People with a growth mindset look forward to difficult and challenging opportunities. They know hard work and trying new strategies when facing struggles are the keys to succeeding. The goal of this article is to help us foster a growth mindset in our daughters so they can learn to fail successfully.
“And once the storm is over, you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure, whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.” ― Haruki Murakami
It is hard to believe I have been writing about failing successfully for five weeks now. I did not start out planning to spend over a month on this topic, this is just how the articles turned out. The fact I could easily spend this long on a topic shows how important it is. One of the most important lessons we can teach our daughters to help them succeed in life is the learning to fail successfully.
I was first introduced to Mindset, The New Psychology of Success by Dr. Carol Dweck about ten years ago at a professional development session for teachers. I instantly became a fan.
This book has influenced my educational leadership and parenting philosophy as much as any other single work I have encountered. It is that good!
Dweck’s extensive research on motivation and the mind helps us understand why we make the choices we do and take the actions we take. As stated in the title, her book is about mindsets. In it, Dweck clearly explains what mindsets are and how having a fixed or growth mindset determines the way we will respond in various situations.
People with a fixed mindset believe they are born with a predefined set of skills and abilities. They believe, “I’ve got it or I don’t. End of story.”
At the other end of the spectrum is the belief system Dweck calls a growth mindset. People with a growth mindset believe our abilities and skills are a starting point that we can grow from with effort and trying new strategies.
People with a fixed mindset do not see the point at trying hard to accomplish anything. In fact, they see effort as a negative characteristic. Since they believe their abilities are innate and fixed, they believe needing to try hard would indicate they do not have that ability. There is a lot of fear of screwing up and looking inept for people with a fixed mindset.
People who have a growth mindset value effort and trying new strategies when things do not go as planned. They cannot conceive not trying hard.
Developing a growth mindset helps us see failure as an opportunity to learn, improve, and fulfill our full potential. Believing we can get better with effort and practice helps us embrace difficult tasks, not shy away from them.
Having a growth mindset is the key to failing successfully.
People are not born with one mindset or the other. Dweck emphasizes we must remember “we’re all a mixture of fixed and growth mindsets.” The mindset that thrives is the one fostered by those around us.
With this knowledge as parents, we must teach ourselves to intentionally develop a growth mindset in our daughters.
Here are five specific strategies we can use to help our daughters develop and maintain a growth mindset and learn to fail successfully.
1. Teach her that it is OK to try hard.
People with a growth mindset cannot imagine not trying as hard as possible to maximize their ability. They understand giving maximum effort can actually transform them into a different person.
One of the biggest problems with the constant national exposure of professional and elite college athletes is we only see a glimpse of their world. On the court during a game, Lebron James makes the game of basketball look effortless. Most of the time it looks like he is not even trying very hard.
What our daughters don’t see is all of the work and effort he put into training to make the game look that easy. Elite athletes are extremely hard working. Teaching our daughters that effort is a good thing is an important part of helping them develop a growth mindset.
At this point, if you have a growth mindset yourself, you are probably wondering why anyone would need to be taught to try their hardest. People with a growth mindset admire effort. Those with a fixed mindset see giving effort very differently than people with a growth mindset.
Fixed mindset people resist giving maximum effort for two reasons. First, they see success as an either / or scenario. Either you have natural ability and talent, or you have to put in a lot of effort. They truly believe, if you don’t have the ability why waste your time by trying?
Second, and maybe most common in kids, they don’t try their hardest because giving maximum effort removes a built in excuse. By not trying their hardest, fixed mindset people can always fall back on the “I didn’t try anyway” justification if they fail.
I don’t know about you, but I definitely want my girls to learn to “waste their time” trying their very best to succeed. They will only do this if they have a growth mindset.
2. Praise effort and hard work not talent and natural ability.
Once we have convinced our daughters that it is OK to try hard (see above), we must be very intentional about how we dole out praises. When she is successful, say something like “I am proud of how hard you studied for that test. I know you worked very hard to prepare.”
Be very careful not to praise ability or talent by saying something such as, “I knew you could do it because you are so smart.” Praising her abilities could cause her to begin to identify with that identity. This may sound like a good thing, but it is not. When an ability starts to define our daughter, she will not know how to cope when she reaches a point where that ability is not good enough.
When she struggles, be very intentional not to connect the struggle to ability. Never tell your daughter, “Well, you are just not good at X (whatever X is).”
Finally, by all means, DO NOT connect your talents to your daughters’ struggles. Telling her something like, “I never was good at X so you probably won’t be either.” is a growth mindset killer.
Our brains and abilities are not fixed. They can grow and develop with the right training. Praising our daughter’s effort will help her develop a belief in her basic qualities. When she believes in her basic qualities, “failure may still hurt, but it won’t define” her. Praising our daughters is important, but how we do it is more important. Praise her effort to foster a growth mindset.
3. Make the word “yet” a permanent part of your vocabulary.
Life is full of self doubt, especially for girls. Our daughters are going to tell us many times throughout their life they can’t do something.
To help them develop a growth mindset and see they can do it with the right effort and strategy, we need to teach ourselves to reply with “you can’t do it, YET!”. This one word at the end of a sentence is a powerful reminder that our abilities are not fixed and we control their growth.
By constantly reinforcing “you haven’t got it yet”, we can help our daughters develop a growth mindset. They will learn to view failure as an action, not an identity. More importantly, they will learn to keep trying until they get it.
4. Focus on the process.
Today’s generation of kids is extremely focused on the outcome and instant success. Struggling causes them to give up.
If you listen to any successful coach speak these days, they will mention “working the process” at some point during their talk. I always like to pay attention to how sports organizations are doing things because these are million or even billion dollar organizations. They are not going to spend money on something that does not work. A major shift in sports over the last 20 years is the shift to focusing on the process, not the outcome.
This shift is supported in Dweck’s research and should be utilized by parents too. Focus on the process and the results will come. When our daughters succeed or struggle, it is important for us to emphasize the process she used to achieve this outcome, not the outcome itself.
Did she try new strategies or seek input from others? If she struggled, we can remind her “Succeeding the first time should not be the goal. The goal should be to learn and get better.” Asking, “ What can you try differently next time you try?” can help her focus on the process instead of the outcome. This will help her growth mindset develop.
5. Help her understand the most successful people in the world have a growth mindset.
This Nike commercial by Michael Jordan is one of the most powerful examples of a growth mindset that exists. It exemplifies how our failures lead to some of our greatest successes. This is a key component of the growth mindset.
In his book, Start with Why, Simon Sinek gives several examples of people who understood failure was just part of the process. Without a growth mindset these people could not have persevered through all they did.
One of my favorite stories from the book is about the Wright brothers. Sinek explains the Wright brothers always took at least three sets of spare parts on their test flight adventures. They expected to crash, to fail. They were going to be prepared just the same. They weren’t going to let a little plane crash stop them from flying. What a great example of a growth mindset.
Both of these are historical examples, but the world is full of successful people who believe failure is part of the journey to greatness. Find one to be a role model for your daughter as she develops her own growth mindset.
Failure is hard, it is even harder on those with a fixed mindset. If we want our daughter to reach their full potential and learn to fail successfully, we must help them develop a growth mindset.
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