In Carol Dweck’s famous study on growth mindset, Dweck taught high school students about brain plasticity and about how the characteristics of intelligence are not fixed. The idea was to convince students that they had control over improving their academic ability. Years later, these students scored higher on standardized tests.
It’s tempting to think of the Dweck study as a near instant fix. You teach students, or yourself, the details of growth mindset. This takes about an hour. And then afterward your performance magically improves.
Although Dweck’s study has been supported by future studies, for example this one, I suspect there is a crucial missing element to the story. What behaviors did the students change after the lesson? Knowing this is the key to understanding how you can improve your own life.
My story is about my mom, now a retired 3rd grade teacher. She took that same concept of teaching growth mindset and reworked it for 3rd graders. The reworked lesson plan came down to three YouTube videos. I’ll share those below and then share what happened in the class room after the lesson was over. In my observations of my mom’s classroom, all of the magic was in the behaviors that the students built afterward. In other words, it’s not knowledge that transformed the students, it was new habits.
#1. Success Is Not an Accident
First, my mom inspired her class with someone who embodies self-improvement. Steph Curry came into the NBA too short, too small, and too slow to be a star. Now he’s an MVP and World Champion. And it was all because of his practice habits.
I don’t think you need to be a third grader to be inspired by this.
#2. Your Brain Changes!
Then she threw a two minute video on neuroplasticity at the class.
This is a classic self-improvement tactic — practically all self-improvement books are written to start with an inspirational story and then to immediately pivot into an explanation of why anyone could achieve the same thing.
So my mom was hitting her kids with Curry for inspiration and then brain science for plausibility.
Here’s where I’m hoping you are finding your own future growth plausible: your brain can change. That’s what brain plasticity is. So no matter how bad you are at something right now, you can change that so that future you becomes very good at it. That’s basically what the concept of Growth Mindset is about.
#3. The Power of Yet
After the first two videos, my mom’s class was sold on growth mindset, but they didn’t know how to put it into practice.
Thankfully, Jannelle Monet was a guest on Sesame Street and gave the simplest behavioral pattern for practicing growth mindset: use the word Yet.
The Growth Mindset Habit
The three videos above are not enough to change a child’s life. They have to be followed up by a change in behavior.
That’s the entire misunderstanding with Carol Dweck’s study. The focus is on the initial lecture, not the follow on behavior.
One of my mom’s strengths as a teacher was that she brought a consistency to classroom management. And one of the changes she made to her classroom was that she started insisting that the class adopt the word yet.
Every time a kid says yet, they are representing that they are open to learning something new.
The lesson that my mom put together was the launchpad for a new habit. And that new habit was then reinforced hundreds of times over the school year.
You can’t A/B test my mother because she is retired. But I can share that her kids had one of the highest test score improvements of any class in her district.
Regardless of the merits of standardized testing, something about her teaching that year worked especially well. And anecdotally, that something revolved around the word Yet.
And for that reason, the word Yet has become a big part of my own self-talk. I hope you adopt it too.
By: Coach Tony
Watch, learn and connect:
Should you tell your kids they are smart or talented? Professor Carol Dweck answers this question and more, as she talks about her groundbreaking work on developing mindsets.