Growth-mindset is the primary attributes of every prodigy you might know. 

Have you ever noticed those geeks, geniuses, and world-class achievers while thinking to yourself, gosh, if only I had such talents, or if only I had such high IQ? Disappointing, I know, I have been there.

Perhaps, such way of thinking and having such beliefs about IQ and talent is the biggest hurdle in the way of great success and achievement.

Thinking that we are born with a pre-determined IQ and talent, is called fixed-mindset according to Carol Dweck, a professor of psychology at Stanford University.

The bad news is that people with fixed-mindset live a mediocre life and barely achieve anything extraordinary. The good news, however, is that you can readily change your fixed-mindset and adopt a growth-mindset which is the default mode thinking of world-class achievers.

In this book review, I will provide a summary of the key points in the book “Mindset: The psychology of success”. In addition, I will provide you with practical insights on how you can apply the concepts in the book and alter this self-limiting belief.

The two mindsets and how they determine your future

Dweck, as a young researcher, has always been obsessed with understanding how people cope with failure. So, at schools, she brings children into a room and gives them a series of puzzles to solve.

Puzzles start from fairly easy and continue to get harder and harder. As the students grunt, perspire and toil, she watches their strategies.

This is where she gets shocked by the two starkly different approaches children adopted when facing difficult challenges:

Confronted with harder puzzles, one ten-year-old pulls up his chair, rubs his hands together, smacks his lips, and cries out, “I love a challenge!”. Another, seating away on the puzzles, looks up with a pleased expression and says with authority, “You know, I was hoping this would be informative!” As Dweck puts it:

What’s wrong with them? I wondered. I always thought you coped with failure or you didn’t cope with failure. I never thought anyone loved failure. Were these alien children or were they on to something?

 

These children turned out to be thinking with a growth-mindset. A person with a growth mindset believes that human qualities, such as intellectual skills, can be cultivated through effort.

Having this belief, not only they do not get discouraged by failure, they don’t even think they are failing. Rather, they think that they are learning, and consequently, they get smarter!

The superpower of people with growth-mindset is that they have the confidence and courage to start and accomplish anything; and they do accomplish because, in the face of many inevitable failures, they are not discouraged. They do not say to themselves I am a failure, rather, they say I failed. Hence, they persevere, and they will triumph at the task.

People with a fixed-mindset, on the other hand, think that human qualities are carved in stone. You are smart or you are not, and failure means you are not. The sad story for people with fixed-mindset is that the try to avoid failure at all costs, so they can stay (feel) smart. Struggles, mistakes, perseverance are just not part of their philosophy.

The curse of people with fixed-mindset is that in the face of the very first failure, they are scared, and say to themselves: I am not made for this task. They do not persevere, and they will not grow.

Why do people differ?

The question that arises here, is why some people are endowed with a growth-mindset, while the others are doomed with the fixed-mindset. The answer is in their childhood upbringing and it is really simple.

Imagine you are given a puzzle and you solve it. Now your parent sees your accomplishment. This is where the seeds to glory or mediocrity get implanted. If your parent praised you in the lines of:

Look, what a smart boy/girl …

You are so intelligent, excellent …

Sorry to tell, but you are doomed if you have heard similar praises during your childhood. Such complements may come from your parents, teachers, caretakers, the source doesn’t really matter.

But wait for a second, aren’t such praises suppose to uplift your spirit and raise your confidence? Well, let’s see what happens behind the curtain (in your subconscious mind) when you are complimented on a trait, over which you have not direct control (in this case, IQ and intelligence).

Imagine you have solved a puzzle and received a juicy complement hinting on you high IQ or intelligence. Now, you are given a harder puzzle, you strive to solve it, but, you notice it is taking much more time. This is where the self-limiting seeds start to grow. In your subconscious you will start a self-dialog along these lines:

hmm, wasn’t I a smart boy/girl, why am I not able to solve this puzzle then??? Hmm, maybe this is just how smart I am. My intelligence is limited to those tasks only …

From then on, you will be very conservative of the activities you will get yourself into for the sake of preserving your self-esteem. Too bad! Don’t freak out though if you are in this category, I will share with you how you can easily change this self-limiting mindset as we proceed.

Now, let’s see how children are endowed with the growth mindset.

Imagine, again, the very same scenario, you solve a problem and now it is time for some praises … Your parent, instructor, while marveling at your accomplishments, says:

Hmm, good job, this might have been an easy puzzle, let’s do something more challenging…

or

Hmm, good job, you seem to have worked so hard, let’s move on to a harder puzzle.

Take note that in the second scenario, there is no emphasis on an innate trait, rather, the praise is on something which is you have control over, that is, your efforts and how hard you work.

Now let’s examine your self-dialog as you face the new harder challenge. When you try to solve the puzzle and it takes time more than the usual, if you could play your subconscious mind’s voice a little louder, you would hear:

Hmm, I have not yet solved it, I have not tried enough, I must work harder on it, it is exciting.

You see the difference? An amazing example of growth-mindset is babies. Lucky to be immune to such destructive praises, babies, trying to walk, are not worried about making mistakes or humiliating themselves.

They walk, they fall, they get, fall again, they try, indefinitely until they get it right. This is the very essence of growth-mindset. Knowing that with practice, and perseverance, you will get better and better (with caution, read smarter …).

How do I know if I have fixed-mindset or growth-mindset

The cornerstone of change is to first acknowledge that a shortcoming exist. So, to uncover if you have the fixed or growth-mindset, read the sentences below:

  1. Our intelligence is something very basic about you that you can’t change very much.
  2. You can learn new things, but you can’t really change how intelligent you are.
  3. No matter how much intelligence you have, you can always change it quite a bit.
  4. You can always substantially change how intelligent you are.

If you agree more with the sentences 1, and 2, you are mostly behaving and operating with a fixed-mindset, and if you identify yourself with sentences 3, and 4, you operating with a growth-mindset.

When asked people, ranging from children to young adults: When Do You Feel Smart: When you are flawless or when you are learning? Here are how differently people with a fixed-mindset replied:

It’s when I don’t make any mistakes.

When I finish something fast and it’s perfect.

When Something is easy for me but other people can’t do it.

And this is how people with growth-mindset replied:

When it’s really hard, and I try really hard, and I can do something I couldn’t do before.

When I work on something for a long time and I start to figure it out.

See the difference? Which set of answers resonates most with you?

There was a saying in 1960 which read:

“Becoming is better than being”. The fixed-mindset robs people from the luxury of becoming. They have to already be.

How to easily put people into the growth-mindset

If you are a parent, teacher, coach, etc. both you and your subjects benefit enormously if everyone operates with a growth-mindset. Let me recount a real example from the book for you to see how you can make this happen.

Joseph Martocchio conducted a study of employees who were taking a short computer training course. Half of the employees were put in a fixed mindset. He told them it was all a matter of how much ability they possessed.

The other half was put in a growth mindset. He told them that computer skills could be developed through practice. Everyone, steeped in these mindsets, then proceeded with the course.

Although the two groups started off with exactly equal confidence in their computer skills, by the end of the course they looked quite different.

Those in the growth mindset gained considerable confidence in their computer skills as they learned, despite the many mistakes they inevitably made.

But, because of those mistakes, those with the fixed mindset actually lost confidence in their computer skills as they learned!

Meanwhile, you might ask, but, what about those IQ tests? Aren’t the students sorted into different levels based on their prior abilities and achievements? Well, you must remember that test scores and any measures of achievement tell you where a student is, and they don’t tell you where a student could end up.

Mindset in relationships

Mindsets manifest themselves in every domain, whether you are a leader, teacher, parent, or a husband/wife. I chose relationship since I guess there are lots of myths around this topic (we all once craved to find our one true soulmate I guess), and also you must beware that even people with growth-mindset, might approach a domain like relationships with fixed-mindset.

People with fixed-mindset think that if their relationship is the right one, and if they are compatible with one another, well, this means most things will fall into its place. In the face of problems, they tremble and threads of doubts and fears start to sneak in.

People with fixed-mindset say if this is the right relationship and if we are compatible, there must be no need for hustle and hard work to get it to work. Remember the delusions sparked by the fixed-mindset? “If you have the ability, then you shouldn’t work hard for it”.

Aaron Beck, noted marriage authority, says that one of the most destructive beliefs for a relationship is “If we need to work at it, there’s something seriously wrong with our relationship.” Says John Gottman, a foremost relationship researcher:

Every marriage demands an effort to keep it on the right track; there is a constant tension . . . between the forces that hold you together and those that can tear you apart.

As with personal achievement, this belief — that success should not need effort — robs people of the very thing they need to make their relationship thrive. It’s probably why so many relationships go stale — because people believe that being in love means never having to do anything taxing.

How do I go from fixed-mindset to growth-mindset

Congrats, you have already taken the first step by knowing about  these two modes of thinking.

Regardless of these further steps, the sheer awareness of these two mindsets takes you a long way, though, it may not be enough.

One way which is a profoundly effective way to instill the growth-mindset is studying the lives of great performers, and world-known figures like Michael Jordan, Mozart, Michelangelo, etc.

Why you might ask. The reason is that when you study the lives of such achievers, you will notice a common theme in their life story and that it, “hard work”, and not talent or IQ. While people marveled at the Pietà masterpiece, this is how the wizard, Michelangelo responded:

If people knew how hard I worked to get my mastery, it wouldn’t seem so wonderful at all.

Reading about these figures also debunks many self-limiting beliefs induced on us by movies such as Good Will Hunting in which a janitor (Matt Damon) solves a math open problem by glancing at it and just figuring out the solution.

You will realize that for someone like Einstein, it took 10 years of daily, deliberate, and intense effort to reach the theory of relativity.

Another way to cultivate growth-mindset is to be aware. In case of any failure or setbacks, do not see them as signs of stupidity or shortcomings of mental capacity, rather, choose to see them as a lack of experience and skill.

So, beware, when a self-limiting dialog initiates in your mind, stating that you are not made for this task, you are not good enough to do this, and remember that all you ever need is just a little push …

In the end, I would like you to share with me in the comments if you identify yourself as someone who used to have fixed-mindset?

What has helped you change your mindset in the past? Or if you think you always though and behaved with a growth-mindset, let me know what you think has contributed to the formation of this mindset in you (teachers, parents, any specific quotes you might remember).

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