Maybe you’re like me: Determined to finish your biggest project, but struggling to get things done. For students, this may be especially true with writing papers. In college, when it came to term papers, I’d hear my classmates’ united refrain: “I’ll just do it the night before anyway, why start now?” The phrase still rings familiar to me years out of the academic environment. I’d had my fair share of the “One-Draft Wonder,” too, so why did it bother me so much?
I found my answer in what Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck identifies as the “growth mindset”, the belief that talent and skills can be developed over time. The growth mindset is dedicated to improvement, even if that requires the possibility of failure or struggle. Alternatively, a “fixed mindset” assumes talent is static and unchanging. The fixed mindset chooses the quickest path to success, (i.e., the One-Draft Wonder), relying on skills presumed to be static and relatively unchanging. The growth mindset engages, takes its time, and yields a bigger payoff down the road.
The learning process is not a matter of instant gratification. In my experience, I found a remedy for my distraction in a few basic tools: The assigned text, a notebook, a pencil, and nothing else. The first time I tried this, I spent 90 minutes hanging out with Walt Whitman’s When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d. At first my eyes kept flickering up from the page, but slowly I became immersed. By the end of 90 minutes I was diagramming in the margins, unaware of my surroundings and lost in the experience of the poem.
Applied to the college classroom, the growth mindset reduces students' stress of completing a first draft because the main goal is to improve over time, rather than be perfect the first time. In this way students can feel comfortable approaching challenging assignments before the eleventh hour hits. I love Dweck’s advice because it empowers us to be learners at any age, continually considering our lives a work in progress.