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Mindset by Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D.

I read the book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D.

It’s about a two-cup-of-coffee read if you’re a fast reader like me. I read it start to finish in one sitting today at Barnes & Noble.

The author’s name is Carol S. Dweck. From the her website:

carol-dweckCarol S. Dweck, Ph.D., is one of the world’s leading researchers in the field of motivation and is the Lewis and Virginia Eaton Professor of Psychology at Stanford University. Her research has focused on why people succeed and how to foster success. She has held professorships at Columbia and Harvard Universities, has lectured all over the world, and has been elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

In her book, Dweck classifies a person’s mindset into two categories: fixed mindsets and growth mindsets.

She goes on to show how these two types of mindsets play a role in our lives, studies, careers, and relationships. Dweck gives examples of high profile individuals, like sports stars and CEOs, and how a fixed mindset or a growth mindset played a role in their careers, success, reputation, and overall impact on their community and the world.

Nature vs Nurture

For a long time, experts have debated whether nature or nurture played the biggest role in our growth and development.

Dweck says that “today most experts agree that it’s not either–or… From conception on, there’s a constant give and take between the two. In fact, as Gilbert Gottlieb, an eminent neuroscientist, put it, not only do genes and environment cooperate as we develop, but genes require input from the environment to work properly.”

She goes onto say that “scientists are learning that people have more capacity for lifelong learning and brain development than they ever thought.”

It’s not necessarily our God-given talents that determine whether or not we achieve success, as Robert Sternberg, the “present-day guru of intelligence” writes, “but purposeful engagement.”

Dweck wrote, “There were two meanings to ability, not one: a fixed ability that needs to be proven, and a changeable ability that can be developed through learning.”

She admits that when she first discovered mindsets, she immediately realized that she had a fixed mindset. “I realized why I’d always been so concerned about mistakes and failures. And I recognized for the first time that I had a choice.”

Fixed vs Growth Mindset

So what’s the difference between a fixed and a growth mindset?

“In the fixed mindset, everything is about the outcome,” Dweck explained. “If you fail–or if you’re not the best–it’s all been wasted.”

She goes on to say, “The growth mindset allows people to value what they’re doing regardless of the outcome. They’re tackling problems, charting new courses, working on important issues. Maybe they haven’t found the cure for cancer, but the search was deeply meaningful.”

In other words, people with a fixed mindset have already at some point in their lives determined an absolute truth as to what they are capable of. In relationships. Creativity. Business. Education.

Whereas people with a growth mindset aren’t consumed with absolutes. Success and failure aren’t the metric that people with growth mindsets use to determine their progress or impact.

I recently read a post on Ideas.TED.com entitled The Science of Setting Goals. One of the things the author, Nadia Goodman, said about setting goals was to focus on the process, not the outcome.

Goodman said, “When we set goals, it’s easy to fixate on that magical ending when we’ve reached the goal and everything is better. But we can’t control outcomes, and we certainly can’t will them into existence (though this writer has tried, many times). We have to inch toward them, one choice at a time.”

This type of person, the one who Goodman describes as “focuses on the process,” is who Dweck would put into the growth mindset category.

Why is this important?

As Dweck explains, “..when you enter a mindset, you enter a new world. In one world–the world of fixed traits–success is about proving you’re smart or talented. Validating yourself. In the other–the world of changing qualities–it’s about stretching yourself to learn something new. Developing yourself.”

So basically, a fixed mindset contributes to or limits your potential for excellence more so than your natural abilities, or lack of abilities. The need of a person with a fixed mindset to receive validation or confirmation hinders them from thriving at the opportunity to learn from their mistakes and grow.

Dweck writes, “I’ve seen so many people with this one consuming goal of proving themselves–in the classroom, in their careers, and in their relationships. Every situation calls for a confirmation of their intelligence, personality, or character. Every situation is evaluated: Will I succeed or fail? Will I look smart or dumb? Will I be accepted or rejected? Will I feel like a winner or a loser?”

“If,” Dweck says, “you believe you can develop yourself, then you’re open to accurate information about your current abilities, even if it’s unflattering.”

How does a person’s mindset contribute to their overall voice and thoughts? Dweck explains that when it comes to a fixed mindset…

It’s not enough just to look smart and talented. You have to be pretty much flawless. And you have to be flawless right away.

We asked people, ranging from grade schoolers to young adults, “When do you feel smart?” The differences were striking. People with the fixed mindset said:

“It’s when I don’t make any mistakes.”
“When I finish something fast and it’s perfect.”
“When something is easy for me, but other people can’t do it.”

It’s about being perfect right now. But people with the growth mind-set said:

“When it’s really hard, and I try really hard, and I can do something I couldn’t do before.”
Or, “When I work on something a long time and I start to figure it out.”

For them it’s not about immediate perfection. It’s about learning something over time; confronting a challenge and making progress.

Who’s more successful? Fixed or Growth Minded People?

If the answer isn’t obvious to you at this point, Dweck provides examples of CEOs, sports stars, and students of hers who have exemplified fixed or growth mindsets to illustrate the effect that their mindsets have had on their lifetime success or accomplishments.

“Many growth-minded people didn’t even plan to go to the top,” Dweck writes. “They got there as a result of doing what they love. It’s ironic: The top is where the fixed-mindset people hunger to be, but it’s where many growth-minded people arrive as a by-product of their enthusiasm for what they do.”

My favorite anecdote that Dweck told was a story about an unnamed taxi driver. It goes as follows:

I was once in a taxi, and the driver had an opera on the radio. Thinking to start a conversation, I said, “Do you like opera?” “No,” he replied, “I hate it. I’ve always hated it.” “I don’t mean to pry,” I said, “but why are you listening to it?” He then told me how his father had been an opera buff, listening to his vintage records at every opportunity. My cabdriver, now well into middle age, had tried for many years to cultivate a rapturous response to opera. He played the disks, he read the scores–all to no avail. “Give yourself a break,” I advised him. “There are plenty of cultured and intelligent people who can’t stand opera. Why don’t you just consider yourself one of them?”

The taxi driver was so consumed with the feeling that he needed to listen to opera that it never occurred to him that he didn’t have to if he didn’t want to. Somehow the taxi cab driver had equated not loving opera with being a less than an adequate person.

“Worrying about being a nobody is not the mindset that motivates and sustains champions,” Dweck later writes.

The Mindset of a Teacher

I consider myself a teacher, above anything else. When I was younger I used to think, “You can’t teach yet because you don’t know everything about a subject yet.”

As I got older, and began writing regularly, teaching seminars, and consulting with business owners, I learned that a true teacher is never finished learning. For me, teaching is part of my process of better understanding a subject. It’s the next level of learning.

Dweck learned from Seymour Sarason, one of her professors in graduate school that, “There’s an assumption that schools are for students’ learning. Well, why aren’t they just as much for teachers’ learning?”

Why do we have a fixed mindset?

“When people hold on to a fixed mindset,” Dweck explains, “it’s often for a reason. At some point in their lives it served a good purpose for them. It told them who they were or who they wanted to be (a smart, talented child) and it told them how to be that (perform well). In this way, it provided a formula for self-esteem and a path to love and respect from others.”

But unfortunately for us, that mindset was most likely created at one given point in time. And, as Dweck writes, “An assessment at one point in time has little value for understanding someone’s ability, let alone their potential to succeed in the future.”

How do we change from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset?

After reading Dweck’s book, I’ve come to believe that her definition of a mindset is similar to how I think of a habit. And we all know it takes time to break a habit. And often the best way to “break” a habit is to develop new ones in its place.

The first step to changing your mindset is recognizing that you have one to begin with. Our mindset helps create the life rules that we consciously or subconsciously live by.

“The growth mindset also doesn’t mean everything that can be changed should be changed,” Dweck explains. “We all need to accept some of our imperfections, especially the ones that don’t really harm our lives or the lives of others.”

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