Carol Dweck’s Mindset: The New Psychology of Success

Buy Me!

I’ve been putting off this review/overview for a while because I feel like there is so much to talk about, and I needed to take the time to sit down, focus, and really do the concepts in this book justice.

My husband loved this book so much he gifted a copy for each of his employees and suggested it would change their lives.

Ever the skeptic, I was curious. Then I realized it was written by Carol Dweck, whose studies I had read about for a while. She is well-respected in the psychology community as far as I know, so this was promising.

Mindset is an important read for all walks of life-those simply interested in self-improvement or improving their relationships, parents, educators, athletes, and entrepreneurs alike. Mindset is a global concept that can change the way one views (and performs in) all aspects of one’s life. Each chapter ends with questions you can ask yourself to help “Grow Your Mindset.”

The concept of Mindset is predicated on the idea that there are two types of mindsets: the Growth Mindset or the Fixed Mindset.  Dweck argues that we move in and out of these mindsets (and with varying intensity) depending on the situation as well as our natural inclination.

Those with a predominantly growth mindset believe that there is always room for improvement, challenges can be opportunities for growth, and that aspects of your personality and especially your skills, are not static.

img_6639With a growth mindset, people are constantly looking to learn new things and improve on themselves. They will be more likely to read into situations as a reflection of something specific that went wrong, which can be learned from.

Those with a fixed mindset believe their personal attributes are the way they are and don’t really change much. They are more likely to label themselves as either someone who can or cannot accomplish something. Dweck argues that this mindset limits those people to only what they believe about themselves.  People with a fixed mindset could still be successful but they prioritize proving or showing a characteristic that they have, and may shy away from making mistakes that would disprove their natural talents or positive perception of themselves. They will be more likely to read into a situation as occurring because of who they are, or to let something define who they are, rather than choosing to learn from their mistakes and move on.

In a study of seventh-graders, those with a growth mindset responded to failing a test with studying harder for the next one. Those with a fixed mindset, studied even less. Dweck explained that they would resign themselves to just not having the ability to do well, so they didn’t see the point of studying more. And they were more likely to consider cheating. If you’re convinced you can’t do it on your own, they reasoned, find another way.

You’ll also see a lot more blaming and deflection from people with fixed mindsets. If you believe you have this wonderful talent and then face a failure, the best way to avoid hurting your self-esteem is to find a good scapegoat. The assumption being,that any failure is a reflection on who you are, thus, best to avoid the risk of failure in the first place, or find a better excuse outside of your responsibility.

Dweck also touches on how mindsets interact with depression. She mentions a study she did with depressed college students and found that the more depressed students with a growth mindset became, the more they acted to improve their situation. The worse they felt, the more determined they became. Their failures didn’t define them.

… in the fixed mindset, both positive and negative labels can mess with your mind. When you’re given a positive label, you’re afraid of losing it, and when you’re hit with a negative label, you’re afraid of deserving it.

Dweck also connects the fixed mindset with depression. Certainly, her description of students no bothering to try better sounds an awful lot like the idea of “learned helplessness,” considered to be an undelying cause of depression. So even without Dweck’s cited studies, this phenomenon makes a lot of intuitive sense to me. Fortunately, Dweck observes that we can be taught to have a growth mindset, which can change the way we react to depressed moods.

As parents, we can even work to instill a growth mindset in our children.  Dweck suggests making a big deal at the a table about things each family member had learned that day and talk about their efforts, struggles and mistakes. You could ask questions such as “What did you learn today?” and “What did you work really hard at today?” Focus on the effort and skills that have been developed because of the practice you put in.

As a Montessori parent, we’ve been told not to praise our children for their intrinsic attributes or label them as “smart,” for example.  Rather, we should point out specific aspects of their work or accomplishments and most of all, their effort. Dweck ties this to the fixed mindset, where children will rely on the belief in their natural talent, and even avoid challenges that would risk proving the opposite (fail a test, and you must not be as smart as you thought). Dweck found that students praised for their abilities led them to reject challenging new tasks. Dweck reminds us that “in the fixed mindset, effort is not a cause for pride. It is something that casts doubt on your talent.”Ultimately, she argues, this fixed mindset and even positive labeling can affect one’s lifetime success.

Our Montessori school is constantly encouraging a growth mindset which coincides with their fostering a love of learning.  I once tried to tell a lame “dad-joke” to my daughter. I asked her, “What do you call a dentist who makes a lot of mistakes?” She replied “One who learns a lot?” Now, that is a growth mindset, if ever there was one! The real answer? An accidentist.




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