I recently read a fabulous excerpt from the book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck, Ph.D. and Professor of Psychology at Stanford University that had a profound effect on me.
Dweck postulates there are two “mindsets”—the growth mindset and the fixed mindset.
This growth mindset is based on the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts. Although people may differ in every which way—in their initial talents and aptitudes, interests, or temperaments—everyone can change and grow through application and experience….
Believing that your qualities are carved in stone—the fixed mindset—creates an urgency to prove
yourself over and over. If you have only a certain amount of intelligence, a certain personality, and a certain moral character—well, then you’d better prove that you have a healthy dose of them. It simply wouldn’t do to look or feel deficient in these most basic characteristics.
Dweck notes that studies show that people grossly underestimate their performance and their ability. The anomaly is that almost all of the underestimation comes from people with the fixed mindset. As Benjamin Barber wrote: “I don’t divide the world into the weak and the strong, or the successes and the failures….I divide the world into the learners and non-learners.”
Dweck believes that the growth mindset is all about stretching to become smarter. She quotes a 7th grade girl as follows: “I think intelligence is something you have to work for… it isn’t just given to you….Most kids, if they’re not sure of an answer, will not raise their hand to answer the question. But what I usually do is raise my hand, because if I’m wrong, then my mistake will be corrected. Or I will raise my hand and say, ‘How would this be solved?’ or ‘I don’t get this. Can you please help me?’ Just by doing that I’m increasing my intelligence.”
People in a growth mindset don’t just seek challenge, they thrive on it. The bigger the challenge, the more they stretch…
The problem with the fixed mindset is that success is not enough. Such people must look smart and talented, in effect flawless. Even worse, the fixed mindset people expect ability to show up without having to work at it.
Students with the fixed mindset had higher levels of depression. Our analyses showed that this was because they ruminated over their problems and setbacks, essentially tormenting themselves with the idea that the setbacks meant they were incompetent or unworthy: “It just kept circulating in my head: You’re a dope.”…
And the more depressed they felt, the more they let things go; the less they took action to solve their problems. For example, they didn’t study what they needed to, they didn’t hand in their assignments on time, and they didn’t keep up with their chores….
In short, when people believe in fixed traits, they are always in danger of being measured by failure. It can define them in a permanent way. Smart or talented as they may be, this mindset seems to rob them of their coping resources.
When people believe their basic qualities can be developed, failures may still hurt, but failures don’t
define them. And if abilities can be expanded—if change and growth are possible—then there are still many paths to success.
Dweck also has a word of wisdom for the “best and brightest” on Wall Street and the endless search for talent. She cites the example of Enron, which may be an extreme example, but still has relevance. Enron created a culture that put performance and talent above everything else. It forced Enron employees into a fixed mindset. And when you are in a fixed mindset, you are unable to admit and correct deficiencies.
I think Dweck’s position on the two mindsets is fascinating. For those of us that periodically straddle both the fixed and growth perspective, Dweck dispenses a few very valuable lessons that should not be overlooked.
The growth mindset suggests you can learn just about anything with the right attitude, aptitude desire, encouragement, and application.
To live from this mindset, one must…
1. Remove ego from every equation.
2. Be willing to fail so we learn from our mistakes and, more importantly, others learn too.
3. Be willing to try new things — things outside of our comfort zone — even if we’re bad at them.
Let me know what you think after you’ve read the book. I’m going to purchase a copy of it now.
Excerpts from the book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success and the commentary above were taken from the newsletter “What I Learned This Week” forwarded from firstname.lastname@example.org.