8 Growth mindset interventions

Many of the participants in our training programs are especially interested in Carol Dweck's research into mindsets. They see the relevance of mindset and realize that a fixed mindset has many disadvantages while a growth mindset has many advantages. They are interested in learning how they can influence their own mindset and that of other people. Many of them are aware that person praise can evoke a fixed mindset and process praise can evoke a growth mindset. But they look for other way to influence mindsets. Here are several other ways.

When is the fixed mindset most noticeable?

The interventions below are most useful in situations in which the difference between a fixed mindset and a growth mindset is most noticeable. These are situations in which people are suddenly challenged much more than before. An example of such a situation is after the transition from one level of school to the next. For example, in first year college students the differential influence of different mindsets may be great. This is due to the fact that, suddenly, there are many new challenges for the students to deal with.

Students in a growth mindset notice that the challenge they face has become greater and they generally respond adequately by putting in more effort, trying our more effective study strategies and asking for help. Students in a fixed mindset tend to respond differently. They notice that the challenge has become greater and start to doubt their abilities. Gerenally, they do not start to put in much more effort, or start to try new strategies because they largely attribute study success to fixed abilities, not to effective effort. Also, they may have ineffective coping strategies such as self handicapping.

It is predictable that students in fixed mindsets will, to some extent, run into this type of problem in their first year of college. There are of course many other examples in which something similar happens. One example is an employee who is promoted to a new and much more challenging job. People in such circumstances may soon notice that the new job is much more demanding. People in a growth mindset will start to put in more effort, try new strategies and ask for help. People in a fixed mindset will start to question their abilities. They will not tend to put in more effort or ask for help fearing this may be explained as a sign of a lack of ability.

What interventions can be used?

Let's look at the situation of the first year college student with a fixed mindset who soon runs into academic problems. It is common for such students to be invited by study coach to discuss their situation. Here are some interventions such coaches may use when the student indeed shows signs of having a fixed mindset.
  1. Reason: The coach first mentions the reason for the conversation (the student's academic problems) and the goal (to find ways to start studying more effectively so that study results will improve). 
  2. Normalizing: Then, the coach can normalize the situation by saying something like: "Many beginning college students experience academic difficulties." Normalizing in such a way helps to reduce the student's fear which enables the rest of the conversation.
  3. Assurance: The coach can reassure the student by saying that, given their previous education, grades and motivation, they are in the right place and have the potential to succeed. This intervention is aimed at reducing the fear and pessimism of the student.
  4. Changing their attribution: this intervention is aimed at influencing how students think about their academic setbacks. This can be done by explaining to them that their difficulties are not a sign of a lack of abilities but of the high demands of the education program. Attribution is a process in which we generate explanations for what happens in our lives. People in different mindset attribute failure differently. People a growth mindset generally think the failure indicates that they have not put in enough effort of did not use the right strategy. People in a fixed mindset generally think the failure is an indication of lack of ability. Influencing attributions can be done by explaining that the study's demands are high and that first year students face many new challenges. Doing this opens the possibility for an alternative attribution: "Maybe, my failing grades are not due to my stupidity but because this is just very hard."
  5. Creating a positive expectation: then, coaches can create a positive expectation by saying something like: "What we usually see is that after some time study results improve when students have found out how to study effectively and put in effort." It is probably better to not make a specific prediction about the individual ("I am sure you will do just fine!"). This may create resistance. It is probably better to keep it general: "Usually, study results improve after a rough start." 
  6. Process questions: then, coaches may ask some questions about how the student has studied. Students in a fixed mindsets (1) have put in less effort than is usually necessary, (2) have little awareness of what effective studying looks like, and (3) generally do not ask for help when they get stuck.
  7. Inform: then coaches can explain what amount of effort is usually necessary, what effective studying looks like, and which opportunities for help there are. Also, it may be useful to explain a bit about about mindset and neuroplasticity.
  8. Usefulness and follow up: at the end of the conversation coaches may ask whether the student found the conversation useful and, if yes, how it was useful. If needed, a follow up appointment can be made.