How to Develop a Mindset to Succeed at New Year's Resolutions


Can we predict who will successfully complete their new year’s resolutions?

It’s 2018, and January is traditionally the time when people make an attempt to incorporate new lifestyle changes into their daily routine. They want to exercise more, eat healthier, stop smoking, or take up a new hobby like perhaps learning to paint. Some of these people will succeed, and others will not. But what determines who has the greater chances of success? And who are the people who most often make successful new year’s resolutions?

Although there are a myriad of factors that could influence the outcome of such endeavours, one small aspect of a person’s personality might have quite a big influence on their ability to decide to better themselves and subsequently succeed. As mentioned in the introduction blog of this theme month; it is a person’s mindset that can determine what challenges they will decide to pursue. 

Do you have fixed mindset and do you believe your abilities are set in stone? Or do you have a growth mindset and do you believe that with time and practice you can develop new skills? Unsurprisingly, it is those people with a growth mindset who more frequently set new goals for themselves, while at the same time they are usually more determined to follow through on them. But what determines what type of mindset you have?

How do mindsets develop?

Mindsets probably already develop at a very young age. In a famous experiment by Carol Dweck, she had children try to solve little puzzles. After they completed some, Dweck offered them the chance to either keep continuing solving the easy puzzles, or try their hand at more difficult ones. She found that children with a growth mindset would more frequently opt to take a shot at the harder puzzles, while children with a fixed mindset would rather keep continuing solving the same easy puzzles. Dweck suggested that these ‘fixed mindset’ kids viewed the challenging puzzles as a risk to their self-worth; if they would fail to solve these puzzles that meant they might not be as smart as everyone thought. Although this study shows that mindsets might be very inherent to a person, like a personality trait that is already developed at a young age, there are also signs that it is possible to change these core beliefs and influence their development. 

In another experiment, Dweck showed that by changing the way students were praised regarding their results on an IQ test, she could nudge them towards a more growth-like mindset, affecting both their outlook on and enjoyment of subsequent exercises. There were two groups part of this experiment. One group were praised for their intelligence and the other for their effort, both types of praises were given regardless of what type of scores the students had received on the test. When Dweck subsequently confronted the students with much more difficult tests, the students that earlier were praised for their intelligence would see their inability to solve the second round of tests as proof they were not that smart. This view greatly impacted the level of enjoyment they got out of solving this set of problems. On the other hand, students that had been praised for their efforts showed a much greater level of enjoyment while trying their hand at solving the more difficult problems, regardless of their success rate. The potential long-term effects of this result were apparent: Those students who had been praised for their efforts would try to solve more difficult problems for a longer time by prioritizing learning. This meant that in time they became much better at the problems, developing and learning new ways of thinking. On the other hand, those students praised for their intelligence would suffer a cascade of failures as they became less motivated to continue, would therefore put in less effort and thus learn less than the first group.

Praise: a double edged sword

Unfortunately, many people took the previously discussed studies and extrapolated the wrong message. Parents and teachers, in an effort to better teach a new generation of children, would continually praise only the effort kids made regardless of the results they achieved. According to Dweck, they all fundamentally misunderstood the core point of the study.

A growth mindset is about prioritizing learning, not just effort. Instead of ignoring a child’s scores and achievements, parents and teachers need to take the time to sit down with children when they’re not achieving as expected, and discuss together how to come up with better learning strategies. By fostering the process of learning, above such things as the amount of effort it took or an inherent arbitrary intelligence score, kids will be able to use these new-found strategies themselves throughout their lives in order to better their skills and achieve more.

Regrettably, this misunderstanding of the core message of Dweck’s study might have potential negative effects as these children develop a so-called ‘false’ growth mindset. Indeed, only praising effort can have the undesirable outcome of making kids feel that adults are not being genuine when they are giving them praise. This distrust can foster a rise in imposter syndrome, when kids no longer belief praise directed towards them is true and thus unnecessarily doubt their own abilities. Alternatively, it can feed into a kid’s sense of entitlement which might cause distress and feelings of disillusioned when they are confronted with the facts that their ‘best’ efforts are no longer paying off as they expected they would. Sometimes tweaking your technique will proof much more effective at achieving a goal, while trying the same old technique a hundred times might unfortunately still not result in the desired outcome. In these cases, it is certainly not the lack of effort on part of the child that is resulting in failure. 

How can we change mindsets?

Prioritizing a growth mindset is not only the result of telling children to be open-minded and to simply 'like' the process of learning from now on. It has been proven time and again that in order to change a fundamental aspect about yourself you should not only have the ability to identify the fault, but also practice the new way of thinking or doing something over time. Not every child has access to a one-on-one tutor who can sit down with them and show them how to apply the most effective study-strategies or how to learn to enjoy the process of acquiring new skills. 

Here at the GEMH lab we are, of course, most interested in figuring out ways in which we can utilize games to partly take over this labour-intensive process. Games provide a unique avenue through which we can both potentially identify which mindsets a specific player is exhibiting by analyzing their playstyles, while at the same time utilizing the gaming environment to help develop and practice new mindsets. It is these types of fundamental questions that often keep us busy: How can we send people on a journey of self-discovery in which we teach them how to view challenges in a positive light, influence their core beliefs about themselves, change how they view their abilities and their self-imposed limits?

It is a difficult question, but an interesting and important one. Games are fun and engaging, can spread out the teaching of new information and subsequent practice of skills over a longer timeframe, while at the same time being readily available at home outside of a classroom environment. Games can potentially teach you more about perseverance, changing strategies and your own ability to learn than any informational workshop can. 

If you have any remarks or suggestions regarding this topic, please feel free to leave a comment down below or join the conversation on twitter to discuss ideas on how to utilize games for mindset learning, @Gemhlab.

Reading list:

Dweck, C. (2017). Mindset: changing the way you think to fulfil your potential. Hachette UK.


Babet Halberstadt

PhD candidate with a background in neuroscience, now combining her love of gaming with her interest in the brain and human behaviour. Collector of useless skills, photographer, illustrator, and ukulele player.


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