The “growth mindset” states that our skills and talents can be improved through effort - they are not inborn and fixed in stone.
This construct was defined by Professor Carol Dweck, after years of researching what made some students more successful than others.
This is a wonderfully liberating and powerful construct.
It means we are not stuck forever being “bad at maths” or “bad with spreadsheets” - with a bit of study and application, we can change our skill level and become good at these things.
So at its essence, the growth mindset is exactly that, a “mindset” - ie a way of thinking, which we can choose to adopt.
However, it actually goes deeper than this.
The “growth mindset” mirrors the findings of neuroscience.
It used to be thought that our brains were fixed, biologically.
They were pre-determined by our genes, and the brain that we were born with was the brain we would die with.
Everything controlled by our brain - from our ability to think critically, to our capacity to learn languages, to our ability to undertake complex physical movement - was fixed.
The first evidence of what later would be called “neuroplasticity” dates from as early as 1793.
A Italian anatomist Michele Vicenzo Malacarne undertook lengthy experiments where he trained animals for years, then compared the brain of a trained animal with an animal of the same species that had not had the training.
Through dissection he found that the part of the brain that relates to muscular activity (the cerebellum) was significantly larger in the animals who had been trained.
But these findings were not taken further scientifically until the early 20th century.
Then the evidence that the brain could change its biological function slowly gathered:
experiments on monkeys showed changes in their brain biology over time (Karl Lashley, 1923);
research into stroke victims indicated a healthy part of the brain had taken over the function of some of the damaged part (Shepherd Ivory Franz, c.1902);
and, my favourite, a study into the brains of London taxi drivers (in the pre-sat nav era of “the Knowledge), which showed evidence of changes in their hippocampus (the part of the brain responsible for memory) in comparison with controls (Eleanor Maguire, 1997).
By the 1960s the term “neural plasticity” had emerged.
Over the next forty years the research gathered pace.
And in 2016 one of the foremost scientists in this field received the Kavli Prize for Neuroscience "for the discovery of mechanisms that allow experience and neural activity to remodel brain function”.
It is clear: the brain’s biological make-up actually changes throughout your life, depending on your experiences and your thoughts.
So what does this mean for you?
1. Learning something new will get easier over time
As you start to learn something new, your brain adapts to this.
So the hardest bit of learning something new is getting started - as you start making those changes in your brain.
Once you’ve started, it will get easier!
Those changes will make it easier for you not only to learn, but to retain that knowledge.
So when you’re stuck facing a new challenge, be persistent: it will get easier.
2. You can train your brain into positive pathways
When you think a thought, neural pathways fire in your brain.
The more often you think a thought, the more efficient these pathways become (the synapses literally move closer together).
Which means you are more likely to think this thought in the future.
So make these thoughts good, positive ones!
Get yourself in the habit of spotting when you are heading down a repetitive negative thought cycle, and instead choose to think something positive.
Eventually you will train your brain out of that negative thought cycle (and those neural pathways will get weaker), and instead you will develop a positive thought cycle, based on positive neurology.
3. You can teach an old dog new tricks!
Yes, neuroplasticity does fade with age - the developing brain is inevitably going to be more plastic than an adult brain.
But the brain’s capacity to develop and change stays until you die.
So it’s never too late to learn a new skill, or start a new career!
So the growth mindset is not just a mindset after all - it is a biological reality.
Use the amazing power of neuroplasticity to shape your brain to give you the life and career you want!