What's the best way to believe in yourself?According to Stanford psychology professor Carol Dweck, working up to one's potential requires a growth mindset, i.e., the belief that one's abilities are malleable and can improve.
This is in contrast to a fixed mindset, i.e., the belief that one's abilities are inborn and fixed and, therefore, one is basically helpless in the face of skill deficits, such as poor public speaking or written communication.
Fixed Mindset vs. Growth Mindset
(Nigel Holmes [pdf])
Fortunately, there is good evidence that it is quite realistic to believe that one can improve one's abilities. What's needed are challenging opportunities to acquire experience in specific fields, which, over time, develops into deep expertise.
Most of Dweck's work has been directed at school students. For example, she and a colleague, Lisa Blackwell, have recently launched Brainology, a computer-based training program for middle school and high school students aimed at producing better academic outcomes by imbuing students with a growth mindset.
Dweck's research has demonstrated that students with a growth mindset have higher motivation to learn. When this heightened motivation is coupled with plenty of good instruction and practice, the students show solid increases in achievement.
A corollary of Dweck's findings concerning the importance of a growth mindset is the idea that trying to build students' belief in themselves by telling them how smart they are is not helpful. Doing this can, in fact, lead to worsened performance. Students are demotivated to undertake learning tasks at which they may initially fail because they're afraid their "native" intelligence will be called into question.
A much better approach to building students' belief in themselves is helping those with a fixed mindset to convert to a growth mindset.
The Brainology program is an example of how to achieve this conversion. It consists of an introduction and four units. In sum (pdf), the four units cover:
Unit 1 basics of brain structure and function, particularly what is required to maintain readiness to learn.
Unit 2 brain behavior, how it functions, effect of emotions (e.,g., performance anxiety), and strategies to manage emotions (e.g., strategies for handling tests calmly).
Unit 3 how learning changes the brain, and what sort of activities promote learning. You can exercise your brain "by exploring new information, learning new concepts, and practicing skills. [P]ractice is the key to learning."
Unit 4 how memory works, and study strategies to apply the Brainology lessons in real life. "[I]nformation moves from working memory to long-term memory through a process called encoding. In order for encoding to happen you must pay attention, attach new information to existing information that supports it, and repeat the information. [O]ther mnemonics (memory strategies) include connecting information together by chunking, visual images and acronyms."
Organizations that want to cultivate learning-oriented behavior among their employees are well-advised to encourage a growth mindset, accompanied by opportunities to build experience. In practice, this means that a company's performance management system should give heavy weight to skill development, with lesser weight placed on grading employees in order to make compensation and retention decisions.