When I was in college, I fell in love – with the scientific method. Could I imagine a better career than using the scientific method to uncover the workings of the human psyche? No, and I still can't. It's been a long and fruitful relationship, and I'd like to share with you some of the fruits.
My most important scientific contribution so far has been my research on mindsets. (From now on I will say “our” and “we,” because all of the research is collaborative, which makes the enterprise all the more stimulating and enjoyable. We are not lone scientists toiling in isolation.) It all started with the following question: What makes some people seek challenges and thrive in the face of obstacles, while others, no less able, avoid difficulty and crumble when they encounter setbacks? I came to realize that I was interested in this question for personal reasons. Many of us psychologists do not just do research, but what we call “me-search” – research on a topic that is really about us, such as our bad memory or our inability to exert willpower or our concern with others’ opinions. As for me, I had always done well at everything I tried, but I didn't try everything. I was reluctant to step out of my comfort zone and was alarmed by the prospect of ever failing at anything I valued. As I began my me-search, I encountered something that would change me for good.
While working with ten-year-old students, at some point in the experiment I gave them problems that were too hard to solve. As I expected, some students were a bit distraught. But, counter to my expectation, some were pleased. They didn't just cope with what I thought of as the “failure” problems, they welcomed them as an exciting opportunity to learn. It was as though the whole experience was now worth their while. After I got over my shock, I vowed to understand these children's secret, not just for myself, but so I could share it with others.
Some years later, we came to understand that these students were in a “growth mindset.