Welcome to MIND-Strengths May at Dyslexic Advantage! As we begin our month-long
exploration of the strengths associated with dyslexic “wiring”, we want to start by looking at an important point about strengths and how we should think about them.
Strengths Are The Ingredients, Not The Meal
Always remember. Strengths are potentials. Capacities. Raw Materials. They are gifts with the label, “Assembly required.” To reach their full value they must be developed through long and hard effort.
Strengths, including MIND-Strengths, are only what we make of them. And what we make of them will be helped or hindered by how we think about strengths.
Our Strengths Are Deepy Influenced By Our Mindset
In recent years, some of the best insights on how to think about strengths have come from psychologist Carol Dweck. Dweck summarized her research and theories on strength development in her 2006 book Mindset.
According to Dweck, our attitudes about our strengths can vary between two opposing poles, which she calls “mindsets”. These two poles are:
- The fixed mindset, where we view our strengths as inborn traits that we possess in fixed quantities, and that can’t really be changed or developed by our efforts
- The growth mindset, where we view our strengths as resources that can be further expanded and developed through effort and practice
Dweck and other researchers have found that an individual’s mindset has important effects on how they respond to challenges, obstacles, and setbacks.
The Dangers Of A Fixed Mindset
Individuals with a fixed mindset think that if they truly have a strength they should experience effortless success whenever they use it. So if they can’t immediately succeed, they don’t really have a strength. People with this mindset interpret the need to work hard at a task as a sign that they lack strengths in that area; and since they believe they can’t really build their strengths through practice, they tend to avoid tasks that require prolonged effort.
This kind of fixed mindset thinking results in a very fragile self-image. People with this mindset can only keep feeling good about themselves if they avoid failure. Instead of seeing failure as a temporary setback and a sign that they need to keep practicing, they see it as a sign that they lack the strengths needed for success in that area, and should avoid it in the future. As a result, they stick to things they can do with ease. Over the long run, their belief that strengths can’t be developed becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
The Benefits Of A Growth Mindset
By contrast, individuals with a growth mindset understand that strengths come as potentials to be developed, not as fully formed perfections. They understand that developing their strengths requires hard work, so they’re not put off by difficult tasks. They accept failure as a sign that they need more work or practice to succeed, not as a sign that they lack potential.
How Mindset Impacts MIND-Strengths
So why is this concept of mindset so important that we’re bringing it up on Day 1 of MIND-Strengths Month? Because Dweck and other researchers have found that many people unconsciously to respond to the message that they have a particular strength by adopting a more fixed mindset with regard to that strength. This, of course, keeps them from developing that strength in the future! So there’s actually a risk that by talking about dyslexia-associated strengths we’ll actually keep people with dyslexia from developing some of their greatest potentials!
Fortunately, these negative consequences can be avoided if we remember to frame our discussions of strengths in ways that reinforce a growth mindset. For example, when we talk about MIND-Strengths, we must remember that they are potentials or predispositions that must still be developed through practice and hard work. And when we say that they are “dyslexia-associated strengths”, what we mean is that they are areas where practice and effort are more likely to be rewarded with long-term success—not areas where dyslexic people should expect immediate and effortless perfection.
For Striking Gold, Shovels Are As Essential As Treasure Maps
Ultimately, a dyslexic person trying to identify their MIND-strengths is like a mining company performing a geological survey. The goal is to find the best places to dig, not to find treasure just lying on the ground waiting to be picked up. Without digging—sometimes for years and in two or three places—we’ll never “strike gold”.