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Setting up for success – Part 3

Alicia Drummond, our In-House Parenting & Mental Health Expert is back with the last in her inspiring series on ‘setting up for success’, this time focussing on understanding ‘the process goal culture’ – the idea that success is all about giving your best effort.

In the last article we started to consider the cultures of success we create for our children. We looked at the ‘end goal culture’ where our attention is focused on outcome and we considered the impact of this culture. Namely that it is hard to reach their full potential if they fear failure, view others as a threat and don’t enjoy the journey because the pressure to perform feels too intense.

Today we are going to consider an alternative, the ‘process goal culture’, which communicates the idea that success is all about giving your best effort, improving your skills, collaboration with others and enjoyment.

The process goal culture

In the process goal culture the message is that success will come if we focus on the journey. Our goal is simply to try and be a little bit better than we were yesterday. The emphasis is on improving our own performance and, whilst it is smart to keep an eye on what others are up to in case we can learn something, our focus is on ourselves. If this is our goal we become our own benchmark and we can’t feel inferior.

In the end goal culture we can only feel successful when we have achieved the result whereas in this culture we feel successful when we see ourselves improve, when we learn something new or when we give maximum effort – all of which leads to a greater sense of happiness and enjoyment which develops intrinsic motivation.

If the message is, ‘all you have to do is try to be a bit better than you were yesterday’, then you are unlikely to feel like you have failed on a spectacular scale and this reduces the fear of failure.

Here are a few ideas of how to put this into practice:

  • Next time you pick your child up after a match instead of asking them “who won?”, ask “what went well today?”
  • If they have been doing tests don’t fuel the compare and despair culture by asking how everyone else did.
  • When they bring home an art prize, by all means congratulate them, but focus on the effort they must have put in, “I’m guessing by the smile on your face you’re pretty pleased with that prize. What I noticed was the amount of time and effort you put into creating the piece”.
  • In the run up to exams we might say something like, “these exams will come and go and life will go on, if you want to do your best, focus on what you need to do today and every day to give yourself the best chance of success”. With this message we encourage them to take ownership of their learning, we take the pressure off by helping them see that exams are just a part of life’s journey, and we give them the clear message that they are doing this for themselves and not for us.
  • When they fail at something encourage them to think of it as a temporary set back and the magic word here is “yet” – “you can’t do it yet – what do you think you need to work on to move yourself forward?”

Sometimes when children struggle with a subject we say things like, “don’t worry you’re just not very good at maths, I was rubbish too and so was Mum”. Subliminal message – failure is a foregone conclusion! If someone fails their driving test we don’t say, “don’t worry you’re just no good at driving”  we ask them when they are going to have another go; what they might need to do differently next time – we encourage them to focus on the steps to success.

Talking of steps it is important to praise each step they make in the right direction to encourage them to keep going, “I notice you spent more time planning your essay this week”.

Show that you are interested and engaged with the process by inviting discussion and critical thinking –“why do you think that”; “how do you know that”.

I hope I have managed to show you that a process goal culture is likely to be more helpful for our children than an end goal culture, but in case you are still wavering let’s explore the impact of the culture on their mindsets.

The study of mindset

What is a mindset? It is simply a belief about yourself and your most fundamental qualities like your talents, your intelligence and your personality.

Fixed mindsets

People with fixed mindsets believe that these fundamental qualities are essentially stable or fixed i.e. they don’t change much over time.

If we believe that our talents and intelligence are fixed then we must do all we can to protect what we have. People would rather cheat than lose; they have to be the first to finish something; they find it difficult to admit if they wrong and, when things do go wrong, they blame everybody but themselves.

If our talents are fixed why would be bother putting in effort?  In fact, putting in effort would suggest that we don’t have talent and as for feedback, well that just sounds like criticism because it implies lack of talent.

Other people being successful makes those with a fixed mindset feel threatened because ‘if they are better than me I am nothing’.

Having a fixed mindset does not preclude success in life, you can see people with fixed mindsets in the top universities and jobs worldwide, but it sure makes the journey harder than it needs to be.

Growth mindsets

People with growth mindsets believe that our fundamental qualities are growable i.e. they can flourish in some circumstances and wither in others.

Those with a growth mindset relish challenges because they believe they are opportunities for improvement. They put in effort because they know it will make their talent grow and feedback gives valuable information that can be used to improve performance.

They believe that failure is an opportunity to learn and the success of others can be used for inspiration.

Children are born with a growth mindset – they love to try new things, explore, experiment and create.  When they fail they don’t give up they just have another go so why is that by secondary school as many as 40% will have developed a fixed mindset?

I would suggest that it comes down to the culture of success we have created for them. If we really want to help our children develop the skills they will need for the job markets of the future we need to challenge end goal cultures wherever we see them.

If we really want to improve the mental health and wellbeing of the next generation we need to shift our focus from the outcome to the journey and I will leave you with this thought:

We are all what is known as self-actualising beings, we are unconsciously driven to fulfil our potential, to be the best version of ourselves. Our job as parents and educators is to nurture this drive which we can do by creating a process goal culture that helps our children to like who they are, to like what they do and to like how they do it.

Read Setting up for Success Part 1 and Part 2

More about Alicia Drummond

Alicia is a therapist accredited with the British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy; she is also a pastoral care consultant working with over 100 schools in the UK and abroad and, perhaps most importantly, is a parent.

Alicia set up Teen Tips when she noticed that as a therapist working with teenagers it became obvious that the number of young people needing mental health care had grown exponentially.

An advocate for being proactive in creating an environment for teenagers that promotes positive mental health, well being and resilience, Alicia believes that if schools and parents can work together to create such an environment, great things can be achieved.

Teen Tips Courses, Talks and Workshops are designed to give you information, advice and perhaps, most importantly, practical tips and tools to help you to help teenagers fulfil their potential.


Visit her website for more information here www.teentips.co.uk/

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