Everyone knows there are two kinds of people in the world: those who divide the world into two kinds of people and those who do not. Well Carol Dweck, a professor of psychology at Stanford, is clearly one of the dividers. In Mindset: The New Psychology of Success she divides people into those who have a fixed mindset and those who have a growth mindset.
Mindset: The New Psychology of Success
By Carol S. Dweck, PhD
Ballantine Books, New York, 2006
According to Dweck, people with a fixed mindset believe their qualities and abilities, such as intelligence or creativity, are and pretty much unchangeable. Fixed, in other words. On the other hand, people with a growth mindset believe their qualities and abilities can change or develop over time with effort and training.
It turns out your mindset has a profound effect on your life. Based on extensive research by Dweck and others, “a fixed mindset limits achievement.” [p. 67] People with a fixed mindset tend to seek validation, they look for proof or confirmation of their abilities. As students they put in less effort, as business leaders they avoid mistakes, and especially blame, at all costs. By contrast, people with a growth mindset look for opportunities to learn and grow, seek out tough challenges and try to learn from failure.
Dweck explores how the fixed and growth mindsets play out among students, athletes, business leaders and how they impact our relationships with friends and spouses.
She also offers guidance to parents about how to encourage a growth mindset in our kids. She advises that praise or criticism should be directed at behaviors rather than traits. For example, when a child brings home a good test result, praise the effort they put into learning the material and studying for the test rather than praising a trait like intelligence. It’s better to say, “Well done. All your hard work paid off!” than “You’re so smart!”
Like most dichotomies, no one is completely one way or the other. Most of us lie somewhere on a continuum, and we might have a fixed mindset about some aspects of ourselves and a growth mindset about others.
Fortunately, there are ways to break out of the fixed mindset into the growth mindset. In the last chapter of the book, Dweck presents some strategies for doing that. It’s not exactly a step-by-step guide, but rather a set of scenarios exploring how people might develop new habits and new approaches for dealing with challenging situations.
In my experience, one of the most powerful tools for adopting a growth mindset is the word “yet.” Dweck mentions this early in the book but I think it deserves more emphasis. Whenever you find yourself thinking “I can’t do this,” or “I’m not creative enough,” or “I don’t have the skills”, add the magic word “yet.”
I can’t do this yet.
I’m not creative enough yet.
I don’t have the skills yet.
Adding “yet” automatically conjures a future that’s different from today. Adding “yet” prompts you to ask, “How do I get there? What skills do I need? How do I acquire them? Who can help me?” Just asking these questions are the first steps to switching to a growth mindset.
The concept of mindsets isn’t really new. It’s a reframing of the old nature vs. nurture, or born vs. made debates. It’s a new way of expressing the difference between being and becoming.
New or not, mindset is a really valuable golden nugget of an idea. Unfortunately it’s wrapped in writing that I found tedious and repetitive. The first two chapters and the final chapter are the most valuable. I skimmed and skipped through the rest.
Carol Dweck’s TED Talk: The power of believing that you can improve also gives a good overview.
Interestingly the book was first published in 2006 but it seems to be experiencing a resurgence these days. I’ve seen it prominently displayed at my local Barnes & Noble bookstore, and the term is starting to become a popular business buzzword. I’m not sure why; was the book featured on Oprah recently?
Mindset provides a useful framework that can help us understand ourselves and each other better, and it’s an empowering idea to help us make meaningful progress in our lives.
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