When I first came across Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol S. Dweck, it did not pique my interest. The book cover is dull and the title seems to suggest it’s one of those books that simply elaborates on widely known concepts. However, wanting to order one more book, I added it to my online cart since the book cover shows a recommendation from Bill Gates. And if Bill Gates recommends it, then it can’t be all that bad right?
After reading the book’s introduction, my initial perception was further reinforced. Growth mindset is about believing people can develop their abilities and fixed mindset is about believing people are born with fixed traits. A growth mindset can help you fulfill your potential whereas a fixed mindset will hinder it. An entire book on this fundamental concept seems too dragged out to me. “At least it’s a short book that I can practice speed reading with” so I thought.
After the initial pages, this book quickly drew me in. The concept is indeed simple to grasp. However, the application of it and its impact on our daily lives is not something that I was actively conscious of. It helps you understand how people behave the way they do at times and how you can possibly help yourself as well as others in fulfilling their potential.
Growth vs. Fixed Mindset
The growth mindset is based on the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts, your strategies, and help from others.
When you adopt a growth mindset, it changes how you approach challenges and setbacks. Failure is no longer an indication of who you are because it doesn’t measure who you can become. It’s merely feedback for you to reflect on what you can improve on. Challenges are no longer something you fear but something you cherish, because the more challenging a task is, the more room there is for you to learn and improve.
Whereas when you have a fixed mindset, you believe people have fixed traits. Failures are therefore feared upon since if your abilities are fixed, failures are not a reflection of how you did but a measurement of what you can do. A fixed mindset also makes effort disagreeable. If you are smart and you try your best, are you really that smart if you still fail? It is common to hear at exam centers people saying how little they studied and how unprepared they are. Sometimes it almost seems like it’s a competition to see who is the most unprepared. I’m guilty of doing so in the past myself. Although some people are indeed more gifted than others at a given subject, your talent is not an indication of your performance. We all know people who did great not because of any special talent, but because of their relentless effort on improving themselves.
At this point, you might be categorizing yourself either as having a growth mindset or a fixed mindset and probably the former since people tend to view themselves in a positive light. However, people can and usually do have different mindsets in different areas. This is evident when it comes to artistic abilities. Students might have a growth mindset when they are studying for subjects like history, chemistry, or math. But when it comes to artistic abilities like drawing, the word talent is very often thrown around. Yet experiments have shown that you can greatly improve your drawing skills if you learn how to see. So when you are shying away from challenges next time, think to yourself whether you are falling into a fixed mindset.
Keep in mind that the growth mindset is not only on how you view yourself but on how you view others as well. By having a growth mindset towards other people, you will be more willing to put in the effort to help them. Your peers might be underperforming now, but you know they can develop their abilities if they put in the effort. And if you are in a leadership position, don’t be too controlling and abusive as it can put your team into a fixed mindset. Make sure you foster a safe environment where people can make mistakes and learn from it without being judged.
The Danger of Positive Labels
When stereotypes are evoked, they fill people’s minds with distracting thoughts – with secret worries about conforming to stereotype.
The impact of negative labels is clear. You might get discouraged, get down on yourself, or subconsciously conform to the negative labels put on you. It still happens all the time, but the negative impact is clear which makes it easily avoidable.
When it comes to positive labels such as “You are brilliant for acing the exam!” and “Look at that beautiful portrait you did! You are so talented!”, people give out these praises without second thoughts since it usually makes people who receive them happy. What people fail to realize is when you praise someone on their talent over their effort, you are also putting pressure on the person to not fail. Since if their superior results is due to their talent, then they should keep on delivering superior results as the talent won’t just suddenly disappear. And if their performance is due to their talent, then why do they need to put in the effort?
Rather than praising someone on their talent, praise their effort instead. “Look at that beautiful portrait you did! Your hard work really paid off!”. Doing so will reinforce the value of putting in the hard work. And when they fail, it’s no longer because of who they are but about the additional effort they can put in to improve the result.
Praising people’s effort is great, but you only do it when they do put in the effort. Say your kid aces a challenge without putting in any effort. Instead of praising their effort, you can say “this question seems too easy for you, sorry let me find a harder question that will really allow you to learn”. This will teach the kid the importance of learning.
Remember how hard it is for people with the fixed mindset to forgive? Part of it is that they feel branded by a rejection or breakup. But another part is that if they forgive the partner, if they see him or her as a decent person, then they have to shoulder more of the blame themselves. If my partner’s a good guy, then I must be a bad guy. I must be the person who was at fault.
When you are in a long term relationship, you will eventually get into disagreements with your partner. If you have a fixed mindset on either your partner or the relationship, then you will probably not believe that the relationship can be improved. And if a relationship cannot be improved, then no effort will be put towards trying to fix the problem. People with a fixed mindset will start assigning blame. They might blame themselves but often they blame their partner instead. And as time goes on, they see the problems as their partner’s character flaws.
The belief that partners have the potential for change should not be confused with the belief that the partner will change. The partner has to want to change, commit to change, and take concrete actions toward change.
When you have a growth mindset, you believe that you and your partner can improve and fix the relationship. It enables you to focus on the problem and to work with your partner towards a solution.
Carol S. Dweck is a world-renowned Stanford University psychologist. The mindset concept is simple but it is the various applications on our daily lives that makes it very insightful. I highly recommend people to give this book a read. It can have a profound impact on you as well as those around you.
Have you read this book? And is there any book you would recommend? I’ll love to hear your thoughts. 🙂
I’m currently reading Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari.