Does a growth mindset for students matter?
It definitely does.
The words and phrases you use as you talk to yourself shape the way you feel.
Your self-talk can make you feel discouraged, or it can lift you up.
As a student, it’s important to pay attention to the words you use as you talk to yourself and others about your frustrations and challenges.
Fixed mindset versus growth mindset
The view you adopt for yourself profoundly affects the way you lead your life. – Professor Carol Dweck, mindset researcher
Your thoughts are powerful.
So, what are you telling yourself? What stories about yourself are running on repeat?
Much of our understanding of the power of mindset comes from Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck.
In her research, Dweck discovered that our mindset can determine whether we become the person we want to be, and whether we achieve the goals we most desire.
Dweck outlined two mindsets:
Students with a fixed mindset believe their abilities and intelligence are fixed traits; you either have a specific talent or trait, or you don’t.
When you believe your qualities are carved in stone, you feel an urgency to continually prove that you’re worthy of success.
Students with a fixed mindset might say things like “I just can’t do sports” or “I just don’t get math”.
They’re likely to see a bad grade as a failure rather than as an opportunity to learn from their mistakes.
Students who have a growth mindset believe they can develop their talents and improve over time.
Maybe they’re not a “natural” at everything, but these students know that if they work hard enough, they can and will get better.
When students have a growth mindset, they also have a passion for learning. They know that it’s not the outcome but the journey of becoming a better student and person that matters.
When you cultivate a growth mindset, you build confidence. You don’t fear criticism or rejection, and you learn from your mistakes to continually maximise your potential.
You know that your effort is what’s important. Everything else — your intelligence, abilities, talents, and relationships — you can work to develop.
10 phrases that students with a growth mindset use
So, you’re ready to adopt a growth mindset.
What should you say to yourself to embrace this mindset?
Here are 10 phrases you can use to become a more successful and resilient student.
Give these phrases a try, then observe how your thoughts and behaviour begin to change.
1. “I get to” (don’t say “I have to”)
Instead of saying “I have to”, say “I get to”.
The words “I have to” create a feeling of annoyance. The task at hand will become a burden that you can’t escape from.
But if you say “I get to”, you’ll create a feeling of opportunity and gratitude. The task will seem like a privilege instead of a chore.
For example, don’t say to your parents that you have to take part in the school play. Instead, try saying: “I get to participate in the play and see if acting is something I enjoy.”
Notice the difference? Now, it’s not a burden; it’s an opportunity.
Here’s another example.
Instead of thinking to yourself, “I have to go to school”, try saying to yourself, “I get to go to school”.
You’ll instantly feel happier! You’ll also feel more motivated to go to school and to study.
You’ll also remember that millions of children and teenagers around the world want to go to school, but don’t have the opportunity to.
2. “I’ll figure it out” (don’t say “I can’t do it”)
There are very few things in life that you simply cannot do. You may need some help, or you may need more information.
Almost always, there’s a solution.
But when you say “I can’t do it”, it stops you from finding the solution.
So say “I’ll figure it out” instead, and you’ll see how this growth mindset for students makes you more successful and resilient!
3. “I learned something” (don’t say “I made a mistake”)
Mistakes are valuable lessons in disguise.
The more open you are to making mistakes, the faster you’ll learn.
But to do that, you have to start seeing mistakes as opportunities to learn.
Here’s a real-life example of someone with this attitude.
Thomas Edison famously made 10,000 failed attempts at inventing the light bulb before he succeeded.
When a reporter asked him how it felt to fail 10,000 times, Edison replied, “I didn’t fail 10,000 times. I didn’t even fail one time. I succeeded in proving that those 10,000 ways will not work.”
Mistakes are a vital part of the learning process. So, when you make a mistake, say to yourself: “I learned something.”
4. “I’m working on this” (don’t say “I’m bad at this”)
When you say “I’m bad at this”, you send a message to your brain that this is just the way you are. You’re telling yourself that it’s a permanent trait that you can’t change.
But this isn’t true.
The more you practise anything, the better you’ll get.
Look at anyone who’s good at a particular skill. For example, a ballerina, a guitarist, or an award-winning writer.
Those people are outstanding at what they do because they’ve put in thousands of hours of practice — they understand the importance of developing a growth mindset.
When you tell yourself “I’m working on it”, you’re reminding yourself that learning is a process that takes effort.
You’re also reminding yourself that if you keep at it, you’re sure to make progress.
5. “This will take some time” (don’t say “I’m not smart enough”)
As a student, you’ll come across something you don’t understand every day.
It might be a math equation, or it might be a word you don’t know the meaning of.
When you don’t understand something, it’s natural to think: “This is too hard — I’m not smart enough.”
Instead, try saying to yourself: “This is complicated — it will take some time to understand it.”
Let’s face it … some subjects are complicated and require you to study smarter.
But that doesn’t mean you’ll never master a certain topic. It just means that you need more time.
Keep persevering and the pieces of the puzzle will fall into place. Over time, you’ll become a better and more resilient student.
6. “I don’t” (don’t say “I can’t”)
A big part of being a successful student is learning to say no to temptations.
The first thing is to accept that temptations will arise.
The temptation to watch videos instead of studying. Or the temptation to stay up late, when you know you should go to bed.
What’s important is how you deal with such temptations.
Research has shown that the way we talk to ourselves plays a big role in how we deal with temptations.
For example, you might say to yourself: “I can’t watch TV because I haven’t finished my homework.”
This kind of self-talk tends to increase the level of temptation because it focuses your attention on something you can’t do (watch TV).
Instead, try saying to yourself: “I don’t watch TV until I’ve finished my homework.”
Do you notice the difference?
Instead of feeling restricted, the second statement makes you feel powerful and in control. The temptation has suddenly shrunk in size.
Because now you have the power, not the temptation. So start developing the habit of saying “I don’t” instead of “I can’t”!
7. “I will” (don’t say “I should”)
Instead of saying that you should do something, try saying that you will do it. This is a hallmark of a growth mindset for students.
One problem with saying “I should” is that it can easily turn into wishful thinking. You aren’t making a commitment to take positive action.
That’s why it’s better to replace “should” statements with “will” statements.
- Instead of saying “I should exercise more often”, try saying “I will exercise more often”.
- Instead of saying “I should manage my time better”, try saying “I will manage my time better”.
- Instead of saying “I should pay attention in class”, try saying “I will pay attention in class”.
“Will” statements empower you to make a change. On the other hand, “should” statements trap you in a state of inaction.
8. “How can I keep improving?” (don’t say “I’m already good at this”)
When you think about your performance in different subjects or activities, you might be tempted to say, “I’m already good at this.”
But it’s better to say to yourself, “How can I keep improving?”
Let’s say you’re one of the best writers in your class. If you tell yourself that you’re already a good writer, so you don’t need to practise more, then you won’t maximise your potential.
But if you focus on improving, then you’ll become an even better writer.
The process is what counts, and there’s always room for improvement.
It’s by understanding this principle that world-class performers become the best in their field.
9. “I’ll find out” (don’t say “I don’t know”)
When you don’t know the answer to something, instead of saying “I don’t know”, try saying “I’ll find out”.
With the Internet, there’s never been another time in human history when it’s been so easy to gain access to knowledge. (Take this article on the importance of a growth mindset for students as an example!)
If you adopt this “I’ll find out” mindset, you’ll enlarge the horizons of your knowledge.
But if you say “I don’t know”, you’ll close the door to expanding your mind.
10. “This is a challenging opportunity” (don’t say “This is a problem”)
In your life as a student, you’ll face problems that seem insurmountable.
Imagine that you’ve prepared a speech to give to your class. At the last minute, you realise that you’ve lost your notes.
You’ll be delivering the speech in three minutes.
What will you do?
Instead of seeing the situation as a problem, look at it as a challenging opportunity.
Because you don’t have your notes, you’ll speak more spontaneously. You’ll also make more eye contact with your audience.
Your teacher might even congratulate you on giving a fantastic speech! And it’s all because you turned a problem into a challenging opportunity.
Language is powerful
Here’s a table that sums up the key points of this article on the value of a growth mindset for students:
Student life is full of challenges.
The words you use when you talk about these challenges affect the way you deal with them.
Language is powerful because it shapes the way we think. In our self-talk, we all have a tendency to use words that limit our ability to deal with challenges.
The next time you face a challenge, change the words you use to talk about it. Use the positive phrases listed in this article and observe the difference it makes.
You’ll gain a sense of power and develop a success mindset, one phrase at a time. You’ll become a better student who’s more resilient too.
I encourage you to get started today!
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