The Power of "Yet"
Teaching middle school mathematics can be a daunting task! So many adults and students believe that they are either good at math or not--that their intelligence is fixed. Many students will give-up once they begin to struggle. It is something that I often saw until I was introduced to the work of Stanford Psychologist, Carol Dwek, in her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.
In her work, Dwek explores the psychology of having a fixed vs. growth mindset. A person with a fixed mindset assumes that their character, intelligence, and ability can not change in any meaningful way. Their success is directly attributed to their intelligence compared to the intelligence of others and will passionately defend the status quo. Many people with a fixed mindset are afraid to take risks, or try new things because of significant fear of failure.
Those with a growth mindset, however, believe that effort and persistence will lead to great things. They view failure as an opportunity to learn, grow, and expand their knowledge. A person with a growth mindset will say, “I will use a different strategy” instead of simply giving up.
This mindset can be cultivated and produces remarkable results with students and adults. By changing the way we offer praise we can begin transitioning to a growth mindset and open up ourselves and others to limitless possibilities. By focusing on effort, persistence, and struggle we reinforce the idea that intelligence, creativity, and ability are not fixed. Instead of saying, “You are so smart, you got X correct.” try saying “Wow, you got X correct! You must have worked really hard!”
By deliberately teaching and encouraging a growth mindset in my students I saw them become more comfortable with struggle and failure. However, it wasn’t until I heard Carol Dweck speak about the power of a tiny word that everything connected for me--the power of YET.
Imagine the possibilities if every time you tell yourself you aren’t good at something another part of your brain whispers to you YET! This encourages problem solving, innovative thinking, and continuous learning. That big problem at work you’ve been struggling with? You just don’t know how to solve it YET. This small, but important distinction is the difference between frustration and patience. If we look to our kids, we see their tenacity when they learn to ride a bike. They may fall off while they are learning, but that's just because they haven't mastered the new skill YET.
The biggest challenges in our lifetime have been solved by people who celebrate the idea of Yet. It is why our scientists are so confident we will have a vaccine for Covid-19 soon. They know there is a solution; they just haven’t found it yet.
I challenge you this week to whisper that word yourself anytime you feel you are approaching life with a fixed mindset. You may not have mastered it yet, but with practice, you can switch over to this growth mindset!