Growth Mindset and the X Factor

Growth Mindset and the X Factor

X Factor is one of the most dramatic things on the telly. It might not be as sparkly (or as popular anymore) as Strictly, but the collection of flashing lights, pyrotechnics and booming Phil Dickenson announcements make for classic Saturday night entertainment. 

With such a big and influential reach, it is interesting to see how X Factor encourages, or discourages, some of the attitudes and perspectives which are important for the young and impressionable part of the audience. So, the other week, Franklin Scholars found themselves watching X Factor with a particular focus on growth mindset.

Growth mindset is the understanding that intelligence and skills are malleable. You can change how clever you are, you can improve your ability in maths, and you can become better at sports. The counter to this is a fixed mindset where you believe that your intelligence and skills are innate; things that you were born with.

People with growth mindsets tend to persevere more at tasks, see mistakes as learning opportunities and look for more challenges in order to keep getting better. As a result, people with stronger growth mindsets usually achieve more and are happier with their lives.

Onto Saturday night: The X Factor sends out some mixed messages when it comes to encouraging a growth mindset.

First, the bad: 

Singing is a big offender when it comes to ‘innate’ ability.  There is a prevailing attitude that belting out a tuneful song is something that you can either do or you can’t. And the X Factor is full of clips and phrases demonstrating that view:

“You’re a natural.”

“You have a real gift that not many people have.”

“I was born to be a singer”

Not helpful, ITV. Yes, genetics plays a role in the state of your vocal chords, but no one was born humming a melody. A voice can be trained and worked like any other part of the body.

But, there is a lot of good on the show! 

Lots of the contestants demonstrate a whole lot of growth mindset.

“Please, Simon. Tell me how I can do better.”

“I’ve been trying and trying for years. Just getting knocked back.”

Members of the public show real passion for a dream. They are working towards a glorious goal and won’t let anything set them back. 

Admittedly, that goal – of becoming a popstar - is quite an unlikely one. Not many people become multimillion-selling recording artists. It’s something that doesn’t happen that often. But these guys are all in it to win it. 

Why? Why are they putting so much energy and hyper-emotion into something that is statistically unattainable? How has X Factor warped the odds and got the nation so invested?

Because X Factor shows a clear progression towards the dream. No matter your age or background, the first step is simple; you queue for the first auditions, you make it to the judges, then to bootcamp, then to judges’ houses, then you fight for survival every week in the live shows, simply singing a song every time. The journey to becoming a popstar is completely explicit. Contestants can easily visualize themselves at each stage. 

That’s incredibly useful. It’s something that helps us achieve the targets that we set ourselves; breaking them down into smaller, reachable chunks. It’s something we should be supporting young people with too. Yes, this maths problem / an A* / your dream job might seem a long way off – so how can we break those down and progress forwards, rather than being stunted by the enormity of what we’re facing.

If X Factor teaches us anything, it should be that.