An intriguing post from Stanford psychology professor Carol Dweck offers the idea that simpler believing you can learn to do better can give you an advantage in performance, over time.
Dr. Dweck describes two ways to look at skills and abilities: the “growth mindset” and the “fixed mindset.” The growth mindset is a belief that practice and experience can improve skill. The fixed mindset is a belief that you’ve either got it or you don’t.
Based on other research, the growth mindset appears to be a lot more accurate: see past articles on LucReid.com such as “Do you have enough talent to become great at it?,” “Why I’m Proud to Have Been an Unoriginal, Talentless Hack,” and “Practice versus Deliberate Practice.” However, this isn’t Dr. Dweck’s point. Instead, she describes how the very belief in the possibility of improving tends to boost ability over time:
The fixed mindset, in which you have only a certain amount of a valued talent or ability, leads people to want to look good at all times. You need to prove that you are talented and not do anything to contradict that impression, so people in a fixed mindset try to highlight their proficiencies and hide their deficiencies (see, e.g., Rhodewalt, 1994) … In contrast, the growth mindset, in which you can develop your ability, leads people to want to do just that. It leads them to put a premium on learning.
Some interesting additional details: in studies, Dr. Dweck and colleagues found that people might have a growth mindset in one area but a fixed mindset in another. For instance, you might believe you can get better at drawing, but not at socializing, or you might think you can improve at baseball but not at math.
Mindsets are fairly durable, but as Dr. Dweck points out, “they are beliefs, and beliefs can be changed.” The lesson for all of us seems to be that having faith in our own ability to improve will serve us well regardless of what area of life we’re talking about. To cultivate this belief, I can recommend a couple of books: Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers and Geoff Colvin’s Talent is Overrated.