Why are some people more resilient than others?

Answer by Sandra Liu Huang:

Stanford Department of Psychology professor Carol Dweck has done extensive research on what she calls "mindsets" and there are two primary types:

  1. Fixed mindset: people who believe abilities are innate. You are just talented in an area or you're not.
  2. Growth mindset: people who believe abilities are developed. You can learn and grow yourself.

People with a growth mindset are more resilient to challenges related to their abilities and performance than those with a fixed mindset.

As to what leads people to these different perspectives, a lot of media in recent years has cited Dweck's work on this with respect to parenting. In the American culture of positive reinforcement, praise is often the main socially acceptable way to encourage your kids. However, Dweck's studies have suggested that the type of praise you receive can strongly impact whether you end up with a fixed or growth mindset.

An excerpt where Dweck references one of her earlier papers on effects of praising innate qualities versus effort and process (http://www.stanford.edu/dept/psy…):

People can also learn these self-theories from the kind of praise they receive (Mueller & Dweck, 1998). Ironically, when students are praised for their intelligence, they move toward a fixed theory. Far from raising their self-esteem, this praise makes them challenge-avoidant and vulnerable, such that when they hit obstacles their confidence, enjoyment, and performance decline. When students are praised for their effort or strategies (their process), they instead take on a more malleable theory— they are eager to learn and highly resilient in the face of difficulty.

Thus self-theories play an important (and causal role) in challenge seeking, self-regulation, and resilience, and changing self-theories appears to result in important real-world changes in how people function.

People who were praised more for their innate skills can end up focused on maintaining this "self-image," afraid to fail. These aren't those who value and become resilient.

Another excerpt from an article Dweck writes about mindsets and coping with setbacks (http://champions.stanford.edu/perspectives/the-mindset-of-a-champion/):

It will come as no surprise that the mindsets lead to different ways of coping with difficulty. Because in the fixed mindset, setbacks are seen as indicating a lack of ability, this mindset often leaves people few good ways of reacting to setbacks. In one study (Blackwell, et al, 2005), we found that those with a fixed mindset were more likely to say that if they did poorly on a test—even if it were in a new course and one they liked a lot—they would study less in the future and would seriously consider cheating. This is how people cope when they think setbacks mean they lack permanent ability. In contrast, those students with a growth mindset said they would study more or study differently. They planned to take charge of the situation and work to overcome the setback.

When the going gets rough, people in the growth framework not only take charge of improving their skills, they take charge of their motivation as well (cf. Grant, 2004). Despite setbacks—or even because of them—they find ways to keep themselves committed and interested. Instead, students with a fixed framework lose interest as they lose confidence. As the difficulty mounts, their commitment and enjoyment go down. Since all important endeavors involve setbacks sooner or later (more likely, sooner and later), it is a serious liability to lose interest and enjoyment just when you need greater effort.

Putting it all together, this means that a fixed mindset leads people to value looking good over learning, to disdain and to fear effort, and to abandon effective strategies just when they need them most. A growth mindset, on the other hand, leads people to seek challenges and learning, to value effort, and to persist effectively in the face of obstacles.

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2 thoughts on “Why are some people more resilient than others?

  1. Tiffani

    This article makes perfect sense, but leaves off without suggestions for overcoming a “fixed mindset.” What is their prognosis? Is their mindset fixed?


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