Although you may not be conscious of them, you have powerful beliefs that affect what you want and whether you get it. In Mindset, Carol S. Dweck argues that your attitudes about your abilities and intelligence determine the course of your life, starting as early as your preschool years.
Dweck is a psychology professor at Stanford University and has received numerous awards for her work in social and developmental psychology. She holds a Ph.D. in psychology from Yale University.
(Shortform note: Mindset is an outgrowth of the age-old nature vs. nurture debate (that is, how much of our ability and personality are hardwired into us, and how much is the result of how we’re raised?). Recent studies suggest nurture is more important than nature—that growing up in a safe, secure, and inspirational environment outweighs innate abilities and behaviors. Dweck agrees with this assessment: The crux of her argument in Mindset is that we can continue to improve throughout our lives by nurturing our growth, and that doing so far outweighs whatever natural talents we do or don’t possess.)
Dweck begins by saying that your mindset shapes your entire personality, and it helps or hinders you from reaching your potential. It dictates how you interpret success, failure, and effort, as well as how you approach school, sports, work, and relationships.
Dweck says that you learn one of two mindsets from your parents, teachers, and the media you consume: a fixed mindset, or a growth mindset.
1. Fixed mindset: Personal qualities such as intelligence and personality are innate and unchangeable. Many of us are trained in this mindset from an early age and have heard some version of the following during our childhoods:
If you have a fixed mindset, you feel you must constantly prove yourself: If people are born with a set amount of intelligence or ability, then you want to prove that you have a lot, even though you secretly worry you were shortchanged.
Superhero Stories Reinforce a Fixed Mindset Mentality
Popular superheroes often perpetuate the notion that you must be gifted to do great things. For example, most Marvel superheroes can only fight against evil because they have innate abilities far beyond what any ordinary person is capable of. For example:
Thor is an alien warrior prince with godlike powers.
Hulk has incredible (no pun intended) strength and durability.
Captain Marvel can fly and shoot energy blasts from her hands.
Iron Man is a super-genius; entire teams of scientists and engineers can’t replicate his inventions.
2. Growth mindset: People can change and improve. When you have a growth mindset, you believe the abilities you’re born with are only a starting point—you can get smarter and improve yourself with hard work, persistence, and the right learning strategies. You have a passion for learning and welcome mistakes as opportunities to learn, and you seek challenges to push yourself.
Learn How to Learn
Brain and memory coach Jim Kwik's career is based on the growth-oriented premise that you can learn anything and improve your skills in any area. In his self-help book Limitless, he describes three aspects of learning:
Mindframe: Before you can learn, you must believe that it’s possible to do so (a growth mindset).
Drive: Once you know that you can learn something, you have to want to learn it. Your drive for learning could either come from a natural interest in the subject or an outside motivation, such as career aspirations or personal goals.
Techniques: Once you’re ready to learn, you’ll need effective methods of absorbing information quickly and retaining it permanently.
Kwik believes that mastering these three things allows you to learn about any topic more quickly and easily than you thought possible. In fact, he credits his own success to this system of learning.
Dweck says that in the fixed-mindset world, success is about proving to yourself and others that you’re smart and talented. Any type of setback is a failure: a bad grade, losing a competition, or not getting the job or promotion you wanted. Furthermore, if you have a fixed mindset, you take this type of failure to mean you’re not smart or talented enough; therefore, setbacks are intolerable and you’re likely to quit trying.
Conversely, success in the growth mindset world is about pushing yourself, learning, and improving. Failure means not seizing an opportunity to learn, not striving for what’s important to you, or not reaching for your potential.
Review Your Definition of Success
The definition of success varies from person to person, and how you define it is ultimately rooted in your ideology.
Many people (not to mention the Merriam-Webster Dictionary) have rigid definitions of success: A person is successful if he achieves wealth, fame, or respect (all of which come from others), or if he accomplishes a predetermined desired outcome. According to Dweck, these common definitions come from fixed mindsets: Success means a good result, and the amount of effort that went into that result is irrelevant. By this measure,...
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Although you may not be conscious of them, you have powerful beliefs that affect what you want and whether you get it. In Mindset, psychologist and researcher Carol S. Dweck argues that one belief in particular can determine the course of much of your life, starting as early as your preschool years.
You learn one of two mindsets from your parents, teachers, and coaches — that personal qualities such as intelligence and ability are innate and unchangeable (a “fixed” mindset) or that you and others can change and grow (a “growth” mindset). Regardless of which view dominates your thinking, it shapes your personality and helps or hinders you from reaching your potential.
Understanding how your mindset plays out can change your career, relationships, the way you raise your children, and your overall satisfaction in life.
Throughout much of history, experts have debated the roles of nature and nurture in determining people’s personal characteristics, asking which has the bigger impact — genetics or environmental factors including background, experience, and education.
Today, most researchers agree that nature and nurture work together. People...
You have a fixed mindset if you believe your intelligence is innate and can’t be changed (I’m just not good at math); that you’re a certain kind of person. You have a growth mindset if you believe you can learn and change basic things about yourself.
Think of a situation that challenged your abilities — for instance, being asked to give a speech or having to take a test. With which mindset did you approach it? Which was your first inclination: worry about being judged or anticipation for what you could learn?
The two mindsets are different worlds where the same things have different meanings for the inhabitants of each world. Most important is how people with each mindset — fixed or growth — define and interpret success and failure.
In general, in the fixed mindset world, success is about proving to yourself and others that you’re smart and talented. It’s about validation. If you fail, it means you’re not smart or talented, therefore failure is intolerable. Failure is any type of setback: a bad grade, losing a competition, not getting the job or promotion you want, being rejected. Effort is a negative — if you need it, that means you’re not smart.
In the growth mindset world where you can change, success is about stretching yourself, learning, and improving. Failure is not seizing an opportunity to learn, not striving for what’s important to you, not reaching for your potential. Effort is a positive — it helps you get smarter and increase your abilities.
Remember, mindsets are beliefs — although they’re powerful, you can change them.
When you start out in life, success is about learning. You’re born with a drive to learn. Babies learn...
People with fixed mindsets (the belief that abilities are unchangeable) may be reluctant to take on challenges for fear of failing. In contrast, those with a growth mindset see failures as opportunities to learn.
Think of a time when you failed at something. How did you feel? How did you interpret the failure?
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Many people have wrong ideas about ability and achievement. For instance, they picture Thomas Edison working long hours alone in a small lab, when he suddenly invents the lightbulb in a “Eureka!” moment..
But that’s not how it happened. He had dozens of assistants working for him in a large corporate-funded lab. The successful lightbulb was the end result of a string of inventions, to which chemists, physicists, engineers, and many others contributed. Edison had a true growth mindset and drive to learn and tackle new challenges.
While ability helps, achievement comes through learning and effort. Likewise, Darwin’s book, The Origin of Species, was the product of numerous drafts and conversations with countless colleagues over many years. Mozart worked more than ten years before producing notable work.
This chapter explains what achievement really takes and why some people achieve more and others less.
Achievement in school starts with mindset. Researchers measured students’ mindsets as they transitioned to junior high school, which is a particularly challenging time for adolescents, then followed them for two years.
When kids accomplish something, adults often praise them for their abilities in an effort to boost their confidence. However, research shows this kind of praise makes children reluctant to take on challenges because it reinforces the notion that abilities are fixed. Children are afraid that trying something and failing will call their abilities into question.
What were you praised for as a child? What were you criticized for?
The concept of being “a natural” comes from sports. It’s the belief that someone who’s effortlessly athletic — who displays talent — has all it takes to succeed. When looking for recruits, many scouts and coaches focus on talent alone: they look for naturals.
Golfers used to believe they shouldn’t train — physical training could hurt your natural swing — until Tiger Woods started winning with stringent workouts and practice routines. In some cultures, athletes who trained were derided — you were supposed to accept what nature had given you. But in sports, like academics and business, you can’t succeed indefinitely on talent alone. You need the right mindset: a growth mindset.
In the book Moneyball, author Michael Lewis tells the story of baseball player Billy Beane, who had great natural talent but lacked the mindset necessary to become a champion. His fixed mindset, with its belief in natural talent, held him back. When things went wrong, he fell apart because he couldn’t tolerate failure. He couldn’t address his problems because he felt that expending effort shouldn’t be necessary and, in fact, would be an admission of weakness.
While watching a less talented player, Lenny...
The mindset of a company’s leader is a key determinant of whether a company fails or succeeds.
One of the most spectacular business failures in recent years was the collapse of the energy giant Enron in 2006. At the heart of Enron’s failure was a fixed mindset, an obsession with talent that blinded the company’s leadership to serious problems, and blinded investors and outsiders to the fact that the business was a house of cards destined to fall.
Business gurus of the time were insisting that corporate success required hiring with a “talent mindset.” It was touted as the key to beating the competition. Enron’s culture was built on this thinking. The company recruited big talent and paid handsomely for it. But because the company celebrated talent, employees felt they had to always appear highly talented in order to survive. Basically, everyone was forced into a fixed mindset, intent on proving their superiority.
Since people with fixed mindsets can’t admit flaws, the company couldn’t acknowledge and correct its mistakes, which spelled its doom. Even after its failure, CEO Jeff Skilling never admitted there was anything wrong, instead blaming others for not getting...
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Fixed-mindset CEOs and organizations are prone to groupthink, in which everyone thinks alike — no one disagrees, raises issues, or criticizes. It can lead to disastrous decisions.
Can you recall an instance of groupthink in your company or organization? What was the result?
Whether you have a fixed or growth mindset affects the course of your personal relationships. Mindset helps explain:
The road to satisfying relationships is marked with disappointments, mistakes, and most devastating of all, rejection. When they experience setbacks, some people are able to heal and move on to better relationships, while others remain stuck or scarred. The difference is mindset.
Researchers recruited 100 people to describe their experience of rejection. The study compared how those with fixed mindsets handled it versus those with growth mindsets:
People with fixed mindsets believe that if two people are right for each other, their relationship should always be smooth sailing. The growth-minded view is that it’s not magic — they’ll work together to learn relationship and problem-solving skills.
When you first started thinking about relationships, what was your view of how they should be? How did your view change as you got older?
Experiencing rejection is painful for an adult, but imagine how it feels to a child. Children experience rejection daily in schools. Starting in grade school, some kids are victimized, attacked, or ridiculed. Ongoing bullying makes some children’s lives a nightmare and can evolve into years of depression and anger.
Schools may be reluctant to act because they don’t see the bullying or it’s done by favorite students. Sometimes the authorities decide that the victims rather than the bullies are the problem. Nonetheless, as a society, we’re paying more attention to bullying today because of school shootings. The boys who shot classmates at Columbine High School in 1999 had been bullied for years. Bullying is suspected to have played a role in other mass shootings as well.
Bullying in school is about powerful kids judging vulnerable kids as less worthy or less valuable human beings. Once they identify victims, bullies torment them constantly. Judging and humiliating others gives bullies a rush, as well as social status and power: others may look up to them or at least fear them.
**Bullies apply fixed-mindset thinking. They prove their...
Parents want to help their kids to succeed in school and life, yet their comments, actions and attempts to be helpful often send the wrong message.
Words and actions from adults tell young children, students, and athletes what to think about themselves. They can convey a fixed-mindset message that children’s traits are permanent and they’ll be judged for them. Or they can convey a growth-oriented message that children (and all people) are continually developing and adults are committed to helping them in this process.
Children are extremely sensitive to these messages. They’re concerned about how they’re being tested/judged and what will happen if they fall short.
Children with fixed mindsets hear judgment from their parents — it feels as though their abilities are always being measured.
To understand children’s thinking, researchers asked them several questions. Here are the responses from both the fixed-minded and growth-oriented kids.
Question #1: Imagine that your parents are happy when you get a good grade. Why would they be happy?
When parents or teachers criticize children, they intend it to be helpful, but often it isn’t because they’re being judgmental, not constructive. To be constructive, criticism must help a child fix something or do something better.
Think of a time recently when your child made a mistake. How did you react? What did you say? (If you don’t have a child, think of someone you give feedback to, like a team member or a friend.)
Your mind is constantly monitoring and interpreting what’s happening around you. Your mindset guides how you interpret things.
A fixed mindset sets up a mental monologue focused on judging — you feel judged and you judge others. For instance, you might think, “This means I’m a failure,” “What a bunch of losers,” “I’ll never be good at handling money.”
Growth-oriented people don’t constantly judge themselves and others this way. Like people with fixed mindsets, they keep a running mental account of events and feelings, but their interpretations of what’s going on focus on learning and action. They think, “This situation is painful, but what can I learn to avoid repeating it?” and “How can I improve?”
This chapter is about changing from a judging monologue to a growth-oriented one — a mindset based on a belief in change and development. Often, just learning about the two mindsets and how they affect you can prompt change. However, completely changing is hard. The fixed mindset hangs around, competing with the growth-oriented ways of thinking that you’re trying to adopt.
Your fixed mindset beliefs about being smart, ambitious, superior, and...