Two ten-year-olds are placed into two separate rooms. They are both given the same puzzle. It is a three dimensional puzzle with very few instructions. They are told that they can have as much time as they would like to work on the puzzle.

The first ten-year-old stares at the box. He opens it up and then sighs. “I will never be able to figure this out.” He closes the box and tells the adult outside that he is ready to go.

The second ten-year-old stares at the box. He opens it up and takes all of the pieces out. Then, he stares at the box again. “I love a challenge!” he says. He starts experimenting with the different pieces – which kinds fit together. Then, he goes back to the pictures on the box. He looks for instructions. He turns the pieces over. After a half-hour, he has managed to put together a few of the pieces, and gradually begins working at a faster pace. Much later, he finishes and admires his fully built puzzle.

What’s the difference between the first and second ten-year-old? Is the first lazy? Is the second one just smarter than the first? Carol Dweck, a professor of Psychology and author of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, explains that there is something very important about the differences between the boys. It’s not that one is lazy or the other smarter, rather one has a fixed mindset and the other has a growth mindset.

Dweck’s research reveals that people have views about themselves that change the way they interact with others, respond to failure, and deal with challenges. These views about themselves are labeled mindsets: the view you adopt for yourself.

  • Fixed. If you have a fixed mindset, you believe that your qualities are carved in stone. You believe that you have a certain amount of intelligence, a certain personality, and a certain moral character. This creates an urge to prove yourself over and over again.

  • Growth. The growth mindset is based on the belief that your basic qualities are things that can cultivate through your efforts. This mindset is founded on the idea that you can change and grow through application and experience. This means your true potential is unknown and therefore anything can be accomplished through hard work and passion.

This idea of a growth mindset can also be called the “power of yet.” In other words, you are not there yet, but you can get there. Dweck argues that the power of yet is in direct contrast to the “tyranny of now.” If you believe that you can grow and learn, you have the power of yet on your side. In contrast, if you feel that your intelligence is fixed and cannot be changed, you are stuck in the “now,” with no possibility of a “yet.” There is a high school in Chicago that lists students failing grades as “not yet,” rather than “fail,” indicating to students that they can succeed, they just are not there yet.

Are we raising our children for now or yet?

We all want our children to dream big dream. We want them to believe in the power of yet. We want them to see problems as challenges, not as crises. Research has shown that our mindsets are not set in stone. In other words, you can move from having a fixed mindset to having a growth mindset. But, how can we do this?

  • Praise wisely. Instead of praising intelligence or talent, praise the process that children engage in. Praise for effort. Praise for improvement. This will help children gain resilience and strength. If they understand that the process is important and not just the product, they will be more likely to engage in difficult activities in the future.

  • Reward the “yet.” As parents and teachers, we tend to reward the finished product. “You finished your project. You got an A.” “You cleaned up your whole room. You get a sticker on your chart.” Instead, reward for effort, strategy and process. Give rewards for thinking about how to tackle problems and for the work that is done. This will eventually create more engagement for long periods of time, and generally more persistence in difficult tasks.

  • Teach children that they can change. Show them how the brain works and how new connections are made everyday (if you need some help understanding neurons and their connections, don’t shy away from a challenge!). Teach them that they have the ability to gain skills and intelligence.

  • Use the words “yet” and “not yet.” Instead of saying “you didn’t do it,” say “you didn’t do it yet.” This allows children to understand that they can accomplish what they hope to do; they just aren’t there yet.

Educators and parents who create growth mindsets make things happen. The meaning of effort and difficulty are transformed. Rather than difficulty making children run, it makes them think. If we all work on cultivating a growth attitude, we can grow and thrive. Now that’s a challenge I’m willing to accept!