1: Do we believe all meaningful problems are deeply rooted and difficult to change.”

David Yeager, a mindset researcher at the University of Texas at Austin, shares a story which reveals how deep people’s skepticism can run about the power of short interventions to improve people’s lives.

This week we’re examining multiple studies which show our mindset, or how we think about something, can have a profound impact on our well-being, longevity, and physical health as shared by Kelly McGonigal in The Upside of Stress.

On Monday, we looked at students who participated in a one-hour workshop where they learned if you feel like you don’t belong, you aren’t alone; most people feel that way in a new environment; and over time, this will change.  The one-time intervention improved the students’ academic performance, physical health, and happiness over the next three years, compared with students who had not been randomly selected to receive the intervention.

On Tuesday, we explored research which shows people who have a positive attitude about aging live 7.6 years longer.

Yesterday, we learned about housekeepers who participated in a 15-minute session where they learned they were burning 300 calories an hour by doing their work, the equivalent of weight lifting, water aerobics, or walking at 3.5 miles per hour. Over the next four weeks, they lost weight, had lower blood pressure, and even liked their jobs more.

What’s going on here?

Turns out our reality is determined by our mindset much more than we realize.

2: David’s story involves the second-lowest-income high school in the San Francisco Bay Area.  “The school had some of the lowest test scores in the state.  Almost three-quarters of its students were eligible for a free school lunch.  Many of them had gang affiliations, and 40 percent said they did not feel safe at school,” Kelly writes.

David taught a group of high school freshmen about the “growth mindset—the belief that people can change in significant ways.”  He did this by having the students read a short article introducing a few key ideas: Who you are now is not necessarily who you will be later in life; how people treat you or see you now is not necessarily a sign of who you really are or who you will be in the future; and people’s personalities can change meaningfully over time.

The students also read first-person accounts of upperclassmen describing the experiences that reflected this message of change.  Lastly, the students were asked to write a story about their own experiences of how people, themselves included, could change over time.

The intervention had a profound and lasting impact. 

“At the end of the school year, students who had received the intervention were more optimistic and less overwhelmed by the problems in their lives. They had fewer health problems and were less likely to become depressed than students who had been randomly assigned to a control group.

“A full 81 percent of the students who received the intervention passed their ninth-grade algebra class, compared with only 58 percent of students in the control group. The effect of the intervention on academic achievement was strongest for those whose mindset had changed the most. On average, these students began freshman year with a 1.6 GPA (equivalent to a C–) and ended with a 2.6 GPA (B–),” notes Kelly.

David is passionate about education.  Prior to becoming a researcher, he taught middle school English in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

He gave the school district all of the materials needed to continue offering the mindset intervention, but many schools failed to take action.  The idea that a thirty-minute intervention could alter the trajectory of a person’s life was too unlikely.

“People just don’t believe it’s real,” David said.

3: “That’s the thing about mindset interventions: They seem too good to be true,” Kelly notes. “They contradict a deeply held cultural belief about the process of change itself.  We believe that all meaningful problems are deeply rooted and difficult to change.”

Yes, many problems are deeply rooted, and yet the data is clear: “Small shifts in mindset can trigger a cascade of changes so profound that they test the limits of what seems possible,” says Kelly.  

“We are used to believing that we need to change everything about our lives first, and then we will be happy, or healthy, or whatever it is we think we want to experience.  

“The science of mindsets says we have it backward. Changing our minds can be a catalyst for all the other changes we want to make in our lives.”

More tomorrow.


Reflection:  Why did many of the schools fail to offer the Growth Mindset class?  How does this research on the power of mindset impact my life?

Action:  Journal about my answers to the questions above.

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