Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Growth Mindset and Stoic Philosophy of Mind

Self Improvement Philosophies - Growth Mindset and Stoicism

"When it comes to success, there are no shortcuts’"― Bo Bennett

“Non est ad astra mollis e terris via" - "There is no easy way from the earth to the stars” ― Seneca

If you stop for a minute and just let these quotes soak in, it can be

extremely powerful. In truth, you have probably heard this before or some variation of the words and this is because it speaks the truth. When it comes to life, there really are no shortcuts and you have to work hard for everything that you earn. Let’s face it, school, career, and life can be extremely tough and there are many hurdles that we have to overcome which is why it is only "the stoic" that make it look easy. Making it to the top for many takes herculean sticktoitiveness! Academic hurdles can stop many people from pursuing advanced education or advanced careers, this impacts future finances, life success, and even lifelong happiness. Americans spend $23 billion a year seeking success and happiness "self-improvement", 1000s of books, DVDs, seminars, and coaching. 


"Your success and happiness lies in you. Resolve to keep happy, and your joy and you shall form an invincible host against difficulties." Helen Keller


Over the years, we have seen many sages and gurus come out and say that they have the definitive guide to business or education success. Of course, many of them were simply attempting to make a quick buck from those who had ambition but didn't quite know how to use it correctly. However, there is one philosophy that has been in existence for 2,000 years and this is something you may not have heard about - stoicism and the modern phycological counterpart, growth mindset. Within this theory, it suggests that the key to lasting happiness and success is adopting the correct mindset or philosophy. However, let’s not take this as a given; let’s delve into exactly why this is true. 

“Difficulties strengthen the mind, as labor does the body.”
― Seneca


Growth Mindset - Currently, there is a buzzword or truism in education - ‘growth mindset’. Whether you are a teacher or a student, this is something you may have heard because it is a philosophy that has attracted a lot of attention. First developed by Carol Dweck, growth mindset is a theory that revolves around self-perception; this means the opinion that one holds about one’s self. For example, do you believe that you are intelligent or unintelligent? Although this is a simple example, there are many others including whether you think you are a good parent, teacher, friend, etc. 


“Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” ― Seneca

Fixed Mindset - In Dweck’s work, she explains that there are two different types of mindset that one may have - fixed or growth. When someone has a fixed mindset, it suggests that their qualities, such as certain talents or intelligence, are completely fixed. Instead of attempting to develop their skills, people who have this fixed way of thinking prefer to document their intelligence. In most cases, there is also a general belief that effort doesn’t really play a role in success because talent is the key factor. In the classroom, students convince themselves that they are ‘dumb’ or even just slow learners which leads to a shying away from challenges. All things considered, this can be detrimental because when an exam is failed, for example, the student will convince themselves that they just aren't good enough to pass as opposed to revising and taking the test again. 

“Did I win? Did I lose? Those are the wrong questions. The correct question is: Did I make my best effort?” If so, he says, “You may be outscored but you will never lose.”
― Carol S. Dweck, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success

Growth Mindset - On the flip side, Dweck rediscovered the stoic philoshphy "growth mindset" which is where people believe that they can improve their basic abilities "intelligence/skills" as long as they work hard and persist in pursuing their goals in spite of obstacles.  At birth, people are given a starting point in terms of intelligence and people with the growth mindset say that this starting point can be improved over time with great effort, hard work, determination, and a stoic philosophy. When this mindset is in action, it creates a passion for learning because they know that they will reap the rewards. For students with this mindset, there is a belief that perseverance, reflection and revision of beliefs, and working on challenging and difficult academic problems is all worthwhile because it can pay off with deeper skills and knowledge. Rather than saying ‘I’m just not good at algebra’, the student sees struggle and failure as an opportunity to from their mistakes and make faster progress and improve a skill. 

"Education is what survives when what has been learned has been forgotten." ― B. F. Skinner

Education - As we can see, the differentiation between the two mindsets in education is a vital component for success beyond the school years. Just as we said in the beginning, ‘there is no shortcut to success’. Essentially, this means that the students with the fixed mindset are going to get eaten alive in the real world because they don’t believe in self-improvement and development of self is a lost cause.

Although many will say that it is ‘too early’ for someone’s mindset to be altered, the reason why it has made such an impact in schools of late is because people who leave education with a fixed mindset struggle to change later in life. If a student can be encouraged to think about learning with a growth mindset, the affect on their academic improvement will be phenomenal. Suddenly, they will realize that ‘wait, I have to work hard if I really want to achieve!’. 


“It is the power of the mind to be unconquerable.” ― Seneca, The Stoic Philosophy of Seneca: Essays and Letters

For the teachers, it is all about encouragement for students and trying to transform those who have the fixed mindset which can be so damaging. In fact, research has suggested that students achieve better results when they believe that learning and hard work will improve their skills. As well as learning more, there is also an argument for faster learning as well as a more thorough type of learning with this mindset. For many, this doesn’t come as a surprise because it is the key to lasting happiness and success. 


“So what should we say when children complete a task—say, math problems—quickly and perfectly? Should we deny them the praise they have earned? Yes. When this happens, I say, “Whoops. I guess that was too easy. I apologize for wasting your time. Let’s do something you can really learn from!”
― Carol S. Dweck, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success

Teaching the Mindset - At first, there were many challenges for teachers in knowing how this mindset could be taught but there is now sufficient evidence to show that it can be taught intentionally. For example, teachers could openly praise effort in the classroom as opposed to focusing solely on achievement. Rather than saying that a student must be very smart, teachers are now encouraged to praise hard work and effort. 



“After seven experiments with hundreds of children, we had some of the clearest findings I’ve ever seen: Praising children’s intelligence harms their motivation and it harms their performance. How can that be? Don’t children love to be praised? Yes, children love praise. And they especially love to be praised for their intelligence and talent. It really does give them a boost, a special glow—but only for the moment. The minute they hit a snag, their confidence goes out the window and their motivation hits rock bottom. If success means they’re smart, then failure means they’re dumb. That’s the fixed mindset.”
― Carol S. Dweck, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success


Stoicism - As so many self-improvement philosophies do, the growth mindset has a foundation in stoicism. Essentially, stoicism is a term that reflects the learning that takes place through logic and rationalism as opposed to feelings and comfort. Over the years, there has been many misconceptions regarding stoicism and this is because the term is often simplified so far that it becomes inaccurate. For example, many have said that stoicism means that one must reject pleasure but this simply isn't true. According to early Stoics, we will all be fine as long as we align ourselves with logic because everything thereafter will fall into place. 



“Parents think they can hand children permanent confidence—like a gift—by praising their brains and talent. It doesn’t work, and in fact has the opposite effect. It makes children doubt themselves as soon as anything is hard or anything goes wrong. If parents want to give their children a gift, the best thing they can do is to teach their children to love challenges, be intrigued by mistakes, enjoy effort, and keep on learning. That way, their children don’t have to be slaves of praise. They will have a lifelong way to build and repair their own confidence.” ― Carol S. Dweck, Mindset: How You Can Fulfill Your Potential

Embracing Adversity - When it comes to philosophy itself, the topic is also the victim of many misconceptions. For the most part, people believe that it involves men and women sitting around a table questioning life and the aim/purpose of us all. In this false suggestion, philosophy is purely theoretical but there is also a very important practical element that needs to be discussed. When philosophy is used, there is an underlying aim to make our time on Earth that little bit easier and more productive. In some regards, it could be considered an instruction manual for our own lives which has been written and edited by the leaders throughout time.

Of all the philosophical theories, stoicism happens to be one of the most useful because, as we saw earlier, it discusses the idea of aligning one’s self with logic. At the same time, it trusts that we are spending our time focusing on the things that we can change as opposed to the events to which we have no control. Once again, comparisons can be drawn to how there are no shortcuts to success. If success is to be earned, we all have to focus on the events that we can change.

In life, we will all have tricky times to overcome whether it is happening right now or is some years away. No matter how hard you try, there will be adversities that take your full attention but stoicism explains how these obstacles can be overcome before then turning them in our favor. With a growth mindset that has been taught at an early age, this process becomes a whole lot easier.

The Connection - Immediately, you should be able to draw the link between the growth mindset and stoicism because they are very closely related. As stated earlier, the growth mindset comes from stoic foundations because students have to make a decision. Will they take the fixed mindset and decide that they cannot improve their key skills? Or will they realize that there are certain things that we can control and one of these few things is ourselves? On the one hand, there is a focus on controlling the wrong thing but, on the other, there is a stoic mindset in that we can control our own destiny as long as we are willing to spend a little time becoming a more informed person.

In truth, it isn't hard to see why the growth mindset is making waves in education because it promotes a confidence in one’s ability and allows students to make up their own minds regarding their academic choices, career choices, and future path when they see hard work is part of life. If they want to become a scientist and need to improve their math skills, growth mindset tells them that they need to work hard to learn everything that they will need to know rather than deciding that it ‘isn’t for them’ after failing one test. Then, stoicism is needed to overcome failure and push through any adversity that comes their way. If an exam is failed or they are rejected from their dream job after school, they will know exactly how to bounce back.

Summary - In conclusion, we may not have control over external events even if they affect us in the worst ways possible. However, what we do control is how we react. If you happen to fail an exam, job interview, or even in a relationship, you need to react in the right way in order to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and go again. If we teach the younger generations that the key to lasting happiness and success is the growth mindset, we may just have adults that are happy and successful, whilst willing to put in the hard work, in the future!

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