Sometimes when I’m reading random articles online, I come across one that really strikes a chord, such as this one, “The Trouble with Bright Girls.” In it, author Heidi Grant Halvorson, Ph.D. describes the results of psychologist Carol Dweck’s study from the 1980s:
She found that Bright Girls, when given something to learn that was particularly foreign or complex, were quick to give up; the higher the girls’ IQ, the more likely they were to throw in the towel. In fact, the straight-A girls showed the most helpless responses. Bright boys, on the other hand, saw the difficult material as a challenge, and found it energizing. They were more likely to redouble their efforts rather than give up.
Later in the article, an explanation for this phenomenon is provided:
Researchers have uncovered the reason for this difference in how difficulty is interpreted, and it is simply this: More often than not, Bright Girls believe that their abilities are innate and unchangeable, while bright boys believe that they can develop ability through effort and practice.
Without ever realizing it, I held this exact belief: that my abilities were static and unchanging, and that if something was initially difficult, it must not really be my “thing” after all—and I would give up. That’s not to say that I have given up on everything difficult I’ve ever tried. However, there were definitely times when I thought I’d be better off quitting something that didn’t come easily to me right off the bat. Since I thought I’d never get any better, so why waste all the effort? Just quit now and save myself the time! Looking back, I regret quitting the track team and the volleyball team. I was never especially good at either, but I think if I would have stuck with them longer, I’d have gained some valuable experiences from being on those teams.
So how can we encourage girls to believe that their abilities can be honed and improved with effort and practice? We want all girls to be life-long learners and to practice persistence and diligent work to reach their goals.
This article caused me to not only look at my life and my choices differently, but it also caused me to rethink the way I talk to and encourage the girls I encounter in our programs. Previously, if a girl said she didn’t want to do something because she didn’t like it or “couldn’t” do it, I would have been more inclined to allow her to do something else if this thing wasn’t her “thing.” Now, I’m going to make a conscious effort to encourage girls to keep making an effort, even if they don’t initially like the activity or feel they “can’t.” Sometimes the most satisfying feeling comes after accomplishing something difficult that at first seemed impossible, rather than after doing something that was easy.