This week, for the very first time in the three years I’ve been writing this blog, I am devoting the entire space to reprinting an article written by someone else.  I think Anne Lieberman, who is a Certified Lefkoe Method Facilitator, has written a brilliant piece on how beliefs can literally make us less intelligent.  I think you will find her article fascinating and useful.

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As a Lefkoe Method practitioner, I spend my days working with clients to eliminate beliefs that are adversely affecting them.  The central tenet of TLM is that our beliefs drive our behavior. I find it exciting to read research by others that confirms and extends this basic idea.  The work of Stanford Professor, Carol Dweck, illustrates the connection between beliefs and the kind of behavior that primes us for success or failure.

Investigating Failure

As a young researcher, Dweck was obsessed with how people cope with failure.  She decided to investigate failure by inviting children into her lab to solve puzzles.  After a few easy-to-solve examples, she gave her unsuspecting subjects some doozies and investigated their strategies as they grunted, sweated and chewed their pencils. Probing their thinking and feeling, she expected to see differences in how kids cope with failure.  What she saw astonished her.  One ten-year old, confronted with the hard puzzles, pulled up his chair, rubbed his hands together, smacked his lips and said, “I love a challenge.”  Another attacked the task with equal relish and said, “You know, I was hoping this would be informative!”

Dweck was flummoxed.  She thought you either coped with failure or didn’t.  It never occurred to her that people could love failure. Her first instinct, “What’s wrong with them,” was quickly followed by “or are they on to something?”

What Dweck has learned through decades of research is that our beliefs about our brains can set us on the path to success … or not.  [Emphasis added.)

In our lifetimes, intelligence has been thought of as a fixed phenomenon.  We know now that it is not.  People begin with their unique genetic endowments, but it is clear that experience, training and personal effort take us the rest of the way. Scientists have shown that we have a great capacity for lifelong learning and brain development.  Intelligence is not fixed, but evolves via a constant give and take between genetics and the environment.

What Does All This Have to do with Beliefs?

Dweck says that one simple belief has the power to determine what you accomplish in life. She talks about this in terms of a Fixed Mindset and a Growth Mindset.  Dweck says,  “Mindsets are beliefs individuals hold about their most basic qualities and abilities.” In a Growth Mindset, people believe they can develop their brain, abilities and talent. This view creates a love for learning, a drive for growth and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishments. On the contrary, people with a Fixed Mindset believe their basic qualities, such as intelligence and abilities, are fixed and can’t be expanded. They also believe that talent alone creates success, and see effort as a sign of weakness rather than as a positive element of life needed to reach one’s full potential.”  (I have worked with clients who believe that if something is hard, it means it’s beyond them.)

The misconception that IQ is fixed has been largely discredited by neuroscience.  And the pervasive assumption that hugely successful people are “naturals”–that Michael Jordan was born to be a star, that top entrepreneurs and CEOs are rare geniuses and natural leaders–has not been borne out in research.  Studies of extremely successful people show that hard work is the key to success. And if you don’t believe you can accomplish something, are you likely to work hard at it?

What does it take to create that kind of fire-in-the-belly attitude? It turns out that the way people view the learning process itself and what they believe about their brains are hugely important in determining their willingness to put forth effort to achieve mastery.   Dweck discovered that she could actually change kids’ mindsets.  Further, children who adopted a Growth Mindset and came to believe that their brain is like a muscle that gets stronger as they use it were more likely to excel in school.   They approached new challenges with enthusiasm, while other students shirked pursuits outside their comfort zones.

Do you have a Fixed or Growth Mindset?

Would it surprise you to know that you can think you are very intelligent and still have that debilitating Fixed Mindset?  How do you know you have it?  People with the fixed mindset operate in some or all of these ways:

When you fail at something, you feel unworthy in some way and pessimistic about yourself.

You’re more focused on being seen as smart than on learning.

You feel like you have to prove yourself over and over.  (If our intelligence is fixed, you want to make sure people know you have a lot of it, right?)

You shy away from people and experiences that challenge you.

In brief, in the face of failure, those with Fixed Mindsets become self-critical and throw up their hands.  People with a Growth Mindset look at how they might have approached things differently and they redouble their efforts.

If your Fixed Mindset is limiting you, a few Lefkoe Method sessions can eliminate those long-held, limiting beliefs about your intelligence and abilities.

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