Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Mindset: The New Psychology of Success

On a friend's recommendation, I read Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. The principle behind the book is very simple, but the book jacket sums it up nicely:

...everyone has one of two basic mindsets. If you have the fixed mindset, you believe that your talents and abilities are set in stone--either you have them or you don't. You must prove yourself over and over, trying to look smart and talented at all costs. This is the path of stagnation. If you have a growth mindset, however, you know that talents can be developed and that great abilities are build over time. This is the path of opportunity--and success.
The author, Carol Dweck, is a PhD researcher in psychology from Stanford. While I agree with the Amazon reviewers who said that the book could have been summarized in a small pamphlet (because the premise is so simple), I read the whole book because I found the examples so fascinating...and because I had a hard time figuring out which mindset I have.

In many ways, I have the fixed mindset. I look at myself and think I have X amount of smarts. Therefore, I will work at X level. I won't work harder than level X because it wouldn't do any good. And I make excuses... If s/he is doing better than I am, it's only because she's smarter than I am. In other words, her success is directly related to her brains. It's so easy to take effort out of the equation.

But then I stop to think about it. If I worked harder, could I achieve more? Yes, I probably could. I've had quite a bit of success in the work world without (to me) a lot of effort. So it makes it feel like I got where I am on smarts, not on effort. But then I look at an author I admire and think, "Man, she got all the breaks..." when in reality, she probably just worked harder. I remember listening to one author speak. She said, "I figured that if I was going to be a doctor, it would take ten years of hard work, learning what I needed to know to do my craft. I was willing to put that ten years in, learning what I needed to be a skilled writer. If after ten years I still hadn't arrived, I figured I could reconsider then."

But the principle applies in so many areas of life. According to Dweck, those with a fixed mindset are quick to write off those who see things differently. So, for example, if I post my opinion on a public forum and people disagree with me, I'll say things to myself like, "Well, they just aren't as smart or as knowledgeable as I am," or "They're just jealous," or "They don't know what they're talking about." In contrast, someone in a growth mindset is able to consider the opinions of others, reflect, and use the information for further growth...all without taking it personally.

The principle also applies to parenting and education. Fixed mindset parents tell their kids, "You're smart." If a child is told "you're smart" too often, they develop the fixed mindset...believing that they have X amount of smarts and should never let anyone see their weaknesses. Therefore, they do exactly what they need to do to show X amount...and not an ounce more. It reminds me of all my years in school. I'd do what it took to get an "A." But not an ounce more.

In contrast, growth mindset parents say, "Wow, you worked really hard on that project." Children learn that people who succeed are people who put in the effort.

I see areas of both fixed and growth mindset in my life. The good news is that Dweck says people can change their fixed mindset. I'm working on it. ;)

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