Motivation and Mindset

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Course Notes Motivation and Mindset

On this page, you’ll read about some additional concepts that you should note to succeed in this course.

7 Motivation / Page 7.6 Course Notes: Motivation and Mindset On this page: 3 of 3 attempted (100%) | 3 of 3 correct (100%)

On the previous Course Notes page, we learned how motivation is influenced by our thoughts and beliefs about our abilities on specific tasks. Now we turn to how our beliefs and thoughts about the nature of our own intelligence can shape our success. Carol Dweck, a Stanford University psychologist, has conducted research that shows people tend to view ability and intelligence either as something inherent that can only be demonstrated or as something malleable that can be nurtured and developed. This concept is known as mindset.

The concept of mindset focuses on how people’s beliefs about the basic workings of human ability affect their perseverance. According to Dweck’s website, “In a fixed mindset, people believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits” (n.d.). Students with a fixed mindset believe that you’re either smart or you’re not, and they tend to be more easily discouraged when they encounter a difficult task. Those with a growth mindset, on the other hand, tend to persevere through difficult tasks because they understand that accomplishment takes effort and that most people who have achieved high levels of success were able to do so only through hard work and practice.

Our belief about whether intelligence and ability are fixed also influences our expectations and interactions with other people. Teachers and managers with a fixed mindset are less helpful and provide more negative feedback to struggling students or employees (Dweck, 2008). They view failure or struggle as an indication of low intelligence. Teachers and managers with a growth mindset, on the other hand, look at failure and struggle as a challenge and an opportunity to improve. They set high expectations and goals and recognize that their own role isn’t simply to judge but to help their students or employees reach those goals. Because they believe that any of their students or employees can become more productive or more creative, teachers and managers with a growth mindset take the time to provide good feedback to guide them. Dweck also recognizes that companies can have mindsets that affect the culture and growth of the company: Companies with a growth mindset are more likely to value their



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employees as individuals and to encourage employees to discuss new ideas and opportunities.

Mindset and Feedback

Our mindset, like our self-efficacy, is influenced by the feedback we receive from others. When children hear phrases like “Great job on your test! You’re so smart!” or “She’s a natural athlete,” they may internalize the message that ability or intelligence is fixed. Not only do people hearing this type of praise develop a fixed mindset, they also miss out on feedback about specific skills that lead to success—like the hours someone spends deliberately studying, or the days spent determinedly practicing batting drills. If we have a fixed mindset, we will have less motivation, especially on challenging tasks, because we will interpret failure as proof that our ability is low and always will be.

Specific feedback, however, teaches children that their ability is continually improving. Difficulty on a challenging task is not evidence of low intelligence but a chance to learn something new. A game loss is not the result of inherently low ability but serves as motivation to improve specific skills.

Mindset and Neuroplasticity

Thirty years ago, it was assumed that the brain was essentially finished developing by adulthood. However, neuroscience has proven that the brain is constantly rewiring itself and growing connections in response to our experiences. We call this ability neuroplasticity, or brain plasticity. Scientists originally developed the term to explain how the brain can create new brain cells (neurogenesis) and reorganize some functions, even after brain damage. Today, Dweck uses the concept of neuroplasticity to explain growth mindset.

Every time we learn something new, our brain creates new connections between neurons; these connections are known as synapses. When we practice, rehearsing knowledge and skills over time, these connections are strengthened through the formation of myelin, a fatty substance that surrounds the axons of the neurons fired during practice. This myelin results in faster communication between neurons, meaning that the next time we recall or perform a skill, we will be able to do so faster or more accurately. When we learn and practice, we physically change our brain.

Dweck has studied what happens when children are taught to think about the brain like a muscle. After all, just like a muscle becomes stronger with exercise and effort, the brain grows through challenge and practice. She found that when children learn that practice grows and strengthens the brain, their mindset begins to change and their



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performance in school improves. This improvement is most dramatic in students who had a fixed mindset and had previously struggled in school.

Multiple-Choice Question

Which of the following BEST describes the difference between a fixed mindset and a growth mindset, and how each responds to setbacks?

People with a growth mindset will avoid failure at all costs because they believe it can undermine the growth of their intelligence, whereas those with a fixed mindset believe that intelligence cannot be increased, so they are not bothered by failure. People with a growth mindset believe abilities are fixed and will not try new strategies after a failure, whereas those with a fixed mindset believe ability and intelligence can be changed and will likely not give up after a failure. People with a growth mindset believe abilities can be developed and will try new strategies after a failure, whereas those with a fixed mindset believe ability and intelligence cannot be changed and will likely give up after a failure. People with a growth mindset believe that ability can develop up to a point before it becomes fixed, whereas those with a fixed mindset believe that you must experience failure in order to “fix” your intelligence or ability.

Correct. People with a growth mindset respond more positively to setbacks than people with a fixed mindset do.

Last saved 5 days ago. Multiple-Choice Question

Which of the following statements would help a student develop a growth mindset?

“You have always been good at math, and I’m proud that this is your talent.” “You tried very hard, and that is all that matters.” “Let’s look over your work together and figure out where you got confused or whether you need a new strategy.” “That advanced science class is challenging; it could hurt your GPA if you get a B.”



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Correct. This statement communicates to the student that challenges present an opportunity for learning, a key characteristic of a growth mindset.

Last saved 5 days ago.

Developing Your Mindset

Dweck’s research has important implications for how parents and teachers can help children develop growth mindsets. But what about adults? How can we, especially those of us who have had a fixed mindset in a particular area for many years, go about helping ourselves change a mindset?

Make a Counter-Argument

Pay attention to your fixed-mindset thoughts and actively argue against them. For example, say you notice yourself thinking, “This assignment is too hard for me. I’m just stupid and I’m going to fail.” Argue against it by using language like, “This assignment is hard. I can do it, but I’m going to have to approach this differently than easier assignments.”

Notice how the first thought gives you an excuse to not put forth the effort. The second thought recognizes and accepts the challenge and keeps you focused on the future.

Add a “Yet”

Add the word “yet” to your doubts. “Yet” allows us to accept our current beliefs or skill levels—but only temporarily, as we work to develop them. This word helps us think about success as a process and remember that we can get better, we can learn, and we can be successful at something even if we are not so great at it right now. Consider the differences between the following thoughts:

“I am not good at math” vs. “I am not good at math yet.” “I can’t cook” vs. “I can’t cook yet.” “This history assignment doesn’t make sense to me” vs. “This history assignment doesn’t make sense to me yet.”

Make Mistakes

Recognize that mistakes are evidence of learning. No one learns everything perfectly the first time. This is why it takes years to master a musical instrument or develop the skills to write a term paper. People with a growth mindset approach mistakes differently than



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those with a fixed mindset because they ask questions—for example, “What did I do wrong? Where did I get confused?”—and the answers to these questions help them change their approach the next time they attempt a task.

Add the Extra Effort

Understand that beliefs and thoughts are not enough. You have to demonstrate effort in order to sustain your mindset, and you have to pay attention to the amount of effort you put into your successful experiences. When you do well, ask yourself what you did correctly so that you can identify what to repeat in the future.

Growth mindset is not about being perfect or believing you can do everything; it is about believing that intelligence, talent, and success are not predetermined but are rather the outcome of planning and hard work.

Multiple-Choice Question

Nick thinks to himself, “I’m definitely going to fail this psychology exam because I’m an idiot when it comes to liberal-arts classes.” Which of the following is an example of a counter-argument that he could make to help develop a growth mindset?

“The instructor makes her exams way too hard, so there’s no way I can be expected to pass.” “I’m going to fail this exam, but at least I’m good at other subjects like business.” “This exam is challenging, so I’m going to have to set aside extra study time to make sure that I’ll succeed.” “Both of my parents struggled academically, so it’s not my fault that I have trouble in some of my classes.”

Correct. This counter-argument reframes the obstacle as a challenge that Nick is capable of overcoming if he perseveres.

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