Mindset – Carol Dweck and how your mindset affects everything

If you are developing a skill of any sort, are a teacher, parent, or leader, or have a relationship with another human, there is one book you must read. Mind you, there are a lot of books you can read about effective teaching, mastering skills, faster learning, motivation, performance psychology, risk taking, and all sorts of topics relating to being more awesome. The aforementioned topics all include the brain, the mindset, practice, etc, and are worth reading about, but it should be noted there is one book that all of the others reference. That book is Mindset.

Mindset: The New Psychology of Successmindset

Written by Carol Dweck, a researcher at Stanford, the book effectively explains how some people can grow to be great, and others struggle. She explains the difference between a growth mindset and a fixed mindset. To summarize, if you are the type of person that thinks, “I am smart because I was born that way, and I am awesome because I was born that way, and I have a fixed set of capabilities,” Then you are more likely to cheat, give up early, blame others, and end up as a lame version of your potential self. On the other hand, if you are the person who thinks, “I can learn and do anything if I work at it enough, and I can develop skills and knowledge proportional to the focused effort I put in,” then you are more likely to take risks, persevere, own your fate, and become a much more awesome human.

Why is this? Carol Dweck does an amazing job in her book describing exactly why, but to summarize it is simply a result of the mindset. If you have a fixed mindset, then you think you are born one way or another, and everything you do either supports or refutes that belief. If you are smart because you were born that way, you then live your life protecting that belief. Anything that demonstrates the contrary is clearly wrong… “no no no, I did not struggle with that test (or task) because I don’t know the info,  it is because your questions were dumb, and stuff. No one could ace that test.” On the other hand, if you believe that your intelligence and skills are developed through practice, your thoughts and actions become different… “I struggled with that test (or task) because I did not practice enough and am not experienced with it. With more practice I can get better and will do better the next go ’round.”

She writes:

“Many of the most accomplished people of our era were considered by experts to have no future. Jackson Pollock, Marcel Proust, Elvis Presley, Ray Charles, Lucille Ball, and Charles Darwin were all thought to have little potential for their chosen fields. And in some cases, it may well have been true that they did not stand out from the crowd early on. But isn’t potential someone’s capacity to develop their skills with effort over time? And that’s just the point. How can we know where effort and time will take someone?”

What is more interesting is how your language can effect others and the development of their mindset. This is particularly important when it comes to kids. If you praise a child, “wow you are so smart,” you are reinforcing a fixed mindset. In the face of adversity, they are more likely to cheat, blame, and quit. If you praise a child, “Wow, you must have worked so hard at that,” you are reinforcing a growth mindset. They will then be more likely to show grit, persevere, and be more creative with problem solving efforts. This is not just a probable outcome. Dr. Dweck has shown this over and over in her research. The same goes for feedback after a failure. She gives a great example of a father providing feedback to his daughter after she lost at a gymnastics meet. The young girl was new to the sport and was outperformed by girls with much more experience. Her father did not pull any punches:

My summary of the father’s feedback:

“I know you wanted to win, but those girls have been in the sport and practicing much longer than you. If you want to compete and win, you are going to have to put that time and effort in as well.”

He could have said, “oh it’s ok, you tried your best,” or, “the judges were insane to give you those scores.” But he did not. He provided feedback that insisted “you can learn, practice, and achieve more, but only with more growth.”

As a influencer (leader, parent, teacher) the types of questions you ask will illustrate your mindset and what you think of others. Imagine you are trying to teach someone a new skill. Regardless of their mindset, you may be thinking, “Can they learn this? Are they smart enough to learn this information?” If these are your thoughts, then you believe in a fixed mindset. You believe that a person is born with a particular level and ceiling of intelligence and you are assuming that this new skill is possible or impossible to learn based on their ‘natural talent.’ However, if you ask, “how can they learn this, and how can I teach this most effectively?” then you demonstrate your view of the growth mindset. Of course they can learn new things, you just have to teach it in a way they can understand it. No right-minded person is born with inability to learn algebra, multiple languages, or philosophy. You can learn anything. You can develop any skill you want. You can grow.

I used to think I had a growth mindset. After reading this book, I realized I had a growth mindset in most areas, but a fixed mindset in a few aspects of my life. I have also heard others comment on the same realization. This goes to show that your mindset in a work environment may be different that your mindset in a relationship environment, novel environment, or a teaching environment.

Mindset: The New Psychology of Success should be required reading in schools and businesses alike.

Read this book. You won’t regret it.