Whether you think you can, or think you can’t –you’re right

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I’ve been thinking quite a bit about mindset recently as I prepare to run my first public race.  Up until now I’ve plodded (literally) around local roads and lanes. Some days I’m confident I’ll complete the course in a reasonable time, whilst on others l fear I can’t make the distance. Why is it that sometimes I can run my usual route without any problem and other times really struggle? On occasions  I don’t even run the full circuit convincing  myself I don’t have the time, when in fact I’m just wanting to avoid the prospect of not getting round.  Is it really a failure if I have to walk for a little while? It was Henry Ford who said:

‘Whether you think you can, or think you can’t –you’re right’

Carol Dweck’s well documented research into Mindset has allowed her to distinguish two perspectives that people hold about their abilities with approximately 15% undecided. Her work suggests that these fixed or growth mindsets affect the goals people pursue, the way they respond to difficulty and how they do in school, work and life.

I like definitions they help me unpick what something actually means, but probably more importantly what it doesn’t mean. I like idioms too!

Mindset definition – The established set of attitudes held by someone

(Oxford Dictionaries Language Matters accessed 2016)GM 1

Those with a fixed mindset believe their intelligence/ability is fixed, challenges are avoided as to fail suggests they lack intelligence/ability. They believe effort is pointless if they don’t get it they must lack intelligence. Getting things wrong and receiving feedback is negative as it highlights limitations.

Those with a growth mindset believe intelligence can be developed. Challenges are embraced as they see them as a way to improve, effort is therefore seen as worthwhile. Getting things wrong and receiving feedback is seen as positive as it shows how to improve.

Dweck reports just knowing about these two mindsets means people start thinking and reacting in new growth mindset orientated ways. I hope this is what is happening to me. Pupils are shown to benefit from being made aware of mindsets and about the brain more generally. Sessions linked to mindset related learning have resulted in measurable differences in motivation, engagement and effort levels.

The Education Endowment Foundation published a report Changing Mindsets EEF based on a trial conducted by Portsmouth University. What is clear from this piece of work is that giving students an understanding of growth mindset has greater impact than the interventions focussed on teachers alone.

Pupils who received the growth mindset workshops made an average of two additional months progress in English this suggests promising positive evidence.

Good news – we know that our brains are changeable they have what neuroscientists call Neuroplasticity, they are able to change and adapt. An extremely important part of Dweck’s long term research is that the particular mindset a person has can change – either way!

How can we change our mindset?

Learn to hear your fixed mindset voice and recognise it for what it is.  Accept that you have a choice, how you interpret setbacks and criticism is up to you. Talk back with your growth mindset voice.

If your fixed mindset says

‘Are you sure you can do it, maybe you don’t have the ability/talent’

Your growth mindset answers

‘I am not sure I can do it now but I think I can learn with time and effort’

Basically there are two ways to think about a problem that is slightly too difficult for you to solve. Either you are not smart enough to solve it OR you just haven’t solved it yet.

Belief that qualities can be developed creates a passion for learning and I’m predicting for running too. I am limbering up my growth mindset voice, I will do my very best to complete the run in what will be my personal best.


UFA run Growth Mindset workshops, if this is something you’re interested in call us on 0121 766 8077 or email

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