3. Growth mindset

The magic ingredient for both learners and teachers

This is part 3 of a multi-part series in which I outline a framework for teaching code. The full table of contents can be found here

The next piece of the puzzle is the Growth Mindset.

It's quite a well-known subject in popular psychology, if you haven't heard about it yet, then I highly recommend that you look into it. It might just change your life.

This article will give an overview of the theory and its application in education. But there is quite a lot to know, and I do encourage whoever is reading this to do a bit of extra learning on their own.

Opposing mindsets

There are two different mindsets that live on different ends of a spectrum: Fixed mindset and growth mindset.

A person with a fixed mindset believes that "you either have it or you don't," whereas a person with a growth mindset believes they can grow and learn.

Now, it's pretty obvious that one can grow and learn, right? Otherwise, you would not be here, reading this article. That said, a rational belief might not be held at a deeper level. For example, a person might 100% rationally believe that crickets (the insect) are in no way dangerous but then have a minor (or major) freak out whenever one is close by.

Growth and fixed mindsets affect people on that same deep, involuntary level.

Fixed mindset

If a person has a fixed mindset and they fail at a thing, then they believe they are the type of person who fails at that thing. For example, if they fail a math test, they will embody the belief that "I am not good at math."

This leads to a few unproductive behaviors:

  • giving up: Why even try if I am not good at math?
  • not taking on new challenges: failures hurt because they hit a person right in the identity
  • judging others harshly: If someone else failed a math test, then they just don't have what it takes
  • fearing judgment from others, so if they need help, they are less willing to ask for it

People with a fixed mindset stunt their growth and development.

Growth mindset

If a person with a growth mindset fails a math test, they will think along the following lines: Maybe I should study harder, maybe I should study differently, maybe there is something I am not quite getting and I should revisit my earlier work.

Their instinct would be to problem solve, not judge and give up.

Failure is an invitation to growth.

A person with a growth mindset

  • doesn't take failure personally - it's a lesson
  • looks at a struggle positively
  • is more willing to seek out help (instead of hide deficiencies)
  • is more willing to take on bigger challenges
  • is less judgemental when others struggle


A growth mindset is not something that you either have or you don't. And it's not an unwavering, uniform thing.

You might have a growth mindset while learning guitar but a fixed mindset with programming.

You might think that you cracked the code and unlocked a growth mindset in yourself, and then have your confidence knocked by some unexpected failure or the judgment of a peer or family member.

You might look at failures slightly negatively in one domain and very negatively in another. Maybe failing at guitar hurts a little, but failing at coding hurts a lot.

It's useful to know that a person does not simply have a growth or fixed mindset - their mindset is a series of spectrums, and those spectrums shift.

Learning amplifiers

In the previous article in this series, I spoke about planting seeds. TLDR; instead of trying to explicitly teach a learner stuff, rather try to make them a better learner of that stuff. Empower them to learn.

If your goal is to help a learner become a better learner, you should be looking for ways to add leverage and amplification to the learner so that they can learn more effectively. The goal is to empower rather than explicitly teach.

Cultivating a growth mindset helps with that. It's a huge amplifier for learning.

Cultivate a growth mindset in _______

It should be clear by now that it is essential to cultivate a growth mindset in anyone you teach. But there is more.

You should cultivate a growth mindset regarding your ability to teach.

Teaching abilities are not one of those "you have it or you don't" things. You need to build up skills, knowledge, and mindsets to teach well. You need to learn what to pay attention to, when to be silent and patient, and when to speak up.

Of course, I recommend that teachers actively hone their skill sets. A growth mindset will amplify any efforts made.

A little advice for teachers

If you are a teacher and want to get better at it, I have two more pieces of advice.

  1. Pay very close attention to the effect you have on learners in order to assess your own skills. Here is an article about it.
  2. Spend time learning about the science of learning and motivation. There are a lot of brilliant resources out there. I'll be recommending a few throughout this series

Extra resources

To find out more, here are a few recommendations:

The Growth Mindset book

If you have the time to read a book on the subject, here is THE BOOK. Carol Dweck, the author, coined the terms "growth mindset" and "fixed mindset."

Mindset: The New Psychology of Success

Huberman Lab

Andrew Huberman, Ph.D., is a neuroscientist and tenured professor in the department of neurobiology, and by courtesy, psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford School of Medicine.

His podcast focuses on science-based tools and strategies, he takes the science, and makes it actionable for mere mortals.

I am a huge fan; I've benefitted quite a lot from his work.

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