You have powerful beliefs that affect what you want in life and whether you get it. In Mindset, psychologist and researcher Carol S. Dweck argues that your mindset can determine the course of much of your life, starting as early as your preschool years.
You learn one of two mindsets from your parents, teachers, and coaches: that personal qualities such as intelligence and ability are innate and unchangeable (the fixed mindset) or that you and others can change and grow (the growth mindset). Understanding and adjusting your mindset can change your career, relationships, the way you raise your children, and your overall satisfaction in life.
1-Page Summary of Mindset
Although you may not be conscious of them, you have powerful beliefs that affect what you want and whether you get it. In Mindset, psychologist and researcher Carol S. Dweck argues that **your attitudes about how fixed your abilities and intelligence are can determine the course of much of your life, starting as early as your preschool years. **
You learn one of two mindsets from your parents, teachers, and coaches: that personal qualities such as intelligence are innate and unchangeable (a “fixed” mindset) or that you and others can change and grow (a “growth” mindset). This view shapes your personality and helps or hinders you from reaching your potential.
Your mindset shapes how you learn, cope with setbacks, advance in your career, and relate to others. Here’s how the two mindsets compare.
Fixed mindset: When you have a fixed mindset, you believe your abilities are unchangeable. You were born with certain traits and a certain amount of intelligence and that’s that. Many people are trained in this mindset from an early age — for instance, by a teacher who believes your IQ determines everything: You’re either smart or you’re dumb; you can learn or you can’t. When you view your abilities as unchangeable, you feel you must constantly prove yourself. If people get a set amount of intelligence, you want to prove you have a lot, although you secretly worry you were shortchanged.
Growth mindset: When you have a growth mindset, you believe the abilities you’re born with are a starting point. You can get smarter and grow with hard work, persistence, and the right learning strategies. You have a passion for learning, welcome mistakes as opportunities to learn, and seek challenges so you can stretch.
The two different mindsets lead to different sets of thoughts and actions, and two different paths. They dictate people’s aspirations; how they see success, failure, and effort; and what that means in school, sports, work, and relationships. Here are some ways the mindsets shape your life.
Success and Failure
In the fixed mindset world, success is about proving to yourself and others that you’re smart and talented. If you fail, it means you’re not smart or talented, therefore failure is intolerable. Failure is any type of setback: a bad grade, losing a competition, not getting the job or promotion you want, being rejected. Effort is a negative — if you need it, that means you’re not smart.
In the growth mindset world where you can change, success is about stretching yourself, learning, and improving. Failure is not seizing an opportunity to learn, not striving for what’s important to you, not reaching for your potential. Effort is a positive — it helps you get smarter and increase your abilities.
Perfection Versus Learning
For people with fixed mindsets, perfection is essential. To feel smart, they not only have to “get it” right away, they have to be perfect at it.
When researchers asked students from grade school to college age when they felt smart, fixed-mindset students said it was when they could do something quickly without making any mistakes. For growth-minded people, it wasn’t about perfection. They said they felt smart when they tried hard and made progress or were able to do something they couldn’t do before. Feeling smart was about learning.
Fixed Mindsets and Entitlement
A fixed-mindset person’s need to believe they’re smart can evolve into a sense of entitlement or specialness. Not only are they smart, they’re smarter or more talented than anyone else. Their need for validation is constant. The self-esteem movement bolsters this belief, for instance by encouraging you to remember your specialness with daily affirmations.
Tennis player John McEnroe is an example of both an entitled attitude and the pitfalls of a fixed mindset. He believed only in talent. Because he didn’t learn, he didn’t improve or grow as a player.
In contrast, basketball player Michael Jordan was growth-minded. He found public admiration embarrassing because he didn’t consider himself to be better than others — he’d developed his skills by working at them and always had room to improve.
How Mindsets Affect Children
As early as preschool age, children develop mindsets or beliefs about their ability. Fixed mindsets slow or shut down the strong drive to learn that babies are born with. Some children become fearful of not being seen as smart; they begin rejecting challenges. Others, with a growth mindset, embrace challenges and relish becoming smarter. Fixed-mindset children become non-learners.
Parents and teachers typically try to build children’s self-confidence by praising their ability, but this can be harmful. Praising their ability sends the message that adults value ability and can determine a child’s ability from his or her performance. This is a fixed mindset. Here’s how it plays out.
Researchers gave early adolescent students ten problems to solve, then praised either their ability or their effort. Praising students for their ability pushed them into a fixed mindset. When offered another difficult task they could learn from, they rejected it, not wanting to show any cracks in their talent by failing.
However, the students who were praised for effort (a growth-minded approach) wanted to take on the new challenge.
Applying a growth mindset, praise children for what they’ve achieved through good study strategies, practice, and persistence. Show interest in how they succeeded or improved, in their efforts and choices. For instance, you might comment, “You really studied hard and it paid off. I can see how much you improved. Outlining the important points was a good strategy.” Or, “It’s great that you kept trying different ways of solving that math problem until you got it.”
The best way for parents to help their children build confidence is to teach them to welcome challenges, to want to understand mistakes, to enjoy effort, and to continually look for and try new learning strategies.
Bullying in school is about powerful kids judging vulnerable kids as less worthy or less valuable human beings. Bullies apply fixed-mindset thinking. They prove their superiority by singling out others as inferior because of some difference. A fixed mindset can also affect how victims of bullying respond. A victim may develop a fixed mindset, believing they’re inferior and deserve the bullying, especially if no one else stands up for them. Victimization can lead to depression, violence, and sometimes suicide.
Mindsets in Relationships
Having a fixed mindset can lead to relationship problems. In a fixed mindset, you believe that your traits and your partner’s are unchangeable. You also believe your relationship is unchangeable: it was either meant to be or not to be. If it was meant to be, you’ll live in perfect harmony, happily ever after.
People with fixed mindsets also have these counterproductive beliefs: partners should be so in sync that they can read each other’s minds, they should have the same views on everything, and that any problems are the result of unchangeable character flaws.
In contrast, people with a growth mindset believe you can have flaws and still have a good relationship. Flaws and disagreements can be improved with clear communication and are opportunities to get closer.
Developing a Growth Mindset
Often, just learning about the two mindsets and how they affect you can prompt change. However, completely changing takes time. The fixed mindset hangs around, competing with the growth-oriented ways of thinking that you’re trying to adopt.
Your fixed mindset beliefs about being smart, ambitious, superior, and super-competent may be your source of self-esteem, which makes them difficult to give up for more challenging ideas about developing yourself through effort, taking on challenges, making mistakes, and learning through constructive criticism.
You may temporarily feel that you’re losing your sense of who you are. But the growth mindset ultimately frees you from constantly judging yourself so you can be authentic and explore your full potential.
Achieving a growth mindset is a journey. You don’t get there all at once — you have to take one step at a time. Here are the beginning steps.
1) Accept having a fixed mindset. Even when you’re on a path to growth, you have lingering fixed-mindset beliefs. In fact, everyone has a mix of fixed and growth-oriented beliefs. You can accept this reality without accepting the negatives a fixed mindset causes.
2) Learn what prompts your fixed mindset. When is your fixed-mindset persona likely to materialize? Possibilities include: when you take on a challenge, when you face obstacles or fail at something, or when a friend or colleague achieves something you envy.
3) Name your fixed-mindset persona. This can help you identify when you’re acting with a fixed mindset and remind you that’s not who you want to be. Pay attention to what happens with this persona is triggered.
4) Confront your fixed mindset: When your fixed mindset materializes, have an imaginary conversation with it. For instance, if you’re about to take on a new challenge, your fixed-mindset way of thinking may prompt you to worry about failure and want to quit. However, you can be ready to counter these beliefs when they come up by reminding yourself that risk is inherent in growth and failures are opportunities to learn.
Full Summary of Mindset
Chapter 1: Two Mindsets
Although you may not be conscious of them, you have powerful beliefs that affect what you want and whether you get it. In Mindset, psychologist and researcher Carol S. Dweck argues that one belief in particular can determine the course of much of your life, starting as early as your preschool years.
You learn one of two mindsets from your parents, teachers, and coaches — that personal qualities such as intelligence and ability are innate and unchangeable (a “fixed” mindset) or that you and others can change and grow (a “growth” mindset). Regardless of which view dominates your thi…
Read the rest of the “Mindset” summary at my new book summary product, Shortform.
Here’s what you’ll find in the full Mindset summary:
- Chapter 1: Two Mindsets
- Exercise: What’s Your Mindset?
- Chapter 2: Two Different Worlds
- Exercise: Risking Failure
- Chapter 3: Ability and Achievement
- Exercise: Rethinking Praise
- Chapter 4: Talent and Mindset in Sports
- Chapter 5: Leadership and Mindset in Business
- Exercise: Groupthink
- Chapter 6: Mindset in Relationships
- Exercise: Magical Thinking
- Chapter 7 Part 1: Bullying
- Chapter 7 Part 2: Mindset for Parents, Teachers, and Coaches
- Exercise: Constructive Criticism
- Chapter 8: A New Mindset
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