Stanford University psychologist Carol S. Dweck’s Mindset: The New Psychology of Success defines the concept of “fixed” vs. “growth” mindsets. A fixed mindset is the belief that your qualities are set while a growth mindset believes that you can learn and improve. Apply this to intelligence, athletics, the arts (not to mention relationships and careers) and it creates a framework for which people can develop success.
Dweck’s key point is that if you develop a growth mindset, you’re more capable of dealing with and bouncing back from failures. You’re also more likely to take risks and accept constructive criticism, not just compliments. For example, in a study that gave children puzzles, the fixed mindset children chose not to try increasingly challenging puzzles because they were afraid of doing poorly. This decision was reinforced as the researcher praised the fixed-mindset group for doing well initially because their fears of being less successful at future puzzles grew. Both their motivation and their confidence declined. “If success means they’re smart, then failure means they’re dumb. That’s the fixed mindset.” Life in the growth mindset conversely would be less about the wins, though those are nice, then about the challenge, about trying to do your best at everything, and about learning from your mistakes.
This relates in some ways to Paul Tough’s How Children Succeed. What Dweck discusses as “mindset,” Tough might classify as character traits, specifically grit or perseverance. Both agree that mental resilience should be developed for success, and that it can be developed. Neither really posits effective solutions for developing it nor do they admit that just because you have the right mindset and work hard consistently, you’ll be successful at everything you do.
Moreover, I believe that Dweck overemphasizes the necessity of a growth mindset without acknowledging some innate level of talent or interest. If I was a good gardener, I may be discouraged when my trees die. That’s not totally within my control, but I can choose whether I give up or not (growth vs. fixed mindset). But that doesn’t even account for whether I want to garden or not – I know folks that have taken to gardening like ducks to water, but I am personally disinterested. Similarly, a naturally good singing voice would definitely encourage someone more than a bad voice would. Maybe they would get to the same level if the bad vocalist practiced more than the good vocalist, but talent gets you in the game. Additionally, I certainly wasn’t born with a good singing voice or a green thumb, but I don’t necessarily feel like those skills are critical to my success in life (except maybe when my boss was mad that I killed his plants) so I don’t think it matters that I have a fixed mindset in those areas.
I think I also just dislike the way self-help books are written. Dweck makes some valid points, then proceeds to bash you on the head with them every other page. I did appreciate the copious examples, but it gets awfully repetitive. The sections I cared most about related to education and career; however, she also focused several chapters on relationships familial, friendly, and romantic. So if you have the same interests in reading this as I do, I would read the first half then stop. Not that the latter half isn’t valid, it’s just less informative for where I am in my life now.
But if you like this genre, it certainly expresses a new concept in the way we conceptualize success and how to achieve it. Most excitingly, to some extent it’s adaptive so you can develop this quality in yourself, rather than just lamenting that you’re born without it, though most people are a mix. Even the ordinary people can become extraordinary…with the right mindset.