Mindset: The New Psychology of Success

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In 100 Words or Less: A fixed mindset assumes that a person's qualities and skills are largely set; in contrast, a growth mindset believes that they can be cultivated with effort. If your traits are fixed, your worth is reflected in what you already can or can't do, so there is little motivation to try or be vulnerable to the possibility of failure. We are far more capable of change than we give ourselves credit for; those with growth mindsets tend to be happier and more successful.

I hate linkbait. You know, the subject lines that go something like “you won’t believe this one trick for becoming smarter, achieving more and finding happiness in life!”

However, Mindset actually is a book about “that one trick” for becoming smarter, achieving more and finding happiness in life. Here are my key takeaways:

  • Our lives are a tale of two mindsets. The way that we view ourselves, our careers, our accomplishments and our relationships can be described in terms of one of two mindsets.

    A fixed mindset believes that our personal qualities are set in stone, or mostly set in stone. It’s expressed in statements along the lines of, he’s so warm and charismatic, or she’s such a natural reader, or he’s a gifted athlete, or she’s just so great with kids. Conversely, a person could equally be viewed as merely “hot tempered” or “clumsy” or “stupid” too.

    In any case, a fixed mindset assumes that all of these traits are mostly genetic (“that’s just the way I am”) and so there is really no sense in trying to change them.

    Conversely, a growth mindset believes that our basic qualities can be cultivated with deliberate effort.

  • We do start with a unique genetic makeup, but that is only a starting point. Research increasingly demonstrates that while each of us are born with certain gifts and inclinations, we are far more capable of learning and growth than we give ourselves credit for. (Carol devotes many pages to reviewing and summarizing this research.)
  • A growth mindset will take you further in life; much further. It’s easy to see that if athleticism, intelligence, charisma or musical ability are things that people are born with and you were born without, then you won’t take the steps necessary to improve yourself. What’s the point, if your skill or lack of skill is “just the way you are?”

    What’s more, if you view yourself with a fixed mindset, you’ll tend to avoid challenging situations because you don’t want to feel (or appear) unskilled. If what happens is a measure of your competence and worth, then you will find yourself reluctant to even entertain the possibility of failure.

    If, on the other hand, you see any of these deficits as challenges which can be overcome, then you will be less afraid to embrace the messy process of improvement. A growth mindset recognizes failure and setback as a natural and valuable part of learning. Of course, failure may still hurt, but it isn’t fatal or final.

    Carol doesn’t go so far as to suggest that “anyone can become anything”; rather, that we tend not to test our limits and so have no idea how far we can really go.

  • Most of us have a fixed mindset about some things and a growth mindset about others. For the most part, no one uniformly views the world through the eyes of one mindset or the other. For example, I’ve often been very growth-oriented in my personal relationships, believing that they can be made deeper and more rewarding with continued effort (or decayed by neglect). In contrast, up until a few years ago, I’d always thought of charisma as a gift as opposed to a learnable skill.
  • Mindset in babies. For all of their cuteness, babies are actually pretty terrible at just about everything. But in learning new skills — eating, manipulating toys, cooing, speaking, scooting, crawling, pulling up, and eventually walking and running — they persist in the face of repeated disappointment and failure. Each and every day, they’re back at it, stretching their limits and venturing out into the unknown; and we encourage them every step of the way!

    How sad is it that so many of us are born to conquer the world, yet at some point in our lives, we shift into complacency. We stop pushing ourselves and instead turn to rationalizing our discomfort and our shortcomings, when the truth is that we could have and be so much better?

  • Mindset in society. Malcolm Gladwell suggested that as a society, we tend to enshrine those who make it appear “effortless”. Our superheroes possess superhuman abilities; many women, in particular, feel debilitating pressure to “have it all together”, without a show of effort.

    Mindset also pervades stereotype. There are some fascinating studies which showed that the performance of women in math classes or black students in miniature golf was affected by statements made by researchers. When students were induced to view themselves as possessing low ability or having to prove their ability to researchers, their performance suffered.

  • Mindset in parenting. When our children do something well, naturally we want to praise them. It’s easy to blurt out something along the lines of “you’re so smart”, but this may be damaging praise. We’ve associated a result with a fixed mindset (“Great job, you’re so talented!”) which will actually cause them to doubt themselves if and when the result may not be so favorable. Rather, we should always praise effort (“Great job, you must’ve worked really hard!”); effort is a requirement for getting better and can be recognized independent of a particular result.

    We should always strive to help our children learn and do better; consequences given from a place of judgment and punishment will inhibit their growth.

  • Mindset in relationships. People with fixed mindsets tend to emphasize validation, expecting their partners to put them upon a pedestal or make them feel perfect. People with growth mindsets tend to appreciate that their partners challenge them and encourage them to improve.

    A growth mindset acknowledges that people — yes, you and I — are works in progress. Because of this, we’re free to admit to our faults, rise above blame and work together to solve the problem.

    In the face of persistent, difficult conflict, a fixed mindset assumes that the other person or the relationship is permanently broken (“you are always a jerk”, “that’s just how our marriage is”) and beyond repair. A growth mindset believes that these too are challenges which can be overcome.

Personally, I’ve always hated doing “handy” work around the house. (For years I joked that I could barely hang a picture frame.) In contrast, my friend Jared makes anything “handy” look easy. He’s always been able and willing to lend a hand whenever I need help changing the oil in my mower, re-caulking the bathroom or clearing a stubborn jam in our sewer pipe (which is to this day one of the grossest things I have ever done).

The truth is, Jared does like handy work, but he makes it “look easy” because he’s spent countless hours of his life perfecting his craft. I, on the other hand, mostly avoided this kind of work because I never liked it and would get easily frustrated. It’s easy to see how this became a vicious, self-perpetuating cycle: but why would I ever expect to be any good at anything I wouldn’t commit to persevering through?

Of course, this isn’t to say that because I could learn to be more handy, I must. There’s nothing wrong with outsourcing some work, or prioritizing what we enjoy most or are best at. The point is to recognize that I am capable of learning how to do just about anything if I really want to.

I encourage you to take a few moments to reflect; in what ways do you see yourself and other people with a fixed mindset? How might your life change for the better if you began to view things from a possibility of growth?

There’s a lot of good stuff in Mindset; I’d recomend any one to read a copy of it for themselves. In all things, I encourage you to remember the words of Henry Ford:

“Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.”

Chris Aram

I'm one-half of Webster Park Digital. I'm a devoted family man, avid reader, coffee snob, fajita-eater and professional PlayStation4 dabbler.

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