Changing Our Brains: How Cultivating a Growth Mindset Builds Resiliency

Have you ever stopped to notice your inner dialogue when you’ve been struggling for a while with a difficult task or problem? What messages do you unconsciously start telling yourself when success evades you despite putting forth your best effort? According to renowned Stanford Psychologist, Carol Dweck, the answer to that question depends on whether you operate in more of a fixed or a growth mindset. Thirty years of research on this topic led Dr. Dweck to publish countless studies documenting evidence that growth mindsets foster achievement! You can read all of this in her 2017 book entitled “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.” Whether you’re a nonspeaking individual, a parent, a communication-regulation partner (CRP) or an S2C Practitioner this book is an absolute must-have. Everyone on this journey benefits from becoming more resilient. Discovering your mindset and learning to shift yours towards growth is a great first step in this endeavor.

If during a challenging task you find yourself saying things like: “I just can’t do this… I’ll never be good at this… I should give up” – those thoughts are the hallmarks of a fixed mindset. In a fixed mindset people believe that intelligence and skills are traits that they are “born with” and they’re virtually unchangeable. You’ve either “got it” or you don’t. Because of this belief, people with fixed mindsets are easily discouraged and tend to shy away from difficult things. They do so because failure would indicate that they must not be smart afterall. “Better to be safe than stupid” would be their motto. On the other hand, you might be the proud owner of a growth mindset if during a challenging endeavor your thoughts tend to sound like one of these: “It’s not that I can’t do this, it’s just can’t do this yet… with more practice and effort I’m sure I’ll get it… let me switch gears and try it this way!” Growth mindset individuals believe that intelligence and ability are things they can cultivate and develop; furthermore, they believe that struggle and effort are what make them smarter. As it turns out, current advances in neuroscience are showing that’s absolutely correct! Struggle and effort do make you smarter. That means a growth mindset motto would be: “You can learn anything!”

Bear in mind no one is ever 100% growth mindset or 100% fixed mindset. It’s more like our brains are on a mindset continuum and where we land can vary depending on the day or the challenge we are evaluating. We also get caught in “fixed mindset traps” when we least expect it. The table below gives a few such examples. On the left are common fixed mindset thoughts written from the perspective of a parent who’s struggling during an S2C lesson with their child. On the right you’ll see an alternative growth mindset thought that could replace the fixed mindset Thanks to neuroplasticity, by doing this – by choosing a new growth mindset thought over and over instead of the old, fixed thought – you can actually rewire your brain! 4 The new neural pathways that form eventually replace the old neural pathways entirely. Congratulations! You can learn anything – including how to adopt a growth mindset! Now go ahead and give these new thoughts a try during your next challenging moment:

Lastly, let’s talk a little about “struggle.” When working with a student in the acquisition phase of S2C it’s important to first acknowledge the inevitability of struggle. The journey to fluency on the boards when you have a body that has motor planning challenges won’t always be easy. Share stories with your speller about other people, “Famous Failures” perhaps, who persevered through great struggles of their own before finally reaching success. This is an evidenced based strategy to helping students who are putting forth effort but not yet achieving their goals. You might also engage the help of other nonspeakers who can encourage your student by their own examples. Countless self-advocates have written books describing their journey to learn to communicate which you can read together. Recently a journal article authored by three nonspeaking students was published in Autism in Adulthood entitled “The Significance of Involving Nonspeaking Autistic Peer Mentors in Educational Programs.“ According to the authors (Samuel Capozzi, Dillan Barmache, and Emma Cladis) the involvement of autistic mentors is critical because they can serve as role models to other nonspeakers who are struggling to achieve.

Inspired by this article I asked my S2C students to try on their growth mindset as well as their mentorship hat. They were instructed to think about something they struggled to learn but eventually succeeded at. Next, they were to write letters to future students who wanted to learn the same thing. Two of my students chose S2C as the challenge they struggled to learn. So in the spirit of Capozzi, Barmache and Cladis, from my students to yours, here are some peer-mentored, growth mindset words of encouragement:

DEAR FUTURE SPELLER,
I REALLY KNOW WHAT IT’S LIKE TO HAVE LOTS TO SAY BUT NOT HAVE A WAY TO SPEAK. ALL HOPE IS NOT LOST. I LEARNED SPELLING ON A LETTERBOARD AND SO CAN YOU. IT TAKES LOTS OF PRACTICE TO BE ACCURATE ON THE BOARDS FOR ALL GOOD THINGS WORTH DOING TAKE EFFORT. LOVE, ARON K. (age 13, San Diego, CA)

DEAR FUTURE TYPER,
I AM HAPPY YOU LOVE TYPING TOO. MANY TIMES IN THE JOURNEY TO LEARN TO COMMUNICATE FEELINGS OF GREAT PESSIMISM MAY ABOUND. TRY NOT TO GET TOO DOWN ON YOURSELF. THE BEST MESSES BECOME OFTEN THE HOLIEST MASTERPIECES. BELIEVING THAT YOUR ACTIONS CAN GET PERFECTED GOES A LONG WAY. LOVE, DANNY W (age 34, San Diego, CA)

Written by Dawnmarie Gaivin
Dawnmarie Gaivin is an S2C Practitioner and a member of the I-ASC Leadership Cadre living in San Diego, CA

Citations:

  1. Dweck, C. (2017). Mindset. London: Robinson.
  2. Khan Academy. (2018, August 10). LearnStorm Growth Mindset: The Truth About Your Brain. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/rf8FX2sI3gU
  3. Anderson, J. (2019, May 01). Fixed vs Growth: Two ends of a Mindset continuum. Retrieved August 18, 2019, from https://mindfulbydesign.com/fixed-vs-growth-two-ends-mindset-continuum
  4. Sentis Brain Animation Series. (2012, November 06). Neuroplasticity. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/ELpfYCZa87g
  5. Xiadong lin-Siegler and Janet N. Ahn, “Even Einstein Struggled: Effects of Learning About Great Scientists’ Struggles on High School Students’ Motivation to Learn Science.” Journal of Educational Psychology, 2016, Vol. 108, No. 3, 314-328. Retrieved from: http://www.apa.org/pubs/journals/releases/edu-edu0000092.pdf)
  6. Famous Failures. (2012, May 15). Retrieved from https://youtu.be/zLYECIjmnQs
  7. Samuel Capozzi, Dillan Barmache, Emma Cladis, Edlyn Vallejo Peña, and Jodie Kocur.Autism in Adulthood.http://doi.org/10.1089/aut.2019.0006

 

Other Sources:

Blackwell, L. S., Trzesniewski, K. H., & Dweck, C. S. (2007). Implicit Theories of Intelligence Predict Achievement Across an Adolescent Transition: A Longitudinal Study and an Intervention. Child Development, 78(1), 246-263. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8624.2007.00995.x

Brock, A. (2018). In Other Words: Phrases for Growth Mindset: A Teachers Guide to Empowering Students Through Effective Praise and Feedback. Ulysses Press.

Brock, A., & Hundley, H. (2016). The growth mindset coach: A teacher’s month-by-month handbook for empowering students to achieve. Berkeley, CA: Ulysses Press.

Brock, A., & Hundley, H. (2017). The growth mindset playbook: A teachers guide to promoting student success. Berkeley, CA: Ulysses Press.

Dweck, C. S., & Leggett, E. L. (1988). A social-cognitive approach to motivation and personality. Psychological Review,95(2), 256-273. doi:10.1037/0033-295x.95.2.256

Mangels, J. A., Butterfield, B., Lamb, J., Good, C., & Dweck, C. S. (2006). Why do beliefs about intelligence influence learning success? A social cognitive neuroscience model. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience,1(2), 75-86. doi:10.1093/scan/nsl013

Mueller, C. M., & Dweck, C. S. (1998). Praise for intelligence can undermine children’s motivation and performance. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology,75(1), 33-52. doi:10.1037//0022-3514.75.1.33

Ricci, M. C., & Ricci, M. C. (2015). Ready-to-use resources for Mindsets in the classroom: Everything educators need for school success. Waco, TX: Prufrock Press.

Posted By on Wednesday, November 13th, 2019 in Research

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