as opportunities and accepting the journey to be more important than the destination, is a great way to shift a fixed mindset towards a growth mindset.

iii. Strategy formulation:

Instead of simply giving up in the face of failure or prematurely losing interest in a certain activity, if a student is conditioned from the beginning to strategize and repeat the activity to achieve success, then it can progressively develop a growth mindset in her.

iv. Make it a habit:

Like all other skills, developing a growth mindset needs practise. There is no better way of excelling at one skill than rigorous practice. Being mindful helps identify the opportunities in every task, a student gets.

In order to cope with all the challenges that a person can face in their lives and opportunities that must be grabbed, developing a Growth mindset is always desirable. However, given the human pre-condition, it may not be always possible to have a 100% growth mindset. Educational institutions from KG to PG should contribute towards this development and support parents in shaping children’s future mindset.

About the Author:

Palak Sharma is an Assistant Professor of Marketing at Pune Institute of Business Management. She has over 7 years of Academic experience and 5 years of Industry Experience. Specializing in domains like Sales and Distribution management, Retail Management, Entrepreneurship and Business to Business marketing; she is an avid content creator for Indian students and academicians.