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Principles of a growth mindset

By: Sumay and Aila McPhail

Here we share the principles of a "Growth Mindset". Our views come from observing our heroes and the TED talk,"The Power of Believing That You Can Improve" by Carol Dweck. We start with an example we call...

ScoobyDoo's Poo poo Problem

ScoobyDoo lives in a world where everyone has poop on their face. In that world there are two kinds of people, people with growth mindsets and people with fixed mindsets. We are going to explore this world through the eyes of ScoobyDoo who unfortunately has a fixed mindset.

ScoobyDoo does not believe that he can scrub the poop off his nose. Like everyone, he wants to feel good about himself. So what does he do? Well he could tell everybody it's chocolate ice-cream, after all it's on his face! But whose gonna believe that? It smells bad, it looks mushy, and lots of people in this world have poop on their face. So to make himself feel better he chooses to surround himself with people that have even MORE poop on their face.

Now ScoobyDoo is strolling around like some kind of hero 'cause look he's only got a little bit of poop on his face! All of ScoobyDoo's "friends" are completely focused on convincing themselves, and everyone else it's chocolate ice-cream when in fact everyone knows the truth...they have poop on their nose.

We created the "Poop Emoji Game" below to illustrate the sad equilibrium this creates. Grab a friend a play!

If the players cooperated with each other they could both simply admit they have poop on their nose. But admitting this comes at a risk. What if others make fun of you? What if they see your attempt at honesty and reflection as weakness and kick you while you're down? Unfortunately, many of us secretly feel good when the poop on other people's faces is publicly found to be what it really least in the short run. The fixed mindset is very short sighted. That is why the "Fixed Mindset Edition" is a "one shot game".

Continuing our story...

ScoobyDoo doesn't want to hang out with the growth mindset crowd. Their willingness to face reality and take responsibility allowed them to see and wipe the poop off their face. ScoobyDoo doesn't spend much time thinking about these other people, but deep down he sees their poop free faces as a product of luck. ScoobyDoo secretly resents those "lucky" people because they keep pointing out the poop on his nose and ignore his attempts to convince them it's actually chocolate. This makes him feel horrible. To hide his pain he tries very hard to convince himself of his own delusions and gets defensive and angry whenever the growth mindset crowd tries to help.

One day, ScoobyDoo gets a cold and blows his nose. To his astonishment...he notices some of the poop is gone. He doesn't recognize it at first because he spent years ignoring the smell...but a little seed has been planted in his head. He starts to breathe a little easier. Most importantly, he begins to attribute these improvements to his own actions...he wiped his nose!

In the end, ScoobyDoo learns to cultivate a growth mindset. He believes it is possible to get poop off one's nose, and finds some friends to help him along the way. To illustrate we created another "Poop Emoji Game" ... Growth Mindset Edition.

Everything about this game is the same except that now the game is repeated...potentially forever. Go ahead and play...let us know what happens 💩.

Principles of a Growth Mindset

So what did the story of ScoobyDoo teach us about the principles of a growth mindset?

"There’s another mindset in which these traits are not simply a hand you’re dealt and have to live with, always trying to convince yourself and others that you have a royal flush when you’re secretly worried it’s a pair of tens. In this mindset, the hand you’re dealt is just the starting point for development. This growth mindset is based on the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts." - Carol Dweck

We build off this with four basic truths, or principles, of a growth mindset:

  1. You can always improve ... time and effort can make just about anything better.

  2. You are ultimately responsible for your future. That means you are "Response Able" = "Able to Respond" to your circumstances in the way you choose. By improving your mind and body you can make better decisions each day...decisions that compound over a lifetime (just like in the repeated Poop Emoji Game)! Take a moment to meditate and clean up a little bit. Realize what a difference you can make with just a little effort. The older we are the more our decisions of the past shape our present and future circumstances.

  3. People with a "Fixed Mindset" believe they are not responsible for who they are and their circumstances. They believe they have no control. They think they are born either good or bad at something. In short, they believe deep down that their situation is either fixed or insensitive to their own actions. The cure of a fixed mindset is to realize you are to respond to whatever life throws at you and make a difference.

  4. Realize that all people desire things like popularity, high social status, and being viewed as better at something. How we achieve these things depends on our mindset. Fixed mindsets focus on other peoples perceptions of them (and perceptions of themselves). For example, they are more likely to brag in order to get recognition, or make fun of other people's shortcomings.

  5. Without a growth mindset we fail to see life as a repeated game...and only repeated games illustrate the value of self-improvement. As a result, the fixed mindset wastes time inflating their image and masking their problems by defending their mistakes. Growth mindsets see the long term cost of this as lost friendships and wasted time. That's why they are open to feedback and focus on improving themselves first...knowing that perceptions will take care of themselves. This also makes those with a growth mindset more willing to be honest with themselves and others about their limits and shortcomings and less likely to get defensive.

Tips for cultivating a growth mindset

  • When someone gives you some tough feedback, remember that we all have "poop on our nose". Sometimes it's easier for others to see it. Sometimes it's even easier for others to smell it...because it's been sitting their stinking up our nostrils so long we don't even notice anymore. Not all feedback is accurate, but we should not be afraid to listen. We should be more afraid of being stuck in that one shot game with poop sitting on our noses year after year.

  • Give credit to effort instead of brilliance. For example, if your kid does something awesome tell them, "Great Job! You must have worked really hard on that!" instead of "You are amazing" or "You are so smart!". Telling kids they are "amazing" or "smart" might seem like a good idea, but the language implies that who they are and what they accomplish is due to factors that are unchanging.

  • Replace the word "fail" with "not yet". Thousands of kids are told they "failed" a class every year. Carol Dweck opens her TED talk with an example of a school that replaced all "fail" grades with the words "not yet". What a difference that change in language makes to the listener!

  • Help others to break out of their fixed mindset. The best way to do this is to listen. Giving them your time will help them to feel understood. In time, this often helps them have the courage to see and smell the poop on their nose.

  • Avoid people that try to convince you that the poop on their nose is really chocolate ice-cream. Some people are so delusional they will use any opportunity to reinforce their delusions. Usually the only way to help these people is to simply refuse to take part in their alternative universe in which they believe their giant poop smeared face is really a beautiful Chocolate Sunday.

Thank you for your interest and please let us know what you thought of our Poop Emoji Games!

Sumay & Aila

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