a review of carol dweck's mindset: the new psychology of success

This summer, as I began laying the ground work for a new resource program at our church's Christian school, I met with a handful of area professionals -- other resource teachers and program directors, some college Special Education professors, and a handful of local psychologists. I gleaned valuable insights from each. But one of the most transformational things I picked up was a book from Dr. Milt Lowder at the Lowder Group. "We give a book to each of our families, and often it's this one," he said as he placed a copy in my hand. "You'll love this." And he was right! The book? 

Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, by Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D. 

Image result for mindset book

Thoroughly researched, well-organized, and communicated in a clear and compelling way, this book explains how something as basic as your mindset translates into true success in every major category of life -- from sports to business, and from personal relationships to roles as parents, teachers, and coaches. 

THE FIRST THREE CHAPTERS set the stage, defining and exploring the two fundamental mindsets. They're worth reading (as tempting as it may be to jump into the categorical chapter that most intrigues you). 

The two mindsets are these: fixed and growth. 

Simply put, the fixed (or, performance) mindset wrongly assumes that a person's characteristics "are carved into stone," that they do not change. And this "creates an urgency to prove yourself over and over. ... Every situation calls for a confirmation of [your] intelligence, personality, or character" (6).

But the "growth mindset is based on the belief that your basic qualities are thing you can cultivate through your efforts" and that "everyone can change and grow through application [effort] and experience" (7). 

Whether we have a fixed or a growth mindset in any given situation impacts both how we approach the situation, how and whether we perserve through the situation, and how we evaluate the results. 

Here are a few questions to help determine your current mindset: 

  • How do I face a difficult task? Avoid or embrace?
  • How do I respond to critique in the midst of a task? Justifying, arguing, quitting, or welcoming and adjusting? 
  • How do I respond to failure? Excuses, abadoning the project, or creatively and strategically working through it, determined to grow? 
  • To what do I attribute success? Innate ability or hard work and perseverance?
One of the most significant points in the book is that you can change your mindset! I've been thrilled this year already to see how this really simple truth has impacted myself, my family, and my students. It's incredibly encouraging

Throughout the book, Dr. Dweck relays a plethora of quotes and scenarios that flesh out what the two mindsets look likeAnd this is one of my favorite things about the bookIn fact, if you were to look in the back cover of my well-worn copy, you'd see that I've scribbled a long list of growth-minded individuals -- including athletes, coaches, educators, authors, inventors, artists, mathmaticians, and neurosurgeons. My goal is to build a library of growth mindset biographies for my classroom. 

CHAPTERS FOUR THROUGH SEVEN apply the principles from chapters one through three in the following categories: Sports, Business, Relationships, Parenting, Teaching, and Coaching. Just to let you sample, here is a set of quotes from each category:

"As much as our culture talks about individual effort and self-improvement, deep down ... we revere the naturals. We like to think of our champions and idols as superheroes who were born different from us. We don't like to think of them as relatively ordinary people who made themselves extraordinary" (90, credited to Malcolm Gladwell). 
"When you read about an athlete or [a] team that wins over and over and over, remind yourself, 'More than ability, they have character'" (97, quoting Coach John Wooden). 

"They're not constantly trying to prove.... Instead, they are constantly trying to improve" (110). 
"When bosses become controlling and abusive, they put everyone into a fixed mindset. This means that instead of learning, growing, and moving the company forward, everyone starts worrying about being judged. ... It's hard for courage and innovation to survive a company-wide fixed mindset" (124).
"Think seriously about how to root out elitism and create a culture of self-examination, open communication, and teamwork. Read Gerstner's excellent book Who Says Elephants Can't Dance? to see how it's done" (143). 

For me, Dr. Dweck's insights in this business chapter were especially helpful -- even comforting -- in that it helped me pinpoint the impassibility of certain past circumstances that had been confusing and painful. This book helped me to see the very real struggle it can be for a growth-mindset individual to thrive under the authority of a doggedly fixed-mindset person or organization. And rather than allow the impass to define me, I've been able to move on -- better understanding the realities of the situation, finally able to choose not to define myself by that "failure," and even pitying those who had caused me pain - because as long as they persist in their fixed mindset, they are not winning. I can hope that they will change their mindset. But even if not, I can forgive and choose to be thankful for the lessons I learned during that season. And I can rejoice that I am now happily employed in a place where this growth-mindset is at the core of the culture! 

Relationships (Love).*
"In the growth mindset, there may still be that exciting initial combustion, but people in this mindset don't expect magic. They believe that a good, lasting relationship comes from effort and from working through inevitable differences" (149). 
When dealing with rejection, the goal of a person with the fixed mindset is revenge; whereas the goal of someone with a growth mindset is forgiveness (149-50).
"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" (150, quoting John Gottman). 
"The growth mindset lets you rise above blame, understand the problem, and try to fix it--together" (158). 
* Friendship, Shyness, and Bullying are included in this chapter too. 

Parenting, Teaching, Coaching.
"Every word and action can send a message. It tells children--or students, or athletes--how to think about themselves. It can be a fixed-mindset message that says: You have permanent traits and I'm judging them. Or it can be a growth-mindset message that says: You are a developing person and I am interested in your development" (173). 
"Lowering standards ... leads to poorly educated students who feel entitled to easy work and lavish praise. ... On the other hand, simply raising standards in our schools, without giving students the means of reaching them, is a recipe for disaster" (193-94). 
"Great teachers believe in the growth of the intellect and talent, and they are fascinated with the process of learning" (194).
"Above all, a good teacher is one who continues to learn along with the students" (201). 

THE FINAL CHAPTER is on "Changing Mindsets," which (again) is one of the most hopeful realities presented in the book: you can change your mindset! This chapter includes a number of workshop scenarios as well as this helpful graphic: 

A few final thoughts:  
  • Overall - wow! This is hugely helpful with immediate applications. 
  • Fixed mindset has a huge overlap with pride; and growth mindset strongly corresponds with humility. 
  • Dr. Dweck appreciates Darwin more than I. She also includes a bit of unnecessary language. 
  • The appropriate audience is emerging adult to adult, versus young adult or middle grader. I could definitely see value to a youth edition of this book.
  • Dr. Dweck's findings have really taken off. You can find countless resources by exploring "Growth Mindset" on Pinterest.
  • As with any book, a believer must read with discernment. There is much to glean from this book! But I did find myself wishing there were a book that worked through some of these thoughts from a uniquely biblical perspective. For example, I love this quote: "No matter what your ability is, effort is what ignites that ability and turns it into accomplisment" (41). But there's a crucial piece missing -- and that is God. One could argue that God works through our effort. But it is important to note that "it is God who works in me both to will and to do" (Phil 2:13) and that anything good I accomplish is because of God. In a large way, though, this is compatible with a growth mindset that acknowledges success is a combined effort. There's value to the material as-is. Still, filtering it through the lense of biblical wisdom adds even more clarity and intensity to the picture. 
  • Dr. Dweck points out that children tend to have a growth mindset, unless they've been put in a situation that's pushed them into a fixed mindset. They naturally want the next harder puzzle. They role with mistakes. They get back up. They grow. And I can't help but think about how Jesus said "for of such is the kingdom of heaven." In a big way, I think growth mindset exemplifies many of the characteristics that God intends for us as his children. And that is a beautiful meditation. 

Word-Filled Women's Ministry and The Pastor's Wife: a two-book review

What I love about Gloria Furman is her clear writing and her confident commitment to the Word. A cross-cultural pastor's wife and mother of four, Gloria gets life. And she happily invites her readers to do life alongside her. My heart resonates with hers, and my own experiences often echo the personal stories she shares.


Most recently, I read her book The Pastor's Wife: Strengthened by Grace for a Life of Love. Now I know that I am not formally the wife of a vocational minister. At the same time, I do anticipate a day when Alan will step into that calling, and I sense a need in my own spirit to be prepared for that day. 

Even right now, though, I sense the need to be "strengthened by grace for a life of love." As a husband and father, Alan is a shepherd, even if primarily to his own little flock: me and the kids. And largely, I believe, the title of this book could put the word pastor's in parentheses, for though it certainly has some applications specific to those whose husbands serve as a pastor in a church, it has so many more applications that are helpful to all of us who stand alongside a man as his wife.

This book is broken into three parts: Loving the Chief Shepherd, Loving an Under-Shepherd, and Loving the Bride of Christ. And each of these, depending on how you define under-shepherd, applies to each of us. 

Under the heading of "Loving the Chief Shepherd," there are truths about the importance of finding our identity in Christ: 
* "Whenever we speak of our identity as being a woman, a wife, or a pastor's wife, let us have in our minds the primary reference point of being 'found in him' (Phil. 3:9). Every hat we wear or role we play must be viewed through this perspective" (28).  
* "When you hear of the expectations that others have of you, you are free to consider them in light of God's truth. ... There is no need for defensiveness, fear, anxiety, or insecurity but only for gracious rest because of our security in Christ" (31-32).
* And I read this portion after having been called out of a morning worship service for an unruly toddler: "Would it still be 'well with my soul' if we let the church leaders know that we need their prayer and support, for whatever reason? Do you need to enjoy the approval of the leaders in your church in order to enjoy life? Do you feel burdened to represent your husband and family as a public relations manager would? ... Isn't it a grace to us, then, when we are passed over for whatever reason, and when our opinion is ignored or marginalized in that women's ministry meeting, and when our child throws a fit in the middle of Communion?" (47).
* "Amid all the expectations that come from others (and from yourself), expect that God's grace will always be sufficient for you all (2 Cor. 12:9). ... Grace carries us all the way through" (51, 54). 

Under "Loving an Under-Shepherd," we learn the definition and joy of being a "helper" and are reminded that God Himself is our Helper
* "In the midst of all the requests and pressures, there is but one man whom we are called to serve and serve alongside, and there is one God-man who serves us all" (75). 
* Each family has unique needs that require specific help and support, and by God's grace he gives us everything we need to facilitate this help" (78).

Finally, under "Loving the Bride of Christ," Gloria discusses the doctrine of the Church and urges us to "enjoy the privilege of being part of a gathered people" (118). 
* "We need God's grace to steward our gifts and opportunities well" (123). 
* "Our weaknesses are not in the way" (135ff) because "our potential to minister to others is not measured by our gifts but by our God" (138). 

The Pastor's Wife by Gloria Furman is a thoughtful working through for all of us. Maybe in their next round of publishing, they'll go ahead and artfully put parenthesis so that the title reads The (Pastor's) Wife. It certainly deserves wider readership than its current title invites. And as for those parts that do specifically apply to those married to a vocational pastor, they're good for the rest of us to read and understand and make sure we, like the women in Gloria's church, "support [our pastor's wife's] efforts to be a learner alongside [us]" (92), that we pray for her, include her, and love her well as our sister in Christ. 

An earlier book, and one I read this summer, is a composite work edited by Gloria Furman and Kathleen B. Nielson of The Gospel Coalition. It is Word-Filled Women's Ministry: Loving and Serving the Church. And again, this book is not just for those engaged in leadership of women's ministry, but for all of us women ministering side by side for the sake of the Gospel. 

One of the treats of this book is getting to read the collective work of various women who are serving our Lord in a vast array of ministries all around the globe. Contributing authors include Keri Folmar, Kristi Anyabwile, Nancy Guthrie, and Gloria Furman.

My biggest take away was the importance of the Word energizing us individually as well as energizing our interactions with other women. 

"The foundational truth [is] that the Bible is God speaking to us" (21). As editor and contributing author, Kathleen Nielson frequently returned to Isaiah 55:10,11, to exhort us to see "the Scriptures as central" (20). "This picture shows us something originating from far outside ourselves--like precipitation from the skky, something we desperately need but don't have in ourselves--so that we're called not to look / inward to receive it but to look outward, to look up and hold out our hands" (21-22). 

I loved Carrie Sandom's chapter "The Word Passed On" where she writes: "Yes, the gospel needs to be proclaimed to unbelievers, but we also need continually to teach it to ourselves, that we might be fully established in our faith and rooted in the Lord Jesus Christ" (75). Her teaching through 1 Thessalonians 2:1-12 was especially helpful to me. And her perspective on the importance of in-depth biblical training, that "no biblical training is wasted in God's economy" and that it is both a "delight" and a "necessity ... so that one generation will with full voice keep declaring God's grace in Jesus Christ to the next" (86), was really an encouragement.

I very much appreciated Cindy Cochrum's insight that "creating a balanced and beautiful local church community grows out of our shared commitment to God's Word and to one another" (102). 

In Gloria's chapter, she shares her personal testimony in which a Bible study was pivotal to her coming to saving faith in Christ (114, 131). But she also points out that Bible study is needed by all of us, not just those who need to meet Christ but also by those of us who would be healthy ambassadors for him. In her conclusion of this chapter, she writes something that has stuck with me: "As far as we are able, we must take God's Word as seriously as it takes itself" (132).

I could point out more, but let me just conclude with the passage that Nancy Guthrie concludes the entire book with: "It is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God (Phil. 1:9-11)" (244).  

The more-and-more growth of the Christian life hangs largely on our intimacy with the Word of Truth.

To Gloria and to each of these other contributing authors, THANK YOU for your heart for women and for your consistent investment in developing resources that encourage us to put our confidence in the Word and to then compassionately live out that Word in our everyday lives. 

Readers, I hope you'll take advantage of these two resources. And more, I pray that you will commit yourself to continually learning the Word and living it out in your own home and in your community. 

May "the Word of the Lord run swiftly and be triumphantly celebrated and glorified" (2 Thessalonians 3:1 AMP). Amen.  

writing a middle grade adventure novel (that happens to also be historical fiction)

Each time as I've neared the completion of a writing project, God has seemed to kindle an interest in a specific topic or portion of Scripture. And I have a ridiculous number of concept ideas. But when there's an unquenchable burning to answer a question, to figure out, to understand - that's where I invest my efforts. And writing is just my way of working things out.

After writing The Girl in the Mirror and No Matter What, both devotional workbooks for teens/young adults, God led me to 2 Kings. 

No Matter What was my struggle through a difficult season. For two years I gazed into the tide pool of Psalm 104, watching the ripples, unearthing the mysteries, finding the joy. 

And then God gave us our second son, our healing in the midst of muddy waters, and we named him Jordan. And God fixed my attention on the story of Naaman. 

I needed to understand the biblical backgrounds, the literal lay of the Land, the characters, the big picture and the minute details.

It was important for me to get the history right. I plotted a timeline of 2 Kings 2-8, piecing in the facts in a plausible order. I cross-referenced other portions from the biblical history books to make sure I had my Northern and Southern kingdoms' kings (who seem to use identical names in some of the versions). I borrowed other people's research to check my own. I drew maps. I poured through Manners and Customs of Bible Lands

Pretty early on I knew this book wasn't going to be a devotional. Instead it would be a middle grade adventure novel grounded in the reality of the biblical story. 

Guy Vanderhaege writes, "History tells us what people do; historical fiction helps us imagine how they felt."

So I kept rereading the passages with inquisition and imagination. 

I knew from the beginning I needed to tell the story of the little maid (I called her Cassia). I needed to see through her eyes, to experience her life. At one point I even limited my own Bible reading to only what Cassia would have had available to her.

As I began to tell the story, I realized that I couldn't tell all of it from the character's perspective. I knew I didn't want to write from an omniscient viewpoint, and as I started working through the passages, I came to the realization that I could tell the whole story (from 2 Kings 2 through 8) with just three POV characters: 

Cassia, the little maid from Israel, 
Marcus, an attendant to Captain Naaman,
and Gehazi, servant to the prophet Elisha. 

With three years of full-time resource teaching and two more children added to our family along the way, the journey of this novel has been a ten-year trek that I cannot wait to share with you. I learned so much along the way! 

One of my early readers, an elementary librarian friend of mine, shared: "Just finished it!! Could hardly put it down. Absolutely AMAZING read. Thank you so much for sharing it with me. ... Loved the way you weaved the Bible history together." And later she wrote again saying: "Just so you know, my mind has replayed this story many times since I've read it. Looking forward to buying several of the finished copies." 

I've had a bit of a pause in my writing since completing this novel, and I'm ready to see it in print too! Ready to see the illustrations and cover art that Justin Gerard comes up with! Ready to hear from you about how this story has kindled a desire in your heart to read Scripture with your imagination engaged. Because that is the whole point - to spark into flame a passion for knowing and understanding the Word. 

And even as I move on to my next project (writing a women's devotional through the book of Philippians), my heartbeat remains: 

That the Word would fuel my writing ...
and that my writing would fuel your pursuit of the Word.

Multiplied grace and peace,