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. 

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