Many notable historical figures struggled on their road to success. For example, Albert Einstein had difficulty counting to ten as a child and, as a teen, he failed his initial college entrance exam (which he successfully passed a year later). So what was it about Einstein that helped him persevere to become the most respected physicist of all time?

According to Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck, it could be his mindset. Dweck attributes people’s ability to succeed, in part, to whether they have a fixed or growth mindset. Educators and parents are starting to use her insights to support children to develop mindsets that will help them succeed from the earliest years through their entire life.

Fixed Mindset: “I’m not good at math”Growth-versus-Fixed-mindset

People with fixed mindsets believe that natural talent is a determining factor for success. Either you’ve got it or you don’t. Those with fixed mindsets may say, “I’m bad at English, so I’ll never be a good writer,” or, “I failed my Algebra 2 course, so I’ll never make it in Precalculus.” This mindset can lead students to avoid challenges or to be threatened by the success of others. When they experience a setback like a bad grade on a test, they think it means they aren’t smart and never will be good at that subject.

Growth Mindset: “This is challenging, but I’m going to figure it out”

People with growth mindsets, on the other hand, tend to think the opposite. Rather than allowing innate abilities to determine how well they perform in the real world, these individuals believe that natural talents can be developed and transformed into something greater through effort. Those with growth mindsets tend to demonstrate a drive to learn, train and develop despite obstacles that may be in their way.

Not strong in English? No problem. Those with growth mindsets will likely reach out to tutors and request extra help from teachers to build proficiency. Failed Algebra 2? A student with a growth mindset may use tools on the internet to gain better understanding of the subject matter for the second time around.

So what does this mean for you and your child? Fostering a growth mindset in your child may give them the push that they need to beat the odds and succeed no matter the obstacle. As Khan Academy puts it in this great video, “Nobody’s born smart. We all start at 0.”

Learn more

You can learn more about Carol Dweck’s research on mindsets and how to support your child in her book.

This toolkit for parents helps you put the research to work with your own family.