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The Science of the Growth Mindset

An analysis of its applications in engineering, education, and life

Published on August 18, 2019

As human beings, we expand our knowledge through education and learning. By reading this below, you are doing just that.

Introduction

At some point in our life, we were all staunch haters of going to school, class, educational extracurricular activities, or work. I remember some of the many days where I dreaded going to school after a long vacation, since the transition from fun to structure often took place in a matter of a few days or even hours. It felt weird to face the fact that I wouldn’t be seeing my cousins or other relatives in India every day. All my free time playing video games then would be lost in favor of studying for tests or completing homework assignments.

Most times, I’ve often put off studying for tests and quizzes in middle and high school to focus on other matters, not thinking about or realizing the negative consequences of my actions until after I opened the gradebook on Home Access Center (still thinking ‘bout the fact that each AP Bio test was a massive RIP).

In short, I guess I could say I caught a very early bout of senioritis – although arguably, it wasn’t as bad then as it was last year after applying to college my senior year of high school. I just wasn’t motivated enough to put myself back in the educational mindset. I loved to learn, although I really wasn’t a fan of waking up at 6 in the morning every day then attending seven or eight hours of school.

However, after diving into the field of computer science and the facets of engineering years ago, I’ve come to realize how important the drive and passion for learning really is for facilitating personal and professional growth. You may have heard of it as the “growth mindset.”

The Growth Mindset

The value of the growth mindset has been a hot topic in recent years, often appearing in educational workshops, classes, or from mentors.

In fact, this term really took off after Dr. Carol Dweck, Ph.D., and her research team studied the behavior of thousands of small children several decades ago. Some of the children could often pick themselves up after a tough challenge, while others just gave up after feeling frustrated by even the smallest problem. From her studies, she coined two terms: “fixed mindset” and “growth mindset.”

A student with a fixed mindset often believes that his/her intelligence and creative ability is static and can’t necessarily change in any meaningful way. For teachers, you might’ve had an example of a student with a fixed mindset in class before. Such a student often puts forth excuses to justify his/her poor educational attitude, especially when it comes to class attentiveness and a drive to learn. He/she may also show no interest to improving himself/herself in the face of adversity and challenges, thus appearing shallow and arrogant.

On the other hand, a student with a growth mindset knows how to properly adapt when faced with a sleuth of new challenges. The student may explore independent learning through libraries, books, or the Internet, ponder out-of-the-box questions and foster intellectual thinking. This type of student takes pride in learning and accepts failures on a greater path to success and unthinkable heights.

Personally, I’ve been through both types of mindsets in my life. My mind felt fixed and unmovable in the times when I quit some extracurriculars after harsh criticism from my mentors, such as Taekwondo, basketball, and soccer. Such a mindset truly didn’t allow me to achieve what I wanted with these extracurriculars – that is, to become accomplished in these exhilarating and mind-strengthening sports. In fact, I quit Taekwondo after achieving only the yellow belt (the second one), quite a far cry from the strength and clout of the black belt.

With a growth mindset, however, I’ve come to realize that I could’ve gotten a black belt if I had the determination. If I had taken the criticism from the masters appropriately, I could’ve improved my skills. Had I taken a greater interest in the other activities, I could’ve helped my team score goals by shooting the ball into the hoops instead of running back and forth, unaware of the main action on the court. I could’ve whizzed balls past the goalie had I focused on the ball on the ground and not on my parents who at the time, looked like they lost all hope of me scoring.

Man, that really was a lot to take in. Now, I want to reiterate the importance of a growth mindset in education, the workplace, or even life in general. You don’t have to be an engineer or student to experience the positive effects of the growth mindset – that being said, read on below on some of the applications of the growth mindset.

The Far-Reaching Effects of the Growth Mindset

Computer Science/Engineering/Technology in general

I’d like to focus in a bit on the field of computer science and technology. If you’re an engineer studying computer science or professionally working in the field for the past several decades, you probably know that the technology field changes very often. As consumers, you may have once used punched cards to code software for the bulky mainframes of the 60s and 70s. You journalists and press would’ve had to adapt as your offices moved from typewriters to personal computers such as the IBM PC and the Macintosh.

In computer science, COBOL and FORTRAN were the main two languages of the 70s. Eventually, languages like C and C++ surged in popularity, beating out COBOL, FORTRAN, and the Assembly language in the 80s. Java and Microsoft’s Visual Basic came in the 90s, and modern languages like C# and Microsoft’s .NET Framework rose in the new millennium.

The rise of the Internet in the 90s spawned the rise of new languages like HTML, CSS, and XML, and web developers were soon in high demand. Eventually, the computing world took a new interest in artificial intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things (IoT), so embedded devices like Arduino and Raspberry Pi surged, and new languages like Python and R became sought upon for statistics and data analysis in the data science fields.

When developers can swiftly adapt to the changes in the industry, it’s a win for both professionals and consumers alike. Similar to how programming moved from a heavy-duty terminal task to one that anyone can enjoy today, it’s become way easier for someone to use a computer. After all, think about it. Computers used to be the size of a room (looking at you, ENIAC). The advancements made by Apple, Microsoft, IBM, and Digital Research in the 70s and 80s have truly changed the way we think about computers (these companies coined the term “personal computer,” after all). Their growth mindsets allowed them to push the boundaries of innovation, allowing all consumers to fully experience the benefits of the technology age.

Now let’s flip the script. Imagine if these companies had a fixed mindset. If that really was the case, then we wouldn’t be looking at technology in the same way that we actually are today. With smartphones and tablets on the rise, such prospects would have seemed far from reality had Microsoft and Apple dismissed the idea of the growth mindset.

Side-note: Speaking of computers, it’s interesting to see what will happen in the next several decades. Our future children and grandchildren will probably laugh at the kind of technology we use today. With a growth mindset, such a concept is possible.

tl;dr - As you could probably tell from the examples above, the field constantly changes. New languages come and go, and thus, the demand for certain developers often rise and fall. A developer who can adapt to the swift changes of the changing programmer market can win in the game of computer science, while a developer who uses outdated programming standards may not survive long in the face of change. Similarly, a VCR repairman would most likely be out of business today, suffering the consequences of not adapting his/her skills to fixing newer DVD/Blu-ray players.

In essence, a growth mindset could really take one far in fields like computer science. As long as one has the capability to respond to swift changes in the industry, they can survive in the field to cater to the changing needs and desires of consumers and businesses alike.

School/College/Workplace

Now that my long rant on the growth mindset in computer science is finally over, I want to apply this growth mindset to education. Most of you are probably going off to college shortly. Some of you probably graduated from college. You could even still be in high school. No matter who you are, the growth mindset still applies.

A growth mindset really allows you to maximize your potential. It takes on the fact that your brain is malleable in the sense that it grows and doesn’t necessarily remain intact.

Even in our younger years, we’ve had this growth mindset. When our parents gave us Barbies, Legos, or other toys, we often wondered “how the heck are we going to transform this into something we want?” It was often through realization or experimentation that we achieved our desired results, and in the end, the entire experience usually serves to teach you something new.

As we went on to school, we learned new facts about geology, algebra, and grammar. Our application of the growth mindset back then allowed us to increase our logical capacity. It’s how we went from learning about numbers and simple arithmetic to learning about calculus and advanced mathematical theories/proofs.

Now, if you’ve had a fixed mindset, the purpose of an education would be entirely different for you. You wouldn’t learn or differentiate what’s right or what’s wrong from your parents. Your behaviors, mannerisms, and intelligence would continue to plateau and remain the same. In short, you most likely would not be as successful today as if you instead allowed your parents and your teachers to mold you into being the best version of yourself that you could possibly be.

With that said, I’d like to take some time to appreciate my parents for all they’ve done for me. Your loving affection, care, and discipline at times has really molded me into the person I am today. In addition, I’d like to appreciate all the teachers I’ve had for the past 12-13 years. Your dedication and passion to your profession has really allowed me to prosper educationally and embark on greater adventures in life. I couldn’t have done it without all of you.

Life

Now, this is one application that we can all really share. The growth mindset and its application to life. As we get older, we get wiser. You may have heard that from different people. In such a case, the growth mindset really comes into play here.

When we get older, we learn about new things happening in the world. Like I mentioned earlier, you become more aware of what’s right or what’s wrong. As an infant, we come into the world knowing barely anything, if at all. It’s our parents who change that, investing in time to take us around the world, showing us what’s right or wrong. They don’t only just teach us the alphabet and the numbers up to 10. Through love and affection, they show us the importance of familial values and various perspectives in giving us the ability to make decisions for ourselves.

Even if it’s not just your parents, you are also constantly learning new things in life. With myself being the firstborn child in the family, the college application process and transition is entirely new to us. It was hard at times, like when I had an idea for an essay but didn’t know where to start. However, it was thanks to taking advice from others and watching YouTube videos that we could ease the process and transition.

A growth mindset can really carry one far in life. As things come and go, like the historical advent of the Ford Model T and its shake-up of the transportation market at the time, we’re constantly learning how to adapt to new innovations and delights in life, and this is thanks to our growth mindset.

In addition, we face obstacles all the time in life. Whether it’s losing a job or getting yourself in a sticky situation, a growth mindset allows us to pick ourselves up and move on.

It’s our ability to adapt to these setbacks that really determines our attitude in life. For myself, student debt will be a setback going into the future. However, it’s my attitude towards learning how to alleviate such debt that will help me adapt in times of financial issues. It’s like a learning opportunity.

Personally, in the college application process, I’ve faced setbacks when it came to college rejections. However, those rejections didn’t define me as a person. In the face of such negatives, I’ve always looked forward to the positives, such as an acceptance to the University of Michigan (GO BLUE!).

tl;dr – Life is a time of constant learning and growth. We can either choose to improve ourselves or look at ourselves as the same person since day one. In the end, the person who chooses to push himself harder in the battle against obstacles will win many rewards in the course of time. It’s your attitude towards your goals and challenges that could potentially change your fate.

Conclusion

Now that my long rant is over, here’s a few closing suggestions on achieving the growth mindset:

  1. You’re never too old to learn. Pick up a new skill. Learn how to code. Google is your friend. The principles of quantum mechanics or applied mathematics could really give you a new approach on how to think and how to solve problems in the real world. By constantly “learning on the job,” we learn and collect different perspectives, and from those, we cultivate and come up with our own. This skill is single-handedly one of the most important in allowing one to grow as a person.

  2. Look at setbacks as a learning opportunity. At a Science Olympiad tournament in my freshman year of high school, I flopped miserably in one of my events. In the event, the goal was to build a machine to launch a ping-pong ball to a target at a certain distance. While the machine was properly set up, I forgot the most important step: to insert the ping-pong ball into the machine. This mistake cost us several places in the final ranking, but it helped show me how important attention to detail is in every commitment. For the rest of the tournaments, I created a checklist of items to follow before launching the ping-pong ball, and it never let me down once the National Tournament came by that May. Without this setback, I wouldn’t have looked past my carelessness.

  3. Never fail to recognize and remember those who have helped you on your journey. We have a lot to thank our mentors and those who have molded us into being the successful people we are today. Your parents have helped teach you what’s right and what’s wrong in the world. They set you up on a path for success with the love and affection they’ve showered upon you. If anything, you have a lot to give back to them. Similarly, your teachers are also really important. They gave you the information and education you needed to succeed in the real world. Don’t forget to thank them once you grow and achieve in your field.

  4. Adapt to the changing needs of a changing environment. This statement ties back into point #1, in that you’re never too old to learn. Like I mentioned in my section on computer science, the field is always changing. New innovations are coming rapidly. By learning new things in order to adapt in the face of change, we’re advancing our skillset in order to cater to newer audiences and consumers. Don’t be that one VCR repairman in the corner while everyone around you is in higher demand for Blu-ray player repairs.

  5. Don’t lose sight of who you are and who you want to be in the future. Your goals for the future should be your motivation in the present. Actively work for what you want to get out of your career. At the top of the mountain later, you’ll thank yourself for all the hard work you put in.


This is my first motivational blog post and I hope to write many more in the future. Please do not hesitate to drop a comment below if there’s something wrong or for any other matters.

With that said, thanks for reading everyone, and see you next time.

Over and out,
Nitish Vijai