Updated: Jun 4
I recently finished reading Mindset by Carol Dweck, and it was so transformative that I need everyone run to their nearest library or bookstore and get themselves a copy.
I learned about mindsets in high school. We talked a bit about how a fixed mindset was bad and a growth mindset was good, but I doubt that the vague descriptions made an impact on many of us. We weren’t taught how deeply your mindset can affect your trajectory in any aspect of life.
In a nutshell, the fixed mindset is the belief that intelligence is static, and the growth mindset is the belief that intelligence can be developed. That much is not groundbreaking. The part that blows my mind is what behaviors each lead to based on what each mindset desires.
Having the fixed mindset makes people want to look smart, capable, and good at music, sports, business, etc. Arguably, most people want to be seen as smart and good at what they do. It’s validating. But what sets apart people with a fixed mindset is the hoops they jump through to prove their intelligence or competence. For example, they have an unwillingness to challenge themselves for fear of failing (like avoiding competitions or jobs that they think they might lose), they ignore negative criticism, even when helpful, and they don’t try new things to avoid appearing incapable.
What differentiates people with the growth mindset is their eagerness to learn, even if it doesn’t prove their intelligence in the moment. They seek out challenges and see problems as learning opportunities rather than impossible feats. When things get harder for them, they don’t lose interest, unlike their fixed mindset counterparts.
In one study, a group of fifth graders was given puzzles to solve, which they loved. Once the puzzles became harder, the fixed mindset students showed a decline in their enjoyment level, even the students who started out as great puzzle-solvers. Students with the growth mindset loved the harder puzzles even more and couldn’t tear themselves away. This is one example of many.
When do you feel smart? When do you feel like a great musician? Is it when you don’t make any mistakes, or when you make great progress after working hard?
People with a fixed mindset often feel smart when they are perfect right now. Their answers to the question include:
“When I don’t make any mistakes.”
“When something is easy for me, but other people can’t do it.”
People with the growth mindset said:
“When it’s really hard, and I try really hard, and I can do something I couldn’t do before.”
This is why we say progress over perfection. It’s not a copout. It will take you farther than if you limit yourself in the moment.
People with the fixed mindset don’t want to let anyone know when they’ve worked hard, or, they want to purposefully not give their best effort so that they have an excuse when they don’t make top marks. They see effort as a sign of not having true intelligence. They think you either have it or you don’t, and a lost audition or a bad grade must mean you don’t.
I used to see this all the time in school. How many times have you heard your classmates say, “I just bullshitted that assignment” or “I just kind of guessed”? These responses may have truth to them, but the nonchalance of proving that they didn’t try just so that a grade seems more impressive or justified feeds into the fixed mindset.
Failure is tough because we learn that it's inferior, shameful, and embarrassing. We never learn that failures are necessary for growth and improvement. We can use the words failure, roadblock, mistake, or stepping stone, but they’re all related.
Let’s say you take an audition. Let’s say you don’t win the audition. There are different ways you can take this information.
One is to say that you were better than everyone else, you deserved to win. Despite that being a tad egotistical, it’s also unhelpful and places blame on the judges, rather than on your performance.
Another way is to say that the audition wasn’t important, and music in general really isn’t important, and maybe you didn’t care about it that much anyway. It is dangerous to learn to devalue things as soon as we are not good at them.
The next way would be to say that you lost the audition, therefore you are a failure, and you won’t ever win any audition. This is tunnel vision and it is entirely too literal. Failing once (or many times) is not proof of the future or who you are as a person.
The last way to take this information is to simply say that you didn’t win, you didn’t deserve to because someone outplayed you, and that even though you’re not there yet, you still have a possibility of winning an audition if you continue to improve your skills and work harder. This is the only answer that doesn’t distort reality and still gives you the information you need to move forward. You can still be disappointed, but the point is knowing that this is one stop out of many, rather than assuming this is the end of the road.
When our primary goal is looking good at what we do, we suffer. When our primary goal is learning and growth, we approach life differently. The topic is more nuanced than just “keep trying!” but the essence is to reframe our minds and be more flexible in our assumptions of ourselves, colleagues, and students.
There is so much to say about this book and this topic that I could write pages upon pages of insights. There have been few books that have changed my perspective as much as this one has. It is an irreplaceable resource for students, teachers, parents, managers, teammates, etc.
In conclusion, this book will change your life and I urge you to read it.
Have you read Mindset? What were your favorite takeaways?
*Disclosure: I get commissions for purchases made through some of the links in this post