Self-sabotage is an ongoing concern. I appreciate your take on the subject, as it provides another perspective in my ongoing efforts to use it to my benefit. I’ve read some of this research about the fixed and incremental theories of ability, yet this take is interesting. So, I’m wondering if the point is “Never give up! Never surrender!”?
One of my students reached out to me after lecture the other day. He noticed that I was low on energy, even a bit down. I had been trying to hide it, but was truly disappointed that attendance in the class was so low that day. We were covering one of the central topics of the course–
the importance of focusing on adopting an incremental rather than a fixed view of ability and intelligence. To summarize: believing that your ability is fixed is great when the course material is easy (“I’m brilliant!”), but puts students at risk for disengagement when the material is hard and when one doesn’t do well (“I suck; why come to class anyway?”). By contrast, if you believe your ability is something to nurture and grow, those same academic challenges become indicators of growth and development.
As I thought about the poorly attended lecture on the ride home, I realized something. I have been expecting that the incremental message should be enough to motivate my students to do the little, doable things, like coming to class or section, that slowly build up to success. And it dawned on me that it the issue here may not be that the students haven’t been listening to the message about incremental learning, but rather, that they’ve been listening closely.
A recent study by Niiya, Brook, and Crocker, published in 2010
identified study participants whose self-esteem was tied to getting good grades — in other words, people who were invested in doing well academically. Within this group, some people believed that ability is fixed (the entity theorists) and others believed that ability is nurtured through effort (the incremental theorists).
Read more at blogs.berkeley.edu
These findings show us that even when we believe that our abilities are the result of our effort- a mindset I have urged my students to adopt– we are not out of the woods when it comes to academic motivation. The knowledge that our effort (as opposed to our genetics) is tied to our abilities can be threatening precisely because it’s in our hands, and incredibly, puts us at risk for self-sabotaging our own success to protect ourselves– just in case our efforts are not enough.