The Kinda Growth Mindset

There are two ways people view Intelligence. The first is with a Growth Mindset. A growth mindset is when you believe people’s abilities are mostly due to how much they worked at something. Not innate intelligence. People with a growth mindset believe that people’s abilities can change and that hard work will always beat talent.

On the other side, there is the Fixed Mindset. A person with a fixed mindset believes that talent and intelligence are mostly innate. Sure, dumb people can work hard and achieve something, but it won’t be as good as someone who was born gifted.

Research has shown that the growth mindset is probably more accurate although we still don’t know exactly how much genetics plays into intelligence. But as long you don’t have some mental disability, you can, for the most part, get as good at something as anyone else as long as you work hard in the right way.  (Obviously this is not true of some things requiring certain genetics like being in the WNBA)

Maybe more importantly, research has shown that people that have a growth mindset achieve much more than people with a fixed mindset. People that believe they can work hard and get better at something, do, and they end up much better off than the people that think everything is innate and intelligence is fixed.

Many people know about this and claim to have a growth mindset. Hard work is admired and praised, but at the same time hard work is also stigmatized. Despite everyone claiming to have a growth mindset, everyone also believes that hard work is for people whose raw abilities can’t cut it. Hard work is looked at paternalistically. People view hard work the same way suburban moms view vaccinations, the lesser people should do it and if no one did, everyone would probably be dead, but Baby Billy is just a little to good for it.

Pervasive in my high school seemed to be the secret equation everyone knew but no one would explicitly say

\text{Smartness in Subject} = \text{Grade}-\text{Time Studying}

I certainly found myself getting sucked into it. I would find sligh ways to humblebrag about how little time I spent studying for some test and then immediately hate myself for it. This is a big problem in our culture.Growth Mindset 1Growth Mindset 2Growth Mindset 3

So why, when we know better, when we know how toxic it can be to think this way, does this idea still progate? Let’s first look at what we actually believe. I think a lot of people think they have a growth mindset but what they actually have is a “Kinda Growth Mindset.”

Let us turn our imagination on for a second and use it to imagine Tamatha, we’ll call her Tammy for short. Tammy was an average gal. But, Tammy watched all five season of Breaking Bad three times in high school. As a result, Tammy was inspired to major in Chemistry in College. She fell in love with Chemistry, worked really hard, and graduated with honors. Currently Tamatha, sorry Tammy, is in the middle of a PhD program for organic chemistry at MIT. And she’s killing it.

Now, we can rate all possible beings with consciousness on a scale from one to ten on how good they are at chemistry.

chemistry-ratings.jpgCurrently Tammy is a 6.4.

So the question is, how much work will Tammy have to put in to get to the next level?

If you have a kinda growth mindset your first reaction is probably that it depends. How quickly does Tammy learn? How smart is Tammy? There is currently not enough information to tell how hard Tammy will have to work. But this is where the fallacy lies. Someone with a true growth mindset would tell you that how hard Tammy has to work to get to the next the level depends only on Tammy’s current level. Any person who has a rating of 6.4 has to work the amount to get to reach that big 7.

So someone with a Kinda Growth Mindset believes that people can work hard to increase their intelligence but they also believe how hard that person has to work depends on their innate intelligence. No matter how much someone has grown, a person with a Kinda Growth Mindset will think that the person who started out dumb will have to work much harder than someone who started out smart to progress further.

Now, I do want to clear something up. Being a 6.4 in chemistry doesn’t just mean that Tammy knows a lot of chemistry facts. That rating takes into account how well Tammy can reason, how fast she can think, and how much she truly understands chemistry at a deeper level. Another misconception about the growth mindset is that it says everyone starts off at the same level. (You are an obvious counterexample to this) Two six year olds both may have never learned any chemistry but one might be a 1.2 while the other is a 1.4. Whether this is due to genetics, environment as a baby or a combination of the two is unknown but the point is that some people can start out at a higher level. What makes someone have a growth mindset is that they believe anyone can become great at anything and how hard they have to work to get to the next level depends only on their current level.

The fact that some people can start at higher levels might seem discouraging to someone who is not naturally gifted. But actually, if you think this you are wrong. The thing is, it’s very difficult to go from good at chemistry to great at chemistry and even harder to go from great to extremely great, but to go from bad to good, not that much work. And no one’s innate abilities will really get them past being good at something. The above statement might not seem true. You tell yourself you have witnessed close friends, family, lovers, maybe even yourself, all try really hard to get something. Spend hours focusing and still end up feeling the a Mentally Retarded Walrus trying to memorize the periodic table. But this is because they/you are not working hard int the right way.  You might also point out that most geniuses started out gifted from an early age but 1) this is not always true and 2) them being good at it early encouraged them to work hard and get great.

We can finally return to answering the question “What has caused this stigma around working hard?”

1. It’s an excuse for dumb people.

It’s hard to be someone with no accomplishments surrounded by a bunch of assholes projecting a genius vibe. People’s ego’s naturally can’t accept that others are better than them so they make up excuses and “I don’t work hard” is an easy one. You are a really smart person bursting with potential but you chose to relax instead.


At first glance this view actually looks like the growth mindset. People are admitting that they are not smart because they didn’t work hard. But the people dicks who hold this view, believe that they are innately intelligent and hard work is just the vehicle that can express it. Of course, they are secure enough that they don’t feel the need to actually prove their potential.

2. It’s Verified by Empirical Evidence

Jane spends hours studying everyday while Tommy spends his free time licking ice cream. At the end, they have the same intelligence. This happens all the time in high school. Kids notice that while their classmates who study sometimes do better on tests they aren’t actually any smarter than their classmates who don’t study. Moreover, a lot of times the kids who don’t study end up doing better on tests. So what else can the kids conclude other than hard work is worthless and all intelligence is innate.

So what’s the real reason study students don’t make smart student? The answer lies in the fact that to increase your intelligence, you have to work hard in the right way. And studying for high school classes is not the right way. You memorize a bunch of facts without thinking a single thought. Our education system is so bad that upwards of 90%  of the material will never benefit anyone in any way. (This statistic was made up by me on the spot.) More on this in my upcoming post on our education system.

So not only does our education system apple fudge every student in America in all the ways we were aware of, it also helps propagate an unhealthy view of intelligence.

What’s This right way?

A lot depends on what the thing you are trying to get good at is. But for basically anything, you need to challenge yourself. But not too much. For example, if you want to get good at math, find problems that are difficult and make you think. A problem is the right difficulty if you stand approximately a 50% chance of solving it. A good litmus test is if you can’t accurately predict whether or not you will be able to solve it after looking at the problem for one minute it is a good problem.

In general you need to think about what you are weak at and deliberately design exercises to try to fix that. However you are practicing, always be aware of how that practice is helping you. Set goals and keep track of your progress. You’d be amazed at how often people spend so much of their time on something and never really improve. Okay, I’ll stop sounding like a self-help book and wrap this post up.

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