Why Struggling A Little Can Be A Very Good Thing – By Sal Khan
Permission granted for reprint to 851 Music Studio.
My five-year-old son has just started reading.
Every night we lie on his bed and he reads them a short book to me. Inevitably, he’ll hit a word that he has trouble with: Last night the word was “gratefully.” He eventually got it after a fairly painful minute. He then said,”dad, aren’t you glad how I struggled with that word? I think I could feel my brain growing” I smiled: my son was never realizing the telltale signs of a”growth mindset.” But this wasn’t by accident. Recently, I put into practice research I had been reading about for the past few years: I decided to praise my son not when he succeeded at things he was already good at but when he persevered with things that he found difficult. I stressed to him that by struggling, your brain grows. Between the deep body of research n the field of learning mindsets and this personal experience with my son, I am more convinced than ever that mindsets toward learning could matter more than anything else we teach.
Researchers have known for sometime that the brain is like a muscle; that the more you use it, the more it grows. They’ve found that neural connections form and deepen most when we make mistakes doing difficult tasks rather than repeatedly having success with easy ones.
What this means is that our intelligence is not fixed. The best way that we can grow our intelligence is to embrace tasks where we might struggle and fail.
However, not everyone realizes this. Dr. Carol Dweck of Stanford University has been studying people’s mindsets towards learning for decades. She has found that most people adhere to one of two mindsets: fixed or growth. Fixed mindsets mistakenly believe that people are either smart or not, that intelligence is fixed by genes. People with growth mindsets correctly believe that capability in intelligence can be grown through effort, struggle and failure. Dweck found that those with a fixed mindset 10 to focus their efforts on tasks where they had a high likelihood of success and avoided tasks where they may have had to struggle, which limited their learning. People with a growth mindset, however, embraced challenges, and understood that tenacity and effort could change their learning outcomes. As you can imagine, this correlated with the latter group more actively pushing themselves in growing intellectually.
The good news is that mindsets can be taught; they’re malleable. What is really fascinating is that Dweck and others have developed techniques that they call”growth mindset interventions,” Which I’ve shown that even small changes in communication or seemingly inocuous comments can have fairly long-lasting implications for a person’s mindset. For instance, praising someone’s success(“I really like how you struggled with that problem”) versus praising and in eight trait or talent(” you are so clever!”) Is one way to reinforce a growth mindset with someone. Process praise acknowledges the effort; talent praise reinforces the notion that one only succeeds (or doesn’t) based on a fixed trait.
And now here’s a surprise for you. By reading this article itself, you’ve just undergone the first half of a growth mindset intervention. The research shows that just being exposed to the research itself “for example, knowing that the brain grows most by getting questions wrong, not right) can begin to change a persons mindset. After all, when my son, or for that matter anyone else asks me about learning, I only want them to know one thing. As long as they embrace struggle and mistakes, they can learn anything.