I was very cheered to read in the Sunday Times this week that there is no one gene for intelligence. Since it is difficult even to define intelligence in a generally acceptable way, it is perhaps no surprise that scientists have not found one, or even a few, genes that are responsible for it. What would they be responsible for exactly? But that is another post. The consensus is that there are lots of genes which all contribute in a small way to our cognitive skills.
This is good news. It does mean that we have some chance of doing something about it because there is not one inherited, all-powerful hazard standing in the way of our learning. In the end it is not our score on an IQ test that counts but whether we get the results we want in our lives. Most people value their brains (or want more of them) for the advantages we get from using them rather than because it would be nice to have a really high IQ to tell people about.
Positive Psychologist Carole Dweck has reached fascinating conclusions about motivation and achievement and shown that intelligence can be developed. She sees it as just one more product of our personal belief system (she calls it self-theory). She views intelligence not as a fixed trait that we are simply born with but something we can “cultivate” through learning. She does not deny that people have different inherent skills but she focuses on how much everyone can improve.
I will not attempt to reduce her body of research to a few words but one important conclusion she has reached is that goals can fall broadly into the categories of learning goals or performance goals. Performance goals are measured and tend to result in judgements so if you are overly concerned wth performance, getting the desired grade or approval, then you can miss learning experiences because these bring with them the threat of error. There is risk in learning.
People faced with a new challenge tend to choose to regard it as either performance or a learning goal. The two are not mutually exclusive of course but your choice – which may not even be conscious – affects your moods, your thoughts and ultimately your self-esteem as well as factors such as the size of the goal. Your choice can affect where you place your boundaries and limitations. Basically if you approach change, or challenge, as a learning goal, you will tend to grow more, feel better and develop confidence and ultimately, achieve more. Dweck has found that in some circumstances the talented can develop helplessness and the less gifted develop mastery.
So next time you face a challenge focus on:
- Your strengths and the resources you have
- Treating it as an opportunity to grow
- Remembering that this is an opportunity to learn, not to prove your brilliance
Before you decide on your next challenge, it is worth reviewing your thinking about the challenge. It will affect your results more than you know.