Belief is Not Enough

A Growth Mindset is critical to growth and success. Without the belief that we can change ourselves for the better, our motivation flounders. It’s at the heart of a Growth Mindset, which world-renowned Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck describes as “the belief that you can change your most basic characteristics, such as your talents, abilities and intelligence”.

However, putting these two ideas side by side – belief and growth – has created widespread misunderstanding, especially online. The inference is that belief causes growth. How many times have you seen slogans like these on Pinterest and Facebook?

  • “If you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right!”
  • “You can if you think you can!.”
  • “Don’t say “I can’t”. Say I can’t, yet!”

Social media would have us believe that all you need to succeed is belief. This is far from the truth.

The assumption seems to be that because people with a fixed mindset experience little growth, all we need to do to achieve growth is to develop a growth Mindset. The trouble is that it’s not that simple.

Simply believing in something doesn’t make it so. Believing you can run a marathon doesn’t mean you can. You need to train the right way for months in advance. Believing you can be a successful author also doesn’t make it a reality. You need to hone your craft, working on specific skills, day in, day out.

Growth requires ACTION. No one believes his or her way to greater success. If you want to succeed, you must work hard, and work effectively! It’s only when belief leads to effective action that growth takes place.

Dweck’s research clearly shows that students with a Growth Mindset are more likely to experience growth.  This is because they are more likely to engage in the sorts of behaviours that lead to growth.  However, if those behaviours are ineffective, even a student with a Growth Mindset may experience very little growth.

Helping our students believe they can change is just the first step. To further their learning and increase their skill sets, we need to not only encourage a Growth Mindset, but clearly show them the behaviours and processes they must engage in to achieve this growth.

Why is it so important to be clear on this point? Because we want students to not only believe they can grow, we want them to achieve this growth.  And while we focus only on belief, it leads our work with Mindsets down the wrong path.

There are two key ideas to consider here:

  1. When we see belief as primary driver of success, more success becomes about more belief. Our lives and classrooms become filled with slogans and affirmations akin to the self-esteem movement that Dweck’s work has tried to counter.

    Most importantly when how much you believe in yourself is seen as the drive for success, this becomes the responsibility of the learner. It’s about their self-belief. It doesn’t change teacher practice.

  1. When we understand that growth and success are about the types of actions we take, our behaviours, and the processes through which we apply those behaviours, growth becomes about engaging in these more effectively. Teaching students how to behave more effectively is the responsibility of the teachers, and drives change in teacher practice.

Having a Growth Mindset does not automatically mean a student will succeed. A Growth Mindset is important, of course, but it’s not the end of the story. We must not only nurture students’ mindset, but also teach them the actions and behaviours that will help them flourish.

A Growth Mindset is just an invitation to grow. It’s the job of the teacher to teach students not just that they are capable of growth, but also how to grow.

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