Mindset Summary

Carol S. Dweck

Mindset

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Mindset Summary

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In her non-fiction pop-psychology book Mindset, Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck uses decades of research to theorize that it is a person’s mindset, not their innate abilities or talents, that ultimately determines their success, whether at school, at work, or at home. She offers an overview of this idea—“growth mindset”—and provides actionable suggestions for a person to improve their own mindset or that of their employees or children.

Dweck begins by defining and establishing the differences between a “fixed mindset” and a “growth mindset.” Those with a fixed mindset believe that their success depends on innate, genetic gifts, and so feel a need to constantly prove themselves. When they fail, those with a fixed mindset experience a sense of paralysis as well as anger at the world. They will avoid similar situations in the future by any means necessary, believing that if they have failed once they will surely fail again. Those with a growth mindset, on the other hand, see their qualities as things that must be cultivated and do not feel that their traits—good and bad—were granted to them upon birth. They avoid labeling themselves as “bad” at anything, seeing failure as an opportunity for growth and success as an opportunity for further work and cultivation.

There is a difference, Dweck argues, between ability and accomplishment. She notes that many great thinkers and inventors began as average students, such as Mozart, Edison, and Darwin. She argues that (aside from those with severe learning disorders) all people can learn under the right conditions. Even artistic ability can be taught. She also uses examples from the world of sports, such as Roger Federer and Michael Jordan, to showcase the power of resilience and hard work over natural ability.

The disadvantages of a fixed mindset extend to those in leadership positions, Dweck says. Fixed mindset leaders create a work culture where talent is worshiped and so workers feel a compulsion to “show” their brilliance rather than actually accomplish things. These leaders have a tendency towards arrogance, building weak teams underneath them, as only the leader’s ideas matter, and setting up their team to fail once the leader leaves. Leaders with a growth mindset, however, know that hard work is more important than brilliance, and see their leadership role as yet another way to grow and learn.

Mindset also plays a key role in interpersonal relationships, both romantic and platonic. Those with a fixed mindset see relationships as a zero sum game—if work is required or problems arise, the relationship is doomed. They shift the blame to the other person, letting issues fester because they fear putting in the hard work of resolving disagreements. Those with growth mindsets understand that relationships require hard work, and view breakups as learning experiences. They practice good conflict resolution techniques like active listening and empathy, and address problems right away and with self-awareness. Children with fixed mindsets are more affected by bullying, both as perpetrator and victim. The perpetrator wants to feel better about themselves, and the victim internalizes the bullying, leading to poor self-esteem. On the other hand, children with growth mindsets are able to see bullying as only a reflection of the bully.

Where does a person’s mindset come from? Dweck suggests that one’s childhood is the greatest determinant of mindset. Parents, teachers, and coaches create a child with a fixed mindset by overpraising intelligence, internally separating “smart” kids from “dumb” ones, and seeing a child’s failure as a reflection on their parenting or teaching, often reacting poorly and further solidifying a fixed mindset. To raise a child with a growth mindset, adults should praise children for effort and persistence, rather than intelligence. Children must see parents as their allies in future success, and not fear their reaction to failure.

In her final chapter, Dweck provides way for those with fixed mindsets to shift to a growth mindset. Rather than labeling oneself or engaging in negative self-talk after failure, people should take stock of the situation, determining how to do things differently next time. This will be difficult at first, but changing mindsets involves exercising your brain, something that takes time and effort. Changing from a fixed to growth mindset will likely change the way a person sees the world. Those with fixed mindsets feel the world owes them something, while those with a growth mindset focus on making concerted efforts to achieve success.

Mindset is not simply about the ways in which our brains work. It is a roadmap to rewiring our thinking and changing the way we view ourselves and others, so that we can engender greater success in all aspects of life.