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Mindset: The New Psychology of Success Background – by Carol Dweck

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Written by Timothy Sexton

Published in 2006, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success posits the theory that success in all aspects of life—learning, business, competition, and even relationships—is not predetermined by inherent aptitude, intelligence or talent, but rather on the extent to which one is psychologically equipped to grow, adapt and change. Dweck, equipped with degrees in Social Psychology and Developmental Psychology, is no mere pop culture celebrity peddling un-quantified pop psychology. In addition to teaching at Columbia, Harvard, and the Univ. of Illinois, she’s been a Professor of Psychology at Stanford since 2004.

This extensive immersion in the psychology of success produced research and social studies that shaped her central theory that one of the foundational keys to success developing and honing the ability to view every setback and failure not as a judgment of personal worth, but as an opportunity to learn something new. Which this ability is coupled with the assertive drive to try new experiences and not rest upon the stagnating laurels of previous success, one achieves the growth mindset.

Contrasting with the growth mindset is what Dweck terms the fixed mindset. The fixed mindset views failure personally which then limits the desire to risk learning new things and leads to stunted intellectual growth that becomes a pervasive negative influence on all aspects of social engagement.

Mindset: The New Psychology of Success is an examination of the mysterious principles behind why and how some succeed while others do not. Its message is effectively summed by the Dweck’s observation that two decades worth of research into the subject has produced the same conclusion: the life you choose to lead is based on how you choose to view yourself. 

Chapter 1: The Mindsets

The opening chapter introduces the foundational concept behind the rest of the book, which is that of two different mindsets. A fixed mindset is one that accepts the idea of predetermined abilities, aptitudes, and talents that can only be proven or not. A growth mindset is one that believes that traits like these are not fixed, but can be cultivated, learned, and changed. These mindsets lead to behavior traits: fixed mindsets avoid new challenges and are quick to give up when they fail. The growth mindset is persistent, tenacious, and views criticism constructively.

Chapter 2: Inside the Mindsets

The premise here is that both mindsets are choices people make, and those choices can affect every aspect of their lives. For instance, those with a fixed mindset tended to care only about learning whether passed a test rather than whether or not they actually understood knowledge that could help with future growth. Failure is viewed by a fixed mindset as a definition how they are a failure as a person whereas those with a growth mindset are more likely to take failure at a specific task as learning opportunity. This chapter also serves up a chilling warning about aptitude tests: when a person with a fixed mindset fails on a single test of ability, they very often view that failure as changeable for the rest of their lives, thus potentially missing out on great opportunities.

Chapter 3: The Truth about Ability and Accomplishment

In this chapter, the focus is on how the two mindsets actually impact modes of thinking that lead to success or failure. The main theme here is how these mindsets becomes traps that can set the stage for future success or failure. Fixed mindsets becomes fearful of trying after experiencing failure, putting that failure down to an inherent lacking on their part. This not only has the effect of limiting the possibility of new accomplishments, but creates a protective veneer around existing abilities so that they remain in flux. So protective is the fixed mindset of maintaining what it known it can do rather than trying what it is not sure it can do, that it serves the purpose of actually limiting what it can do. By contrast, a growth mindset not only is more open to untried challenges; it is more willing to challenge the limits of proven talents and skills.

Chapter 4: Sports and the Mindset of a Champion

The mindset theory is related specifically to issue of athletes and performance. The results of studies and research conclude that most successful athletes possess a growth mindset and that, furthermore, such a mindset contributes to performance in three distinct ways. Their expectation for success leads to placing a greater emphasis on preparation than those with fixed mindsets. They develop their ability to turn failure into motivation. The final aspect of the growth mindset is that since they do not view future situations are predetermined, each new change to perform is attacked with a positive attitude and drive to win.

Chapter 5: Business Mindset and Leadership

The fixed mindset in business can be very successful, but with their success comes confirmation of their perspective that the world can be divided into superior people and inferior people. Since they have become successful, it follows that they are superior and their business model becomes one in which preserving that reputation often trumps everything else. This leadership styles is responsible for those corporations where both great success and great failure have resulted from a rigidly bureaucratic structure. The growth mindset can thus essentially said to be the innovative tech companies with executives wearing jeans into offices equipped with playrooms in contrast to the iconic army of white button-down shirt IBM employees of the 1960s.

Chapter 6: Relationships and Mindsets in Love (or not)

The application of the mindset theory the questions of friendships and romances carries much of the burden as they in learning. The fixed mindset partner takes things more personally and can view one eruption of extreme emotion as the end of a romance or friendship. More strikingly is how the mindsets tend to differ on the subject of relationship pressure. The fixed mindset looks inward and essentially replicates the victimhood of being bullies by seeing the problem in themselves. The growth mindset allows a partner to respond to emotional pressure placed upon them as a problem situated mostly within the person who feels the need to bully.

Chapter 7: Parents, Teachers and Coaches: Where do Mindsets Come From?

The focus in this chapter shifts to those people who contribute to the creation of the two mindsets in others, even if unwittingly, unknowingly and without intent. Special attention is given, in fact, to the way that teachers can actually help to foster a fixed mindset even when the intent is simply to give praise. The repetition of hearing a common statement of praise from teachers and parents like taking note that a child is a really fast learn, for instance, can produce results associated to the fixed mindset by creating in the child’s mind the idea that the things they do not learn really fast must indicate that they are not as smart on topic subjects, thus creating and then reinforcing fixed mind habits of shying away from learning new things lest they failure prove them stupid. Three particular teachers—Marva Collins, Rafe Esquith, and Dorothy DeLay—are highlighted to drive home the chapter’s underlying advice that students’ mistakes should not be addressed with judgment of failure, but instead should foster an environment in which students see failure as another opportunity to learn something new.

Chapter 8: Changing Mindsets

The book concludes with a chapter that becomes a workshop in the steps that can be taken to change a fixed mindset into a growth mindset. The first step is educate people about the theory through showing how it has impacted them personally in their lives. The process then becomes one of cognitive therapy whereby people are stimulated to change negative behavior and habits by becoming more actively aware of them as they are occurring. This self-awareness naturally leads to the realization of the extent to which their behavior produces judgments of themselves which leads to the important step of learning how to transform that judgment of worth into a perspective that views failure as an opportunity to learn and improve.