Growth Mindset is a bit of a buzzword at the moment… but the buzz originates in an idea put forward by Dr. Dweck 30 years ago. For a good summary of that work click here, but for now let’s focus on the links we can make between growth mindset and Third Culture Kids.
Growth mindset is essentially the belief that people can get smarter, can grow and improve through effort and application. Fixed mindset focuses on so-called giftedness that implies a ready-made aptitude that is, well, fixed. In application these mindsets would distinguish the student who, finding themselves achieving poor grades in Mathematics, decides that this is just not his/her subject and absorbs this belief into their identity. This student has a fixed mindset. The student with the growth mindset is able to see that application and effort is likely to improve his or her grades and sets about growing their ability in Mathematics by focusing work in this area.
In a piece in 2016, Dr. Dweck challenges three misconceptions about growth mindset theory; the first of these misconceptions is that some people have just ‘always’ had it. In other words, that they have always been ‘positive thinking’ or gifted by a growth mindset character trait. Rather, it is a learnt behaviour that is ongoing, and builds on prior experience and continued effort and self awareness.
Dr. Dweck’s comments struck me as particularly helpful for some of us TCKs, because of something I have observed as recurrent enough in my conversations with TCKs and parents of TCKs:
We can sometimes form this false growth mindset, believing that because our childhood primed us for adaptation and flexibility, that we are innately gifted at ‘fitting in’ or getting on with varied groups of people.
In adulthood many TCKs experience isolation or a sense of ‘failure to adapt’, especially to settledness or host country communities. This experience jars painfully with the belief that they are ‘good at’ adapting and growing as individuals. It’s your classic double whammy – first it hurts that I feel socially isolated, second it hurts that this hurts! I should be good at this! After all, isn’t adapting what I’m all about?
But there is hope! A true growth mindset is one that we can cultivate, at any time of life. While Dr. Dweck’s work focused on how students in the education system navigated these growth and fixed-based ways of thinking, the theory applies to us at any age and in any situation.
First, we have to acknowledge those areas that we have decided we are forever ‘stuck’ in. What narratives do we hold about ourselves that are unnecessarily fixed? What do we believe we are ‘no good’ at? Home-making? Friendship-forming? Being still? Mathematics? 😉 Let’s challenge ourselves. Let’s grow!
Now, we need to harness our knowledge of our own stories. Draw out a timeline if you are visual person. Mark the challenges you have faced up until this point. With a different coloured pen, mark where you contributed to the resolution of these challenges. Mark what you learnt. Even if you feel these challenges to be unresolved and as ‘failures’, harvest what you learnt through them. These are your Proofs of Growth. List them out – Though experiencing X, I learnt Y. These can become your encouragement that you can keep growing, through effort and application.
Now pick a ‘fixed’ area, and strategize for growth! Do this in a structured way; researching, taking classes, practising… or in a more cerebral way; noting down evidence you notice day by day that contradicts your ‘fixed’ belief about yourself. How does my belief I can’t home-make stack up when I notice how carefully I arrange my front room, or how much time I spend hosting? Combine the two approaches – practising new growth and noticing present data – to really blow your mind and develop your Growth Mindset!
If you need some support in this process, just drop me an email here, and I’d be delighted to walk with you as you grow into the Self and the Life that you want.