You Don’t “Find” Your Passion in Life, You Actively Develop It, Explains Psychologist Carol Dweck, Theorist of the “Growth Mindset”

You might spend your whole life try­ing to find your life’s pas­sion, or pas­sive­ly hop­ing it comes to you. Many have done so and, trag­i­cal­ly, have nev­er dis­cov­ered it. Were they look­ing for pur­pose in all the wrong places? Maybe. Or maybe the idea that our life’s call­ing waits out there for us to find—like the fairy tale notion of a one true per­fect love—is kind of crap. That’s not how Stan­ford psy­chol­o­gists Car­ol Dweck and Gre­go­ry Wal­ton put it, exact­ly, but their research sug­gests that “the adage so com­mon­ly advised by grad­u­a­tion speak­ers,” as Stan­ford News reports, “might under­mine how inter­ests actu­al­ly devel­op.”

In oth­er words, when peo­ple think of inter­ests or tal­ents as “fixed qual­i­ties that are inher­ent­ly there,” they are more like­ly to give up on pur­suits when they encounter dif­fi­cul­ty, believ­ing they aren’t des­tined for suc­cess. Work­ing with data acquired by Stan­ford post­doc­tor­al fel­low Paul O’Keefe (now at Yale), Dweck and Wal­ton explained some recent research find­ings in a paper titled “Implic­it The­o­ries of Inter­est: Find­ing Your Pas­sion or Devel­op­ing it?” The arti­cle is forth­com­ing in Psy­cho­log­i­cal Sci­ence, and you can read a PDF ver­sion online.

The paper describes five stud­ies on “implic­it the­o­ries of inter­est” and con­trasts a fixed the­o­ry with a “growth the­o­ry” of inter­est, an idea that comes out of Dweck’s pri­or research on what she calls a “growth mind­set.” She has pub­lished a best­selling book on the sub­ject and giv­en very pop­u­lar talks on what she calls in her TED appear­ance in Swe­den above “the pow­er of yet”—a phrase she derives from a high school in Chica­go that gave stu­dents the grade of “not yet” when they hadn’t suc­cess­ful­ly passed a course. This hope­ful assess­ment encour­aged them to keep try­ing rather than to think of them­selves as fail­ures.

Dweck tells her TED audi­ence about giv­ing a group of ten-year-olds’ prob­lems she knew would be too hard for them to solve. Those with a “growth mind­set” respond­ed with excite­ment, eager for a chal­lenge and the oppor­tu­ni­ty to expand their capa­bil­i­ties. The kids who had a “fixed mind­set” crum­pled, feel­ing like they had been judged and come up want­i­ng. “Instead of lux­u­ri­at­ing in the pow­er of yet,” says Dweck, “they were gripped in the tyran­ny of now.” Chil­dren thus “tyr­an­nized” by feel­ings of fail­ure might be more like­ly to cheat rather than study, make down­ward com­par­isons to boost feel­ings of self-worth, or become avoidant and “run from dif­fi­cul­ty.”

These strate­gies are even vis­i­ble in images of brain activ­i­ty. None of them, of course, will lead to progress. But Dweck claims that the prob­lem is endem­ic to a gen­er­a­tion of peo­ple who need con­stant val­i­da­tion and who fold when they meet chal­lenges. So how can par­ents and teach­ers help kids become more growth-ori­ent­ed or, in Dweck’s lin­go, build “the bridge to yet”? Her rec­om­men­da­tions may not sound that rev­o­lu­tion­ary to those who have fol­lowed the back­lash against the well-mean­ing but mis­guid­ed “self-esteem move­ment” of the past few decades.

For one thing, prais­ing effort, rather than intel­li­gence or tal­ent, will help kids devel­op more resilience and val­ue ongo­ing process over instant results. Judi­cious appli­ca­tions of “good try!” go much far­ther than rep­e­ti­tions of “you’re bril­liant and amaz­ing!” Dweck’s oth­er strate­gies involve a sim­i­lar focus on process and progress. Unsur­pris­ing­ly, when we believe we can change and improve, we are far more like­ly to work at devel­op­ing tal­ent, instead of assum­ing we’ve either got it or we don’t, an unsci­en­tif­ic and self-defeat­ing way of think­ing that has done a lot of peo­ple need­less harm. Dweck and her col­leagues show that our life’s pas­sion isn’t a ful­ly-formed thing out there wait­ing for us, or an inborn, immutable qual­i­ty, but rather it comes as the result of patient and per­sis­tent efforts.

via Stan­ford News

Relat­ed Con­tent:

What Is Pro­cras­ti­na­tion & How Can We Solve It? An Intro­duc­tion by One of the World’s Lead­ing Pro­cras­ti­na­tion Experts

What Are the Keys to Hap­pi­ness?: Take “The Sci­ence of Well-Being,” a Free Online Ver­sion of Yale’s Most Pop­u­lar Course

Why Incom­pe­tent Peo­ple Think They’re Amaz­ing: An Ani­mat­ed Les­son from David Dun­ning (of the Famous “Dun­ning-Kruger Effect”)

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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