Increase Effort: Learn About It

What Is a Growth Mindset?

Teenage girl looking away from cameraMany people believe that intelligence is set at birth and does not change much over one’s life.4 However, researcher Carol Dweck has shown that young people’s beliefs about their intelligence are important. That is because these attitudes affect how much effort young people put into school and life.1

Why Does It Matter?

Young people who believe they can’t increase their intelligence have a fixed mindset. They are less likely to try new challenges and work hard in school.

In contrast, people with a growth mindset believe that their intelligence can increase with effort. They are more likely to embrace challenges because they see mistakes and failure as chances to learn and improve.1

Growth vs. Fixed Mindset

Carol Dweck and her colleague describe the differences between a growth mindset and a fix mindset in this way:

Because students with a fixed mindset believe that their intellectual ability is a limited entity, they tend to worry about proving it rather than improving it. . . . They are often full of concerns about their ability, and this can lead, in the face of challenges and setbacks, to destructive thoughts (e.g., “I failed because I’m dumb”), feelings (such as humiliation), and behavior (giving up). By contrast, students with a growth mindset will often perceive the identical challenge or setback in an entirely different light—as an opportunity to learn. As a result, they respond with constructive thoughts (e.g. “Maybe I need to change strategy or try harder”), feelings (such as the excitement of a challenge), and behavior (persistence). This mindset allows students to transcend momentary setbacks to focus on long-term learning.3

Mindsets Can Change

The good news is, young people can shift from a fixed to a growth mindset. Explain to them that the brain is like a muscle. It gets stronger with mental effort. Praise kids when they work hard and choose good strategies to solve problems. Also, praise them for seeking help when they need it.

How we praise. In contrast, we encourage a fixed mindset when we praise young people for getting the right answer quickly. Dweck shows how certain ways of praising reinforce a fixed mindset:

  • The parent says, “You learned that so quickly! You’re so smart!” That leads the young person to think, “If I don’t learn something quickly, I’m not smart.”
  • The parent says, “Look at that drawing. You must be the next Picasso.” That causes the young person to think, “I shouldn’t try drawing anything hard or they’ll see I’m no Picasso.”
  • The parent says, “You’re so brilliant, you got an A without even studying!” As a result, the young person thinks, I’d better quit studying or they won’t think I’m brilliant.”1

Encouraging a Growth Mindset

Carol Dweck also quotes some familiar phrases that emphasize a growth mindset and rewrites them as phrases that encourage a fixed mindset1:

Growth Mindset Version Fixed Mindset Version
“Nothing ventured, nothing gained” “Nothing ventured, nothing lost”
“If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again” “If at first you don’t succeed, you probably don’t have the ability.”


To learn more about growth and fixed mindsets, download the Strengthening the Brain handout in English or Spanish here.

Next Steps

  • Take the quiz to better understand how your child might be thinking about intelligence.
  • Talk about increasing effort with your kids and other parenting adults.

Research Sources

1. Dweck, C. S. (2007). Mindset: The new psychology of success. New York: Random House.

2. Dweck, C. S., & Master, A. (2009). Self-theories and motivation: Students’ beliefs about intelligence. K. Wentzel & A. Wigfield (Eds.), Handbook on Motivation at School (pp. 123-140). New York: Routledge.

3. Dweck, C., Walton, G., & Cohen, G. (2011). Academic tenacity: Mindsets and skills that promote long-term learning (working paper). Seattle, WA: Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

4. Nelson-Le Gall, S., & Resnick, L. (1998). Help seeking, achievement motivation, and the social practice of intelligence in school. In S. Karabenick (Ed.), Strategic help seeking: Implications for learning and teaching (pp. 39-60). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.