March 8

Our Brain and Growth Mindset

Our Brain and Growth Mindset

By Deborah Johnson

March 8, 2024

brain, Deborah Johnson, fixed mindset, Goal setting, growth mindset, hippocampus, lifelong learning, neuroplasticity, podcast, prefrontal cortex

The brain is a complex organ composed of various regions, each contributing to cognitive functions and behaviors that influence a growth mindset. Understanding the impact of different parts of the brain on fostering a growth mindset provides insights into the adaptability and flexibility in relation to our intelligence and skills.

There has been much discussion and many books written about the right and left brain, especially regarding creativity as well as the different parts of the brain and neuroplasticity. Without getting into the weeds on too much technical information, I aim to uncover some principles of understanding about the way our brain works and its influence on a growth mindset vs. a fixed mindset.

In a growth mindset, individuals embrace challenges, persist in the face of setbacks, and see failures as opportunities for growth. In a fixed mindset, individuals avoid challenges for fear of failure and perceive effort as fruitless. Understanding this contrast is crucial for fostering resilience, adaptability, and a lifelong pursuit of learning. We will start with neuroplasticity, move to prefrontal cortex and finally to the hippocampus.

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Neuroplasticity and a Growth Mindset

The adult human brain weighs about three pounds and neuroscientific research consistently shows that the entire brain is active and plays a role in various functions. At the heart of the concept of a growth mindset lies the remarkable phenomenon of neuroplasticity, an inherent quality of the brain that underscores its capacity to adapt and reorganize in response to experiences and challenges. Neuroplasticity is a dynamic process that involves the formation of new neural connections and the reshaping of existing ones, allowing the brain to continuously evolve throughout an individual's life. This transformative ability challenges the notion of fixed intelligence and highlights the potential for ongoing development and improvement. This is encouraging for most anyone at any stage of life!

Consider the case of Ellen, a midlife professional seeking a career change. Embracing a growth mindset, Ellen enrolled in a coding bootcamp despite having no prior experience in programming. Initially challenged by the complexity of coding languages, she persisted, viewing difficulties as opportunities to learn rather than insurmountable obstacles. As she actively pursued new information and honed her programming skills, neuroplasticity came into play. Over time, her brain adapted to the demands of coding, forging new neural connections. Sarah's growth mindset, coupled with the brain's plasticity, not only empowered her to become a proficient coder but also reshaped her perception of challenges, instilling a belief in continuous learning and adaptability in the face of change.

As individuals engage in new experiences, acquire knowledge, and confront challenges, their brains undergo structural and functional changes. These alterations are a testament to the brain's adaptability, showcasing its responsiveness to the demands placed upon it. Neuroplasticity, therefore, serves as a beacon of hope. It empowers individuals like you and I to view capabilities not as fixed entities but as dynamic and expandable potentials.

Prefrontal Cortex and a Growth Mindset

The prefrontal cortex, a dynamic and multifaceted region at the front of the brain, emerges as a central player in the realm of adopting a growth mindset. This critical area is closely associated with higher cognitive functions, including decision-making and goal-setting. Its involvement in shaping our perceptions and responses to challenges underscores its pivotal role in fostering a mindset geared toward growth and development. As individuals engage in decision-making processes, the prefrontal cortex influences their approach to setbacks, influencing whether they perceive challenges as insurmountable obstacles or as opportunities for learning and improvement. Additionally, this brain region is necessary to setting and pursuing goals, which aligns seamlessly with the fundamental tenets of a growth mindset – the belief that abilities can be developed through dedication and perseverance.

Consider Alex, a budding entrepreneur facing the challenges of launching a startup. Alex, with a growth mindset, saw setbacks not as failures but as opportunities to iterate and improve. The prefrontal cortex, responsible for decision-making and goal-setting, played a pivotal role. Instead of succumbing to the fear of failure, Alex's prefrontal cortex guided strategic decision-making, fostering resilience and adaptability. This cognitive approach enabled Alex to set achievable goals, learn from setbacks, and persevere in the face of uncertainty.

Neuroscientific studies have illuminated the adaptability of the prefrontal cortex, showcasing its capacity to rewire and reshape in response to experiences and intentional efforts. I visualize the prefrontal cortex as electrical wires that are placed in different connections to allow electricity to flow more easily and function more smoothly. In essence, the prefrontal cortex stands as an influential architect in constructing the mental framework for a growth mindset, that guides individuals toward continuous learning, adaptability, and the pursuit of their full potential.

The Hippocampus and a Growth Mindset

The hippocampus is nestled on each side of the brain's inner portion, looking like small seahorses, and emerges as a key player in a growth mindset. Known for its crucial role in memory and learning, the hippocampus becomes particularly active when individuals actively seek out and engage with new information.

Goals in Life

Let’s consider Mia, a student taking on a challenging academic course. With a growth mindset, Mia actively sought out new information, engaged in diverse learning experiences, and embraced the idea that intelligence can be developed. The hippocampus, vital for memory and learning, played a crucial role in Mia's journey. As she delved into complex subjects, the hippocampus facilitated the encoding and retrieval of information, allowing her to not only grasp challenging concepts but also retain and apply them.

Picture the hippocampus as a bustling library in your brain. Each bookshelf represents a set of neurons, and each book on the shelf is a piece of information or a memory. When you actively engage in learning or in new experiences, it's like pulling books off the shelves and flipping through the pages. Neurons spark to life, creating a dynamic dance as you absorb and process information. The more you learn, the more intricate and well-connected this library in your brain becomes. In the realm of a growth mindset, the hippocampus becomes a linchpin, reinforcing the belief that abilities and intelligence can be expanded through intentional efforts, no matter what stage we are at in our lives or how old.

Actions and Takeaways

  • Neuroplasticity: engage in new experiences, acquire knowledge, and confront challenges. You may not want to take a coding class, but in the area of technology, there is much opportunity for growth.
  • Prefrontal Cortex: Make the decision to set achievable goals and create a system to follow through. We have free resources with goal setting worksheets. Take advantage of help to set your goals. (FREE: goal setting worksheets)
  • Hippocampus: actively engage in learning with new experiences expanding abilities and intelligence with intentional efforts. This can include signing up for online courses, coaching or continuing education with a lifelong learning mindset. (See: online courses)
  • In a growth mindset, individuals embrace challenges, persist in the face of setbacks, and see failures as opportunities for growth.

    deborah johnson

    Thought Leader, Keynote Speaker, Author

    If you are interested in growing and learning, check out our online courses here: Online Learning

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    Deborah Johnson

    About the author

    DEBORAH JOHNSON, M.A., creator of Hero Mountain® and former president of Los Angeles National Speakers Association, is an international award-winning music artist, author, speaker and National Media Commentator. She also hosts the popular podcast "Women at Halftime." Deborah provides tools to create your ideal lifestyle and work at mid-career or during the halftime of life, getting unstuck. You can live your second half fulfilled, focused and free! Up for multiple GRAMMY Awards and spending over 20 years in the entertainment industry, she's an expert on how to constantly reinvent yourself in a gig-economy. She is also the recipient of the Women's Economic Forum Exceptional Women of Excellence Award. Deborah is the author of multiple books, over twenty albums and musicals and speaks and performs in both live and virtual events.

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