Friday, October 9, 2015

Entity and Incremental Learning

From Business Insider
I've been on a bit of a psychological kick lately digging into books like "Bounce" and "Thinking Fast and Slow" - which is quickly becoming one of my favorites and, by far, one of the most informative I've ever come across.  "Bounce" mentions some of the work of Carol Dweck, who was the author of "Mindset", which contains some mind blowing information on how our minds work and how we can condition them to focus on success.

While her book was a great read, I had forgotten - or, more likely, didn't yet understand - how enlightening her concepts really were.  That was until a couple of months ago.  Not only did her writing continue to pop up in a number of books I had been reading, but my son was born.  After seeing how fast little babies pick up new habits and how quickly they learn, I began to think about the best way to raise him from a psychological standpoint to empower him to live the best life he possibly can.  I remembered Dweck and gave myself a refresher of her teachings, which took on an entirely different meaning than the first time I plowed through "Mindset". 

One of the tenets of "Mindset" was the distinction between entity and incremental learning.  Entity learning was the belief that brainpower and intelligence were innate and could not be improved.  It gave the individual a sense of entitlement.  On the opposite end of the spectrum was incremental learning:  the belief that "the novice can become the master" (quoted from "The Art of Learning").  Empowering! 

Dweck ran a number of studies that proved her theory.  In one such experiment, a group of fifth graders were given a set of problems.  After they finished, half of the group was praised for their intelligence, while the rest of the group was praised for their hard work.  They were offered another set of problems - some easy, some difficult.  The students praised for their intelligence chose the easy problems, concerned that they had a reputation to uphold.  The students praised for their hard work chose to take on the challenging problems. 

Next, the students were given very difficult problems to work on.  The "entity" learners quit quickly, but the "incremental" learners kept working, believing that there was something to be learned from this challenge.  Finally, they were all given problems of relative ease, similar to the first problems they were given.  Surprisingly, the "entity" learners did worse than the first time they worked the problems - their confidence was shot.  The "incremental" learners still did well.

This is but one example of her experiments, but the evidence is overwhelming.  This doesn't just apply to fifth graders or infants, but to each of us on a daily basis.  What limits us in reaching our potential is an entity mindset.  "Oh, he's smarter than me, which is why he got the promotion."  "I just don't have the brainpower to do what she has done."  "I'm just not a numbers guy; I couldn't have achieved such a thing."  What?  Why?  Simply excuses. 

Once we get rid of the excuses and realize what our brain is capable of - and embrace the incremental mindset - the sky is the limit.  Failure is no longer a shot to our ego, but a learning opportunity. 

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