Mindset: The New Psychology of Success
By Carol S Dweck, PhD
After decades of research, world-renowned Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck has concluded that the power to achieve our full potential lies in our mindset. Her findings are that everyone falls into one of two general mindsets – fixed or growth – and the difference between the two can make the difference in terms of success or failure in all aspects of life.
In a fixed mindset, you believe the talents and abilities you have are simply those you happen to have been born with, therefore they can’t be changed, but in a growth mindset, you believe that any talents you have can be developed, and further abilities can be gained and mastered over time, therefore they can be changed. The author makes the case for promoting a growth mindset by pointing out the many creative geniuses throughout history who have applied a growth mindset in their field to achieve phenomenal results.
By documenting her studies, Carol Dweck sets out her discovery that the key to helping ourselves (and others) to improve and achieve personal or professional goals is found in recognising the way we think, identifying the beliefs we hold, and then adopting a growth mindset to develop resilience, a love of learning, and an openness to change that will allow us to fulfil our true potential.
My Top 3 Takes from the Summary
Changing what you believe about yourself has the power to change your entire life.
Your mindset is based on your beliefs, and what you believe is your choice.
A change of mind is always possible.
The New Psychology of Success
Mindset: The New Psychology of Success is the result of over 20 years of research into how the way people view themselves profoundly influences and affects the way they live their lives. Your beliefs about yourself can determine whether the person you become is the person you want to be – or have the potential to be – and whether you accomplish the things in life that matter most to you. As the author puts it, changing what you believe can transform your psychology, and this in turn can change your life.
If you have a fixed mindset, you believe that the qualities you have are set in stone. Believing that you only have a certain level of intelligence or skill, or that you only have a certain personality or moral character can create a need to keep proving yourself over and over again through fear of being seen to be lacking in these fundamental traits. This way of thinking – or mindset – can be something you’ve subconsciously adopted in your childhood through parents or teachers praising certain behaviours or achievements.
Carol Dweck remembers her sixth-grade teacher in school firmly stamping fixed mindset attitudes into her and the rest of the class by only trusting the pupils with the highest IQ scores to do coveted tasks such as taking notes to the principal’s office or carrying the class flag. Being seen to be smart became her only goal, and in her words: “Who cared about or enjoyed learning when our whole being was at stake every time she gave us a test or called on us in class?” Proving herself in the classroom became an all-consuming goal, and she believes this need to confirm intelligence or any other trait is something many people carry with them throughout life, impacting all areas including careers and relationships. Will I succeed or fail? Will I look intelligent or stupid? Will I be accepted or rejected… feel like a winner or a loser?
Changing from a fixed to a growth mindset changes the way you view yourself. In a growth mindset, you no longer see the traits you have as the hand you’ve been dealt and therefore need to live with, you see these traits as just the starting point in your ongoing development. You believe the qualities you have can be cultivated and improved with time and effort, and that change and growth are always possible. This is not to say that people with a growth mindset believe anyone can be a genius to rival Einstein or a composer in the realms of Beethoven or Mozart, but they do believe that a person’s true potential is not something that can be foreseen, and there’s no knowing where passion, commitment, and dedicated training can lead. The belief that skills and abilities can be developed promotes an attitude of sticking with a passion or interest, even when things are not going particularly well, and it’s this willingness to keep pushing and stretching that is the hallmark of a growth mindset.
You Always Have a Choice
Carol Dweck and her doctoral student Mary Bandura began to question why some students seemed to get caught up in always trying to prove their ability while others were able to just be themselves and enjoy the process of learning. This led to the realisation that ‘ability’ has two distinct meanings: one being fixed, and the other changeable. Fixed ability needs to be proven, but changeable ability can be developed through learning. It was through noting these differences that the terms ‘fixed mindset’ and ‘growth mindset’ were born, and the author recognised for the first time that we always have a choice.
In a fixed mindset, success is about proving and validating yourself, but in a growth mindset, success is stretching and developing yourself. In a fixed mindset, failure such as losing a game, getting a bad grade, or being rejected is a setback that proves you’re not smart or not talented, but in a growth mindset, there’s no failure as you’re learning from every experience. It’s developing a growth mindset that allows us to keep putting in the effort needed to get through challenging times, so it takes a growth mindset to achieve our full potential. Mindsets are just beliefs, and what you believe is always your choice.
It’s a common misconception that talented individuals perform effortlessly. A talented musician plays without any effort; a talented golfer plays without effort, and a talented artist paints without effort. For those with a fixed mindset, even the idea of having to apply effort suggests that you’re not very talented, but those with a growth mindset recognise that achievements in any field come through hard work. In this mindset, effort is admired, no matter what level of ability someone has because it’s effort that can take ability to new levels of accomplishment. Talented individuals may have higher levels of natural ability, but without passion, drive, and a willingness to keep learning and improving, the full potential of those abilities won’t be realised. It’s for this reason that a fixed mindset limits an individual’s potential to become all they could be. To achieve great things requires great effort.
To back up her point, the author lists the findings of sports research:
Those with a growth mindset found success in doing their best, in learning and improving. For these athletes, success is working hard and doing your best to become your best.
Those with a growth mindset found setbacks motivating, informative, and a wake-up call.
Those with a growth mindset in sport took charge of the processes that bring success, and that maintain it.
These findings relate to sport and the mindset of champions, but they also apply to anyone wanting to be the best they can be in any area of life. In business, studies have revealed that managers with a fixed mindset are much more likely to search for talent only, judging employees on the abilities they have and then doing very little (if anything) to develop skills. They’re also much less likely to request or accept any critical feedback relating to their own performance as managers. On the other hand, managers with a growth mindset are much more inclined to see talent as nothing more than a nice starting point, choosing instead to commit to employee development at every level, and welcoming feedback that allows them to grow as a manager.
In relationships, individuals with a growth mindset find themselves able to deal with rejection and then move on, whereas those with a fixed mindset can find themselves stuck in a place of bitterness, intent on revenge. Rejection hurts, irrespective of mindset, but adopting a growth mindset allows lessons to be learned from the experience, and those lessons can be taken forward to create a better relationship experience next time.
Understanding mindsets helps us to understand more about people, and why some never fully use the skills they have and some never learn the skills they need. It helps us to understand why some people continue to throw themselves headfirst into new relationships, only to undermine themselves again, and why some relationships turn into battlegrounds while others blossom into enduring and fulfilling partnerships.
Developing a Growth Mindset
Citing her own experience of developing a fixed mindset in her childhood, Carol Dweck believes that parents, teachers, coaches, and any other individual involved in the development of children need to give careful thought to the language they use when encouraging young minds. Words and actions can be well-intentioned, but they may be sending out the wrong message. For example, praising a child by saying, “You learned that so quickly, you’re very clever,” could be understood by a young person as, “If I don’t learn something quickly, I’m not very clever.” The problem here is that praising intelligence and talent could lead to lowering self-esteem rather than boosting it, and this could stand in the way of achieving success.
Every word sends out a message, and the messages young people hear are informing them of the way they should think about themselves. After studying hundreds of children in eight separate research experiments, Carol has concluded that “praising children's intelligence harms their motivation and performance.” Children love praise, but if it’s only intelligence and talent that's being praised, all confidence will be lost and motivation will plummet the moment they come up against a difficulty. As they see it, if success marked them out as clever, then failure must mark them out as stupid – that’s a fixed mindset.
Developing a growth mindset is not about withholding praise, it’s about praising effort and the achievements resulting from those efforts rather than natural attributes. Praising growth-oriented processes – whether that’s practice, study, good strategies, or simply persistence – encourages more of the same, and more of the same will lead to improvements. To have a growth mindset is to have a belief in change. Studies have shown that students encouraged to adopt a growth mindset achieve better results; managers encouraged to adopt a growth mindset become more effective in their roles; and when people, in general, are taught how to apply a growth mindset to any aspect of life, they become motivated to take on more challenges, learn from every outcome, be more persistent when facing obstacles, and they accomplish more.
The author states that the most gratifying element of her work is watching people change, adding that there’s nothing better than seeing people find their way to things they value in life. She provides ideas and suggestions to help the reader begin the process of change for themselves, and while acknowledging that making a change isn’t always easy, she comments that she has yet to find anyone who would argue that it wasn’t worth the effort. People who make the change from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset find their lives enhanced, and she finds herself to be a more alive, courageous, and open person because of it.
The author provides compelling evidence from extensive research to back up her belief that an individual’s mindset can determine the level of success they are likely to achieve in life. She links her own findings to the findings of other related studies and paints a clear picture of the benefits of understanding your mindset and then making the switch from fixed to growth to give yourself every opportunity to achieve your full potential. Her research was sparked by her own experiences of a limiting fixed mindset, and the motivation behind the writing of this book was a desire to help others break free from their own limiting thought processes. The overriding message is that praising effort rather than intelligence or talent has a key role to play in promoting a growth mindset in young people, and it’s having this mindset that will help set them on a path to becoming the best they can be.
Throughout the book, many real-life scenarios, examples of thought processes, imagined conversations, and quotes from well-known figures are used to illustrate the author’s point. These not only help to bring research findings to life, they also help the reader to identify their own mindset and take steps to make changes for the better.
Bio of Author
Carol S. Dweck, PhD, is a leading researcher in the fields of social psychology, personality, developmental psychology, and motivation. She is the Lewis and Virginia Eaton Professor of Psychology at Stanford University and her research centres on success and how to foster it. A member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, her work has been published in The New Yorker, Newsweek, Time, The New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal, and her book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success has achieved worldwide acclaim, having been translated into 19 languages.