The first thing I’ll say about Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck is this is a must read if you’re raising kids. I read it after raising my kids. I offer a blanket apology.
In the decade plus since this research was published, what Dweck calls a “growth-mindset” vs. a “fixed-mindset” has influenced school curriculums, organizational thinking and practices, parenting, sports, and relationships.
The basic idea here is the power of beliefs surrounding nature vs. nurture that influence our ability to thrive. If you believe that your capabilities come from your DNA blueprint (a fixed-mindset), then you operate with a psychological roadblock — spending time proving your gift vs. cultivating growth, and protecting your self-identity as “smart” or “athletic.” Or, if you believe you were born with mediocre gifts, you will play to those beliefs. People with a growth-mindset believe what they were born with can be developed, just like physical exercise develops muscles. This is not “you can do anything” thinking. It’s taking on challenges and seeking opportunities to improve instead of being locked in a world of “cans and can’ts” based on perceived inborn traits. She calls this “the power of yet”: that student struggling with geometry instead of a C, D, or F, gets a message of “not yet.” I just love that.
Mindsets are changeable with awareness — her work has demonstrated that “just learning about the growth mindset can cause a big shift in the way people think about themselves and their lives.” And, she’s not on a high horse here, she fesses up to her own now shifted fixed-mindset ways, and helps us find our way to the other side.
What’s your mindset?
There’s always a quiz. Dweck offers this quick one:
What do you most agree or disagree with:
Your intelligence is something very basic about you that you cannot change very much
You can learn new things, but you can’t really change how intelligent you are
No matter how much intelligence you have, you can always change it quite a bit
You can always substantially change how intelligent you are.
1 and 2 are fixed-mindset statements; 3 and 4 are growth-mindset statements. You can be (and probably are) a mixture, but most people lean toward one or the other. You also have beliefs about other abilities. You could substitute “artistic talent,” “sports ability,” or “business skill” for intelligence.
And, it’s not only your abilities, it’s your personal qualities too. What do you mostly agree or mostly disagree with:
You are a certain kind of person, and there is not much that can be done to really change that.
No matter what kind of person you are, you can always change substantially.
You can do things differently, but the important parts of who you are can’t really be changed.
You can always change basic things about the kind of person you are.
1 and 3 are the fixed-mindset statements, and 2 and 4 reflect-growth mindset.
She goes on to suggest that you try thinking about someone you know who is steeped in the fixed-mindset and think about how they are “always trying to prove themselves and are supersensitive about being wrong or making mistakes,” and think about the ways someone with a growth-mindset confronts obstacles — viewing mistakes, even failure, as learning.
In addition to our mindsets heavily influencing ourselves and our kids’ ability to learn how to thrive in the world, they also manifest in sports, organizations, and our relationships.
Dweck observes, “...sports is where the idea of “a natural” comes from.” She uses vignettes from the careers of Michael Jordan, Billy Beane, John McEnroe, and Babe Ruth to show that “a natural” can fail to become a champion when under the influence of a fixed-mindset, and talent unnoticed can become greatness with a growth-mindset and development of character.
Through surveying employees using statements like: This company values natural intelligence and business talent more than any other characteristic (fixed-mindset) and This company genuinely values the personal development and growth of its employees (growth-mindset), Dweck’s researchers found there was a strong skew to either a fixed- or growth-organizational mindset. They also found that, “People who work in growth-mindset companies have far more trust in their company, and a much greater sense of empowerment, ownership, and commitment.”
With some humor around mindsets in relationships, she points out that relationships offer a fixed-mindset three-fer. You can operate with a belief that your qualities are fixed, your partner’s qualities are fixed, and the relationship’s qualities are fixed. Not a recipe for bliss. In a growth-mindset relationship, the belief is that all three of these things can be developed.
This isn’t an “A for effort”
In the 10th anniversary updated edition, Dweck gives strong caution to well-intended misguided attempts at nurturing a growth-mindset in kids. It’s the learning, not the trying, that’s important. It isn’t just praising effort instead of ability, and it’s not about removing fear and discouragement. It’s about building a tool chest to help overcome obstacles and push forward.
Like everything in life, there’s work involved in shifting mindsets, and it all begins with us. By orienting to a growth-mindset ourselves, we radiate it to our children, organizations, teams, and relationships.
Sunday Morning Reflection
Where might you be under the influence of a fixed-mindset?
What could shift you to a growth-mindset? What’s your “not yet”?
Sunday Morning: 116