I stumbled on Mindset: The New Psychology of Success while looking up books on education. And I’m so glad I did. This book has changed the way I interact with my children and even how I view myself.
The message is very simple, but profound. Carol Dweck, psychology professor at Stanford University, details the difference between a growth mindset and a fixed mindset. Someone with a growth mindset believes abilities and intelligence can be learned and developed while someone with a fixed mindset believes such traits are innate.
She then goes on to explain how this belief plays out in someone’s life. For example, someone with a fixed mindset may be afraid to take on challenges because of their fear of making mistakes. You see, mistakes for someone with a fixed mindset are terrible because if they fail it translates to not being good enough (because you can’t change traits). So they tend to stay with what’s familiar and easy and are always trying to prove how smart they are.
But someone with a growth mindset loves challenges because they enjoy the process of learning. And when they make mistakes or don’t do well, they find out what went wrong or simply work harder to achieve their goals. They view mistakes as learning opportunities and a way to improve. To make her point she details well known CEO’s, teachers, coaches and athletes with the different mindsets. The graphic below summarizes the differences.
How does a mindset develop?
As I was finishing up Mindset, this article about raising helpless kids went viral. This article provides an example of how children can develop a fixed mindset:
We’ve told our kids that they are special – for no reason, even though they didn’t display excellent character or skill, and now they demand special treatment. The problem is that kids assumed they didn’t have to do anything special in order to be special.
Dweck dedicates a chapter to children, discussing how certain types of praise can result in a fixed mindset. When kids are praised for traits (you are so smart you got an A) or lack of traits (you aren’t good at math, you just don’t get this) they learn that they either have it or they don’t. But when children are praised for their effort (I see you put in a lot of work to raise your grade) or the lack of effort for not accomplishing something (if you want to do better in math, you need to work harder) they realize they are in charge of their intelligence.
The chapter also focuses on the mindset of teachers. There are inspiring examples of how growth-minded teachers help struggling children succeed. They send their students the message that they have the ability to become smarter which empowers them to work harder and improve their grades. Dweck even has a program for students and teachers you can find here.
Mindsets in action
Mindset forced me to look at how I view my own abilities. I tend to be a growth mindset person in my career but not always in other areas. I am guilty of saying “I’m just not a born organizer” or “I’m not good at art.” The truth is I may not have interests in those areas, but if I really wanted to put in the work, I could get better (and I do want to get better at organizing for parental sanity). I used to say this about cooking but now I’m learning and enjoying cooking.
I can’t help but apply mindsets to food and eating. I often make the case that labeling children “picky” negatively impacts how they view their own eating. I can now see how a child can develop a growth mindset around food or the belief that their likes and dislikes are fixed. I’ve seen this with adults I’ve counseled who say “I just don’t like vegetables.” After digging I find they like tomatoes on a sandwich and have a favorite salad (with ranch so they think it doesn’t count). But somewhere they got the message they were just someone who doesn’t like vegetables, case closed.
We are a society that loves to focus on natural talents and abilities. This book points out that this mentality keeps us from learning and growing in life. I, for one, am a changed person for reading it.
Anyone else read this book?