On Entity Theory Anxiety

This week’s book learning is from ‘9 Things Successful People Do Differently’ by Heidi Halvorson.

Last week, we looked at two types of explanations for performance and excellence – entity theory i.e. abilities are fixed and incremental theory i.e. abilities are fluid. To test the effect of this beliefs on anxiety levels, researchers tested a group of college students on difficult reasoning problems. At the end, everyone was told they were in the 61st percentile. This was followed by a lesson on problem solving, and a 2nd set of problems.

This time, some students were told nothing changed in their performance while some were told they were in the 91st percentile. And it was observed that entity theorists in the 91st percentile had a significant spike in their anxiety levels!

In the 3rd and final set of problems, it was found that the entity theorists who were told they didn’t improve much did much better.

Researchers came away with a very interesting insight – when we don’t expect to improve, improvement actually comes with a significant spike in anxiety which, in turn, kills performance.


Do you believe your musical ability is fixed?

Image source

Okay. It’s clear that it’s best for our own blood pressure to approach new tasks with an incremental i.e. “I will get better if I practice view”.

Does this now mean we can be the best in the world at whatever we want?

The answer based on this research seems to be Yes, with a huge caveat. You should be willing to put in 10,000 hours of practice, with most of it being deliberate practice. And you should also have started at an ideal age.

That said, it seems clear that we all have the ability to be really good at anything we attempt as long as we believe it is possible and put in the hours of deliberate practice..

Here’s to incremental theory + deliberate practice this week!