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Your potential​ to learn

Is our potential to learn fixed, or can we develop our own ability to learn? This is a question that many people have asked and there are two central answers to this question. This first is your intelligence is fixed from birth; this is known as a fixed mindset. The second answer is the growth mindset, believes your intelligence can change.

Growth mindset is a theory or learning which was developed by Carol Dweck. She believed that everyone has the potential to learn and that there is no fixed endpoint to our intellectual development. However, what we think about our ability to learn is also very important.

Many people previously believed that a person’s level of intelligence is already fixed by the time they were born. This means that there is little scope for us to develop beyond our innate intellectual abilities. If we make a mistake, there is no point learning from it, because we have reached our potential.

The growth mindset is a belief that our intellectual ability can change. It can change and develop over time. Success is based on learning, persistence and handwork. Making a mistake is not a failure; it is an opportunity to learn, and opportunity for us to grow.

Growth Mindset means that everyone has potential. Dweck (2008) says“A person true potential is unknown. It’s impossible to foresee what can be accomplished with years of passion, toil and training” [1]

Adopting the growth mindset creates a passion for learning, as people are not discouraged by failure [2]. People with a fixed mindset, often don’t want to appear as a failure, so will often not chose to carry out tasks where there is a chance that they will fail. Every situation that they are in and how they handle it is a confirmation of their intelligence. People with a fixed mindset are always seeking approval from others. They don’t want to admit to others their imperfections so that they won't judge them.

When a child is learning, and they do something right. The teacher, a caregiver, will often praise the person, by saying something like “well done” confirming to the child that because they got something correct, then they are good. Instead, to develop a growth mindset, praising the strategy the child used; by saying something like “that was an excellent technique you used to do that.” By emphasising the of the success or failure of a task on the strategy used by the child. You are saying that child isn’t a success or a failure, but that they know the right tools to get the correct results [2].

Dweck in a study [2] that looks the brain waves of participants as they answered difficult questions and received feedback, not their answers. She found that those that had a fixed mindset were only interested in hearing feedback on whether they got the answer correct. They weren’t interested in understanding how they could learn and improve. They also showed little interest in hearing the right answer if they got the question wrong. On the other hand, those with a growth mindset were interested in understanding how they could learn and improve; however, they answered the question. They were interested in their learning rather than how they were a success or failure.

Developments in neuroscience in recent years has shown us how the brain can change with experience [3]. As we practice a new task, neural networks grow new connections and strengthen existing ones. (see the previous blog on “What playing a musical instrument can do to your body”)

As you can see, your ability to learn is not fixed, but helps, hinders it, is your mindset to learning.


[1] Dweck, Carol S.. Mindset: The New Psychology Of Success. New York : Ballantine Books, 2008.



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