You've decided to learn something new. Say you've taken up the banjo*, for example, and you've never played a musical instrument before. In those first lessons, you find yourself struggling with the first halting notes of "Old Joe Clark" -- this is not as easy as you thought! Do you say to yourself:
A. I have a lot to learn, but I'm getting better with every session. If I keep trying, I'll be sure to get this eventually.
B. I'm not good at this -- I guess I'll never be a really good banjo player. I'm just not musically inclined.If you lean towards A, you are approaching banjo-playing as what psychologist Carol Dweck calls an incremental theorist. That means that you think your abilities can improve over time and that you can achieve this task with sufficient practice and study. If you tend more towards B, you would approach banjo-playing more as an entity theorist. You see your musical ability as fixed and unchangeable; banjo-playing is something some people are naturally better at than others, and you are just trying to figure out whether you are one of those gifted musicians or not. For most tasks, there is probably some truth in both approaches. Some people have the capacity to achieve a higher skill level than others, but all of us can improve with practice and dedicated study. Nevertheless, the particular emphasis you bring to the task can dramatically affect how you handle challenges and failures, ultimately affecting your overall performance in the task.