[PDF] Mindset Summary - Carol S. Dweck (2022)

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 the way you think determines the course 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 life satisfaction.

In this guide, we explore Dweck’s mindset theory, most notably the nature vs. nurture debate. We connect her ideas with other self-help books to further explore the damage a fixed mindset causes and the benefits of a growth mindset. Finally, we link to practical tools and techniques to help you learn how to overcome a fixed mindset and embrace taking chances and making mistakes.

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Bullying

Dweck believes that bullying can cause victims to develop fixed mindsets. Victims come to believe that they really are inferior in some way, and therefore must deserve the bullying. This is especially true if no one else stands up for them.

Dweck adds that victims with fixed mindsets are more likely to have revenge fantasies—to want to strike back and hurt the bully, either to prove their own superiority or because they see the bully as a bad person who deserves to be punished. Conversely, victims who have growth mindsets (despite the bullying) are more likely to want to understand, help, and ultimately reform their aggressor.

Furthermore, Dweck argues that bullying not only causes but is also caused by fixed mindset thinking: The bullies judge vulnerable kids as inherently less valuable. Bullies prove their superiority by singling out others as inferior because of some real or perceived difference.

(Shortform note: Some child and adolescent psychologists believe that taking a growth-mindset approach to helping and rehabilitating bullies is the right idea. Research suggests that bullies act the way they do because they lack the social and self-regulatory skills to interact with their peers in a healthy way. If that’s true, then punishing bullies is ineffective because they don’t know how to do better. Therefore, anti-bullying efforts should focus instead on teaching them the skills they lack.)

How the Mindsets Affect Your Life

Dweck says that your mindset is the basis of your thoughts, actions, and experiences. It impacts every aspect of your life. Here are a few examples:

The Mindsets in Sports

Fixed-mindset thinking is often found in the world of sports, where the child who is “a natural” is expected to achieve and the others aren’t.

Naturals do exist in sports, but Dweck believes that talent becomes a drawback for people with fixed mindsets. These kids tend to not push themselves—either because they already feel superior, or because they’re terrified of failure. Furthermore, fixed-mindset athletes tend to put individual performance ahead of teamwork because they’re preoccupied with their own success.

In contrast, Dweck says that athletes with growth mindsets find defeat motivating, rather than discouraging or frustrating. They define success as learning, improving, and doing their best. Athletes with growth mindsets also understand the importance of working with their teammates; they don’t look down on people whom they see as less talented than themselves because they believe in their ability to improve.

Practice Widens Talent Gaps

While Dweck acknowledges that some people are more talented in certain areas than others, she may be understating how impactful that difference is.

The Sports Gene discusses a study from the early 1900s where adults practiced multiplying three-digit numbers together, and researchers tracked their improvement. The study found that the adults who were more skilled at the beginning of the study also improved more quickly—in other words, practice widened the gap rather than narrowing it. The takeaway: People who are naturally talented actually benefit the most from practice.

This effect can be compounded for early bloomers, who benefit from additional opportunities to nurture their natural talent. Because of this, one study suggests that the difference between the effects of talent versus hard work might not be as clear-cut as it seems. Here’s how it works:

  • At a young age, someone is identified as “gifted” in a particular area (say, football).

  • Adults nurture those “gifts” through special attention and extra training. For example, they encourage the child to attend training and workout sessions, and to try out for the football team.

  • Thanks to this extra work, the student advances in that area more than his peers—the perceived talent has become a self-fulfilling prophecy. For instance, the student has become a skilled football player through hard work, all while believing that he’s just naturally gifted at it.

The Mindsets in Business

Dweck believes that the mindset of a company’s leader is a key determinant of whether a company fails or succeeds. Fixed-mindset leaders tend to believe they’re geniuses who don’t need strong executive teams, just underlings to implement their ideas. They’re concerned with looking superior and enhancing their own reputations, rather than serving the company’s best interests. Dweck explains that their egos drive them to belittle their employees and ignore or deny their own mistakes, which can run their companies into the ground.

In contrast to the companies with fixed-mindset leaders, the atmosphere in a company with a growth-oriented leader is positive and energized. They believe in everyone’s ability to learn and develop. Dweck says that instead of using their company as a tool for self-promotion, growth-minded leaders focus on improving the company and employees. Most industry-leading companies (regardless of the industry) operate with growth mindsets.

Incorporate a Growth Mindset Into Meetings

In Playing to Win, former Procter & Gamble CEO A.G. Lafley uses the terms “advocacy” and “inquiry” to describe different meeting styles, each of which reflects Dweck’s two mindsets:

  • Advocacy—fixed mindset: Lafley says that the traditional strategy meeting has someone presenting an idea and then defending it against his or her colleagues. Rather than working together to come to the best solution, this approach is about the presenter proving that he’s “right” and that his idea is “good.” As is characteristic of a fixed mindset, if he’s not able to defend his idea and achieve the desired result, that’s seen as a failure and a sign that he’s not good at his job.

  • Inquiry—growth mindset: In contrast, Lafley pushes for a system of open inquiry when designing company strategy. In this system, the presenter asks for ideas and feedback from the audience. The purpose isn’t to prove that he’s correct—and therefore smart and talented—but to come up with the best possible strategy for the company. As with a growth mindset, this system recognizes that every employee has the potential to contribute, every idea has the potential to be better, and that even a talented and experienced strategist may have overlooked something.

The Mindsets in Relationships

Dweck believes that having a fixed mindset can lead to relationship problems. In a fixed mindset, you believe that your traits and your partner’s are unchangeable. As a result, you also believe your relationship is unchangeable: You’re either “meant to be” and will live happily ever after, or you’re doomed to a life of misery and an eventual breakup.

Dweck points out that people with fixed mindsets have counterproductive beliefs about relationships. For example: Partners should be so in sync that they can read each other’s minds, they should have the same views on everything, and relationship problems stem from unchangeable character flaws or unresolvable disagreements.

Conversely, Dweck says people with growth mindsets believe that you can have problems and still have a good relationship. To the person with a growth mindset, flaws and disagreements can be worked through using clear communication, and doing that work with your partner is an opportunity to get closer to each other.

Growth Begins With Acceptance

One way to bring a growth mindset to relationships is to practice what Tara Brach calls Radical Acceptance. Briefly, Radical Acceptance means that you take each moment as it comes, and accept your experiences for what they are without trying to judge or change them. Brach believes that this practice allows us to stay in control of ourselves, consider each situation with a calm and rational mind, and determine the best way to handle it.

In relationships, Radical Acceptance means approaching problems and disagreements with recognition and compassion. For example, instead of saying that your partner is wrong about something, you might say, “Clearly we disagree about this” (recognition). Then you would attempt to understand your partner’s point of view and respect it—even if you can’t agree with it (compassion).

Brach adds that this process applies to all relationships, not just romantic ones.

How to Develop a Growth Mindset

Dweck believes that learning about the two mindsets and how they affect you can prompt you to start making changes. However, completely changing your habitual thought patterns takes time and work. Often, the fixed mindset hangs around and competes with the growth-oriented ways of thinking that you’re trying to adopt.

Your fixed-mindset beliefs about being smart, athletic, talented, or ambitious might be your source of self-esteem, and it can be difficult to give up those beliefs for more challenging ideas about developing yourself through effort and mistakes.

Dweck warns that when you reform your mindset, you may temporarily feel like you’re losing your sense of who you are. However, the growth mindset ultimately frees you from constantly judging yourself so you can be authentic and explore your full potential. In other words, you won’t be so concerned about who you are, because you’ll be focused on who you can become.

Mindset Begins With Values

One way to change your mindset is to examine your values and determine whether they support a growth mindset. In The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, Mark Manson argues that our thoughts and actions—and, ultimately, our happiness—begin with our values.

Manson describes three criteria for healthy values, two of which strongly align with a growth mindset:

  • They’re fact-based. Positive values stem from concrete and provable facts, rather than feelings or opinions. For example, honesty is a positive value, while happiness—a feeling not rooted in anything concrete—is a negative one. While natural talent may be quantified through a measure like IQ, you can also gauge values like hard work and diligence through how much you practice and improve in a skill.

  • They’re constructive. Positive values benefit you and those around you. For example, discipline is a positive value, while power—which relies on pushing others down in order to elevate yourself—is a negative one. A growth mindset is inherently constructive, since it pushes you to improve yourself.

  • They’re within your control. Positive values don’t rely on external factors. For example, fame is a negative value because it’s based on other people’s opinions of you. Fixed-mindset values such as intelligence and talent fall under this category—they rely on being born with those qualities, which is something that you cannot control.

Begin Adjusting Your Mindset

Achieving a growth mindset is a journey—you won’t get there all at once. Dweck suggests following these steps toward developing a growth mindset:

1. Accept that you have 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 acknowledge this reality without accepting the negatives a fixed mindset causes.

(Shortform note: Dweck echoes the cliche that the first step toward making a change is admitting you have a problem. However, that’s actually a misquote of the first step of the Alcoholics Anonymous program, which is admitting that your problem has made your life unmanageable. Just as the 12-step program of AA doesn’t stop after step one, it’s not enough to simply realize that something is wrong; making a major change requires you to recognize and acknowledge that something is causing real, immediate, and serious harm to your life. In other words, you won’t be able to change your mindset unless you believe that doing so is absolutely necessary.)

2. Create a fixed-mindset persona and identify her triggers. Ask yourself what triggers this part of you to come out. For instance, do you slip into a fixed mindset when you take on a difficult project or encounter a setback? After identifying your triggers, give your fixed-mindset persona its own name and think of them as “her” triggers—doing so will remind you that this isn’t who you want to be.

(Shortform note: Studies show that thinking in the third person—talking to yourself as if you were talking to someone else—can help you think more clearly and deal with difficult situations more effectively. Giving your fixed mindset its own name and persona serves the same purpose: Mentally separating yourself from the problem helps you control your feelings and engage your rational mind, as if you were giving advice to a friend rather than trying to solve a personal issue.)

3. Confront your fixed mindset. When your fixed mindset materializes, have an imaginary conversation with it. For example, if your first attempt at a new skill doesn’t go well, your fixed-mindset way of thinking might tell you that you’re not good at it and should give up. However, you can remind yourself that mistakes and failures are opportunities to learn and grow.

Meet Your Fixed Mindset With Compassion

In Radical Acceptance, Brach tells the story of Buddha confronting Mara, the god of illusion and deceit. This parable about how to confront your own doubts and shortcomings offers insights into how to counter your fixed-mindset thoughts.

Whenever Mara would appear and try to dissuade the Buddha from his spiritual path, the Buddha—instead of trying to fight him off or shut him out—would acknowledge the god with a simple, “I see you, Mara.” Then he would invite Mara in for tea and talk to him like an old friend. Mara, whose powers were based on tricks and deception, was unable to overcome the Buddha’s open acceptance and compassion; he would eventually leave with no harm done.

In the same way, you could see your fixed-mindset persona as your own version of Mara. Instead of trying to force down that persona through frustration and disgust, try greeting it as an old friend. Meet its arguments about your limitations and natural talents (or lack of them) with respect and conviction. Eventually, your personal “Mara” will exhaust itself and leave you in peace.

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