So a few months ago, Mal (CEO) gifted me (Alison, Director of Creative Production) The Anti-Anxiety Notebook – Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to Reframe and Reset. These Therapy Notebooks are actually created by a group of therapists. So as I go through this notebook, slowly but surely, they have these one-pagers, sort of like an intro to the chapter, and this chapter/page was on mindset, specifically, growth mindset. They also provided the study they were referencing and I decided to take a peek so you wouldn’t have to– unless, of course, you want to, in which case it will be linked below.
In short, in 2017, Harvard researchers successfully reduced anxiety and depression in children by teaching them about neuroplasticity (Schleider, 2017). They had split participants into two groups: one group that went through a 30 minute standard supportive therapy, and the other group went through a 30 minute SSI (single-session intervention) on growth mindset. In conclusion, the growth mindset intervention led to significantly greater improvements in parent-reported youth depression and anxiety, youth-reported youth depression, and youth-reported perceived behavioural control by 9-month follow-up.
TLDR: CBT had great impacts on depression, anxiety, and behavioral control. Wow, right?
Now this isn’t a case study, so I’m not going to dive deep into it, but I will share MY key takeaways.
First off, what is neuroplasticity, also known as neural plasticity or brain plasticity (Puderbaugh M, 2022)? I had no idea what this word meant so if you’re confused, don’t worry. A good definition is “the ability of the nervous system to change its activity in response to intrinsic or extrinsic stimuli by reorganising its structure, functions, or connections (Rodríguez-Moreno, 2019). Clinically, neuroplasticity is the process of brain changes after injury, such as a stroke or traumatic brain injury (TBI). These changes can either be beneficial (restoration of function after injury), neutral (no change), or negative (can have pathological consequences) (Mateos-Aparicio P, 2019).
This is an important part of the study because the idea of growth mindset stems from the question: “can people change”? I used to think: “no, not really”. However, according to science, the answer is a resounding yes. Your brain is capable of change, therefore yes– people can change.
The intervention included five elements:
- An introduction to the concept of neuroplasticity (describing how and why behaviours are controlled by thoughts and feelings in their brains, which have constant potential for change)
- Testimonials from older youths describing their beliefs that people can change, given the brain’s inherent malleability
- Additional vignettes by older youths, describing times when they used ‘growth mindsets’ to persevere/cope following peer rejection, hopelessness, and feared embarrassment
- A worksheet describing strategies for applying these principles to participants’ own lives
- An exercise wherein participants write notes to younger children, using newly gleaned information about the malleability of personal traits to help them to cope with setbacks (‘self-persuasion’; Aronson, 1999).
The idea of growth mindset was first introduced by Stanford psychologist, Carol Dweck, who proposed that people have a growth mindset, the belief that personal traits are malleable – as opposed to fixed mindset, the belief that personality is unchangeable (Dweck, 2008). Compared to growth mindsets, fixed mindsets of personal traits correlate with and predict higher depression and anxiety in youths, particularly adolescents (Romero, Master, Paunesku, Dweck, & Gross, 2014; Schleider, Abel, & Weisz, 2015; Schleider & Weisz, 2016a). Maybe that’s why I was grumpier and more anxious– because I used to believe people cannot change.
With that said, a growth mindset isn’t only for growth – seemingly, it can be for positive mental health as well.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
So, how, right? What do you do to change your mindset from fixed to growth? As I’m doing now with this therapy notebook: cognitive behaviour therapy. A core tenet of CBT is that thoughts, feelings, and behaviours affect each other, and can be changed. What the notebook shares is a simple activity (because MULTI is all about keepin’ it simple): It asks you to identify your emotions and to interpret them in a different way; to imagine that you’re capable of more than what your feelings may lead you to believe. By writing your thoughts down, you get to look at it from a distance and ask yourself: is this language indicative of a growth mindset or a fixed mindset?
Give Yourself Grace
Trust me, this doesn’t happen overnight– but nurturing a growth mindset means giving yourself grace and allowing yourself to feel low or stuck sometimes. It’s accepting that you aren’t, and won’t be, perfect– no one is! It’s believing that mistakes are opportunities to grow and understanding the that the learning progress itself is far more valuable than the end result. “It’s the journey, not the destination”, yanno?
And if you want to chat more about this, join The DotCom. It’s our online community where we chat about these types of topics and share our struggles, but also share our tips! There’s no way we are alone in all this and changes take time. Start small, believe in yourself, and start imagining that you do have a growth mindset. What would that look like? How different would that be?
DISCLAIMER: THIS POST DOES NOT CONSTITUTE AS MEDICAL ADVICE. THIS POST IS NOT MEANT TO TREAT, CURE, PREVENT, OR DIAGNOSE CONDITIONS OR DISEASES; AND IS MEANT FOR EDUCATIONAL PURPOSES. AS ALWAYS, PLEASE CONSULT YOUR DOCTOR BEFORE TRYING ANY NEW TREATMENTS OR SUPPLEMENTS.
Schleider, Jessica, and John Weisz. “A Single-Session Growth Mindset Intervention for Adolescent Anxiety and Depression: 9-Month Outcomes of a Randomized Trial.” Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, vol. 59, no. 2, Wiley, 18 Sept. 2017, pp. 160–170. Crossref, doi:10.1111/jcpp.12811.
Mateos-Aparicio P, Rodríguez-Moreno A. The Impact of Studying Brain Plasticity. Front Cell Neurosci. 2019;13:66.
Puderbaugh M, Emmady PD. Neuroplasticity. [Updated 2022 May 8]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK557811/
Dweck, C.S. (2008). Can personality be changed? The role of beliefs in personality and change. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 17, 391–394.
Romero, C., Master, A., Paunesku, D., Dweck, C.S., & Gross, J.J. (2014). Academic and emotional functioning in middle school: The role of implicit theories. Emotion, 14, 227–234.