Growth and Fixed Mindsets in Everyday Life

Growth and Fixed Mindsets

My students last year kept bringing up mindsets and then at National Council of Supervisors of Mathematics (NCSM), Jo Boaler was a keynote presenter and spoke about mindsets (see more at

Mindsets in Mathematics

Jo Boaler spoke about the misconception that some people are born with a “math brain” and others are not. So some people are unable to math at all. She pointed out that there some people who really are physically unable to do math, but those represent fewer than 1% of the population. She argued that we need to support “growth mindsets” which basically means that we support the idea that anyone can learn anything if they work hard, have appropriate experiences, and give it time.

Mindsets in Everyday Life

Pretty frequently I tell myself I have a “___ brain” where lots of things can go into the blank: I am just not a social person, and nothing I can do will ever get me to the point where I can interact effectively with other people on an ongoing basis. My mind just doesn’t work that way. Or, I am an imaginative person but I am not a creative person. I can’t draw or paint because my mind just doesn’t work that way. Or, I’m not an organized person – I am scatter-brained and can’t keep up on notes or planning. 

So, I’ve started to try to talk back to myself and say: If I expect my students, who may feel the same way about math as I do about socializing, to change to a growth mindset, then I need to change to a growth mindset about all of these things too.

This realization was pretty amazing for me: All this time, I have thought I was born a certain person who just can’t do things like other people. And I realize that some of those things may never come easily for me (because I probably still will be an introvert who prefers a quiet reading chair in the evening as opposed to an exciting evening with friends) but I can work on these things and improve. I can reflect on my feelings and strategies, and I can talk to other people about their feelings and strategies, and get better at anything that I want to.  It feels freeing.


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