I recently read an interesting article on Growth Mindset. The theory behind this article posits that people interpret their lives through either a fixed mindset or a growth mindset. A fixed mindset is based on the idea that creative ability, character, and intelligence are inherent and cannot be changed. Any failures or successes one may have are strictly due to that individual’s innate abilities or inabilities to overcome obstacles. For example, a student who made an “F” on a test did so because he or she was born with a low level of intelligence. Nothing can be done to change this. It is simply who the person is.
A growth mindset, on the other hand, is the mindset that believes that everyone has ability to develop character, intelligence, and creative talent. These traits are not entrenched in a person psyche, but are a buildable and active state of being. So, going back to our example, if a student made an “F” on a test, it’s not because the student is unintelligent. He or she simply needs to learn the skills necessary for a higher score. With these examples in mind, it’s easy to see how a fixed mindset can lead to a sense of hopelessness and helplessness while a growth mindset gives people the liberty to define who they are as a person.
The theory on the Growth Mindset was originally designed to look at student performance in schools, and the self-fulfilling prophecy that resulted from these mindsets. However, I see applicability to Direct Support Professionals and their approach to Long-Term Care. The beliefs that we have about a resident or patient at our homes and facilities can have a major and lasting impact on their lives. We must guard ourselves from having a fixed mindset about those we serve. All too often I notice that individuals with a cognitive disabilities are not being challenged to grow. It is very easy to become distracted by someone’s disability; to believe that if they if they are safe and comfortable that we have done our due diligence. There is an almost subconscious idea that their condition is a fixed state of being with no real expectation for moral, social, or emotional maturation. We do our best to keep residents comfortable and safe, and assist them in being content with their situation.
The tough realization is that this fixed mindset leads to a stagnant lifestyle for the people we care so much about. Our job is not simply to keep residents happy and safe. They deserve more than that. They deserve the ability to grow, both mentally and emotionally. Sometimes that means that residents will be uncomfortable or be put into situations that are less than ideal. Think of a time when a resident wanted to do something that you were uncomfortable with. It might be something small like wanting to go to the grocery store alone. Maybe it’s more ambitious, like wanting to own their own apartment. Regardless of the situation or our reservations, we have an obligation to try to work with that individual to achieve these goals.
I can hear the challenges to my argument now… mostly because I have made them all before. Many times our first thought is “NOOOO. What if something BAD happens? What if they get hurt? Isn’t that negligence?!” Well let’s roll it back a second. Growth is not always easy. It can be painful and ugly. Learning is hard and failure happens. That being said, I am not saying advocating to throw someone in the deep end, walk away, and hope they learn to swim. That would be negligent. What I’m advocating for is "Dignity of Risk," or in other words, allowing each person a certain degree of autonomy to make their own choices. We need to give people the ability to achieve their dreams while also providing them with the tools they need to pursue them. If they fall, be there to help them back up. If they fail the test, help them study for the next one. Everyone, regardless of cognitive ability, can grow when provided with the support and opportunities. So let’s not allow our fear get in the way of their future, and let’s work together to promote a Growth Mindset in our programs and communities.