Jan 122010

Source: “Pursuing Human Strengths,” Martin Bolt, Introduction

“Change” reflects our ability to adjust typical patterns of behavior. The way we think about the ability of ourselves and others to change affects how we think about and judge behavior. Entity theorists believe that our characteristics change very little. They are more willing to make generalized character judgments based on fewer observed behaviors. Incremental theorists believe that we are more able to make desired changes. They are more willing to seek opportunities for and apply themselves toward personal development. An incrementalist would certainly be more likely to make an effort to change.

One’s attitude toward the human potential for change is reflected in the relative importance of ability vs. effort in achieving success or demonstrating intelligence. Albert Einstein sounds like an incrementalist when he is quoted as saying “genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.” If one believes that their characteristics are fixed, they may interpret poor performance on a task means that they are stupid, worthless, or a complete loser. Others are able to interpret failure as the mark of effort and see the need to intensify or redirect their efforts. One path leads to pessimism, learned helplessness, and self-reinforcing failure. The other path leads to optimism, sustained effort, preparation to seize opportunities, and self-reinforcing experience with success.

While positive attitudes and hard work do not guarantee success, they clearly promote it. Lucky breaks , social support, health, and even genetic gifts are important facilitators for many people who are admired as “successful.” The book “Outliers” by Malcom Gladwell makes a fascinating study of opportunistic success. Nonetheless, cultivated attitudes and habits about the potential for change creates an environment that rewards effort toward desired change.

“Parents and teachers can also teach students to relish a challenge. Doing easy tasks is often a waste of time. The fun comes in confronting something difficult and finding strategies that work. Finally, adults should help children value learning more than grades. Too often kids rely on grades to prove their worth. Sure, grades are important. But they are not as significant as learning.” (p. 10)