SSC Academic Skills Orientation: Online header. This one says "Expectations versus Reality."

Fixed vs. Growth Mindset

Hey Marauders!

We hope that you’ve been enjoying the week so far and that you are starting to feel more excited and confident about starting at Mac in a few months. Maybe you’re still thinking about how you’ll study, or how you’ll take notes—don’t worry, we’ll be spotlighting that and more next week. It’s true that these are important aspects of university but we would like to think that one of the most important aspects is something completely different! If you’ve ever read inspirational quotes, whether they were on someone’s wall or shared on social media, you’ve probably heard the word  “mindset.” However, you may not have given this concept much thought. Today we want to shine a light on how your attitude toward learning can make all the difference!

University can be emotionally draining, especially when it feels like every little thing, especially your marks, defines who you are or who you will be. That’s why it is important to approach each obstacle with a good mindset. Setbacks are growing opportunities, not definitive limitations. Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck has spent decades researching mindset and its influence on achievement and success. Today we want to present to you what she has described as the two basic mindsets that shape our lives. This might sound like a lot, but bear with us; it can really help you understand yourself and how simple changes can have a really positive effect on your university experience and beyond.

Fixed mindset

Folks with a fixed mindset believe that their traits and qualities are unchangeable. Therefore, instead of working towards improvement, they document their success. Often, these folks see talent alone as what cultivates success and therefore do not see that effort is required. This can be damaging when you face challenges because you can’t perceive how your actions will make a difference.

Growth mindset

Folks with a growth mindset believe that intelligence and skill can be cultivated over time with trial and effort. Thus, they work hard, put in extra time, and accept new challenges. Having a growth mindset means seeing setbacks as opportunities to learn and grow. If it isn’t already obvious, we’d love for you to adopt a growth mindset in your time at university.

Admittedly, it can be much easier to approach university with a fixed mindset. For example, when receiving a low grade on a paper, it’s a lot easier to give up on writing and reduce this setback simply to “just not being a good writer” or “my TA is too tough a grader.” It’s a lot more challenging to look at your mistakes and figure out what went wrong, but it’s important that you do. This is definitely an approach that we have implemented when receiving less than favorable grades. That’s why whenever you get feedback from profs and TAs, you’ll really benefit from engaging with it. Don’t just stop when you see the grade; look instead at the comments they have provided. They have written it with the intent that you can grow from it.

If you get a “bad” grade, here’s what you can do:

  1. Be upset. It’s totally okay to take a moment to be disappointed when your grades aren’t what you expected.
  2. Re-evaluate. Once you’ve taken a moment to be sad, it’s time to look at your work with a new perspective and investigate what could have been done better.
  3. Ask for clarification. If you don’t feel completely sure what went wrong, it’s totally okay (and encouraged) to ask TAs and professors for clarification.
  4. Apply what you have learned. When the next exam, paper, lab, etc. comes around, accept it as a new challenge and apply what you’ve learned from previous feedback.
  5. Treat this experience as motivation. View individual grades (especially early in the semester) as a tool to better understand university expectations and not a predictor of your final course grade.

child looking at wall that says believe in yourself

Something that really helped us is self-compassion. This is the practice of forgiving yourself for things that have gone wrong and channeling your energy into the next step. It is also about learning to become your own best friend in the moments you need it the most. Self-compassion can be difficult. It’s easy to be your greatest critic, we know, but it’s a lot more productive to be your greatest fan. This skill takes time to develop, but starting is easy. Just be kind to yourself, show yourself some understanding and when you face setbacks, focus on how to learn from them.

Ultimately, we want you to keep in mind that while we all have times when we question our skills and abilities, it’s important to be resilient in the face of these challenges. Remember to show yourself compassion and ask for help when you need it. Although it is easy to fall into the mindset that your grades define your university experience, that’s not the case. It’s great to have high academic standards, but if you miss the mark don’t feel like you don’t belong here. Many of your future professors weren’t straight A students! What they have in common is a passion for their work and a willingness to learn and grow.

Your pals,
Tabatha, Tory and Emily

Trei, L. (2007, February 07). New study yields instructive results on how mindset affects learning. Retrieved from Stanford.

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