Carol S. Dweck, PhD, has written a great book — Mindset: The New Psychology of Success (Ballantine, 2007) — on how our worldview guides every part of our lives. A leading researcher in the field of motivation, Dweck explores how adopting what she calls the “growth mindset” can positively affect our lives, while adopting a “fixed mindset” can leave us feeling frustrated and stalled.
In a fixed mindset, we are only as good as our performance, and our sense of self-worth is on the line with everything we do, so failure is something to avoid at all costs. In a growth mindset, we embrace challenging opportunities because we know that we can reach our highest potential only by consistently playing at our edges.
This book is packed with wisdom on how we can shift from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset and create more authentic, awesome lives. Let’s dive in!
What’s Your Mindset?
The mindset you adopt will make a huge difference in your quality of life, writes Dweck. “For 20 years, my research has shown that the view you adopt for yourself profoundly affects the way you lead your life. It can determine whether you become the person you want to be and whether you accomplish the things you value.”
How does this happen? The answer lies in Dweck’s descriptions of the two mindsets.
First, the fixed mindset: “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.”
In other words, the fixed mindset is the belief that you are born with all the talent, intelligence and personality characteristics you will ever possess. So every situation you face, from the fixed-mindset perspective, is a test of your characteristics. When you live from that place, you live with a lot of fear of screwing up, because you believe it “proves” that the characteristics you were born with aren’t that great.
Compare that with the growth mindset: “In this mindset, the hand you’re dealt is just the starting point for development. The 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.”
The growth mindset is grounded in the idea that what we’re born with is just the beginning — a foundation. With diligent effort, we can develop and build our skills — and move from ordinary to extraordinary.
Passion, Toil, Training
People with the growth mindset aren’t unrealistically idealistic, writes Dweck. They know we’re not all going to be Einsteins or Beethovens. What they do believe is that “a person’s true potential is unknown (and unknowable); that it’s impossible to foresee what can be accomplished with years of passion, toil, and training.” Someone with the growth mindset knows that working hard is the best way to tap into her potential.
A person with a fixed mindset would never even consider putting in that much hard work, because she needs to be able to show results immediately, and she would interpret any failure to produce extraordinary results the first time out as proof that she’s an idiot.
Also, the whole idea of even having to work hard would be a sign that she must not be great to begin with.
“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.”
And here’s the great news: If you’re in a fixed mindset now, you’re not stuck there forever. “You have a choice,” writes Dweck. “Mindsets are just beliefs. They’re powerful beliefs, but they’re just something in your mind, and you can change your mind.”
Love What You Do
Here’s something ironic: Many growth-minded people never plan to rise to the top of their chosen career or creative pursuit, but, often, they wind up doing so.
Why? While “the top is where many fixed-minded people hunger to be . . . it’s where many growth-minded people arrive as a byproduct of their enthusiasm for what they do,” writes Dweck.
Instead of focusing on what the outcome of success might be (fame, fortune, respect), growth-minded people focus on their love for the activity, and it helps them succeed.
“This point is . . . crucial,” writes Dweck. “In the fixed mindset, everything is about the outcome. If you fail — or if you’re not the best — it’s all been wasted. The growth mindset allows people to value what they’re doing regardless of the outcome.” Then, often, the desired outcome follows!
What’s more (and this is a really big idea) when you switch from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset, you can boost your happiness right then in the moment.
“How do you act when you feel depressed?” writes Dweck. “Do you work harder at things in your life or do you let them go? Next time you feel low, put yourself in a growth mindset — think about learning, challenge, confronting obstacles. Think about effort as a positive, constructive force, not as a big drag. Try it out.” The effort you invest in the moment will boost your mood in the moment.
Adopting a growth mindset is the first key to building more happiness and success. The second, writes Dweck, is developing a solid, specific plan of action.
“Concrete plans — plans you can visualize — about when, where, and how you are going to do something are going to lead to really high levels of follow-through, which, of course, ups the chances of success.
“So the idea is not only to make a growth-minded plan, but also to visualize, in a concrete way, how you’re going to carry it out.”
Ultimately, Dweck quotes sociologist Benjamin Barber, who said that he doesn’t divide people into successes and failures, but into “learners and nonlearners.”
Given that we can choose our mindset, and that learners succeed more often, which group do you want to join?
About the Author
Carol S. Dweck, PhD, 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. Her work has been featured in such publications as The New Yorker, Time, the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Boston Globe.