Hans Rosling is probably my favorite optimist, both because he bases his views on huge data sets AND he’s a hoot. Here’s his latest TED Talk. Take his quiz. I bet you’re dumber than a chimp.
If there’s one scientific finding that gives me the most hope it is neuroplasticity. The mind is a muscle. “Neurons that fire together, wire together.” We once thought that you’re stuck with the brain you’re born with. Now we know that mental exercise, especially vigorous and challenging exercise, makes the mind stronger and smarter. You can improve your brain and your performance.
I found this article from New York Magazine as I searched for cogent, well-written articles that explain Carol Dweck’s “Growth Mindset” theory. From the findings of her research, Dweck believes that there are two different ways a person can look at her abilities: a “Fixed Mindset” or a “Growth Mindset.” Someone with a Fixed Mindset might believe a statement like “I am smart” or “I’m a terrible tennis player.” A person with a fixed mindset doesn’t believe in much progress: you’re either good at something or you’re bad.
People who have a Growth Mindset believe that if they give a task enough focused, quality effort, they’ll be able to achieve a goal. Someone with a Growth Mindset might say, “I didn’t do well because I didn’t study enough,” or “My free throws have improved because I practiced long and hard.” Success or failure depends on effort, not innate talent.
Dweck and others in her field have studied these mindsets and the findings are clear: People with a Growth Mindset are more successful than people with a Fixed Mindset. The Fixed Mindset can be especially pernicious to the very intelligent, who often balk at potential failure because they want to protect their self-image: I’m smart. Smart people don’t fail.
The upshot is that talent is developed, not created. Yes, some people seem to find some things easier, but behind every great performer is hours and hours and hours of high quality practice. The hurdles in front of us may be daunting, but we can leap over most of them if we are committed to success and the effort required to get there.