Carol Dweck’s diagram contrasts the “fixed-mindset” with the “growth-mindset.” Those with a “growth mindset” recognize that struggles can be overcome with “effort, strategy and good instruction.” A description of her eureka moment, the basic research, how others have grown and how you can use her insights, follows the diagram.
Stanford’s Carol Dweck has spent her career studying failure and how people react to failure. Her research revealed that not all people react by breaking out in hives. Though most hated failure, some thrived under the challenge of failure. This was the puzzle for her.
After chewing over the results of an experiment with one of her grad students, she had her “eureka moment.” Those who dislike challenges and failure think that talent is a fixed thing that you’re born with—or not. Those who thrive under challenge she identified as having a “growth-mindset.” The conclusion is obvious. Those who have a fixed mind-set focus on the things they can do. Those with a growth-mindset view challenges as an opportunity to deepen their talents.
In one of Dweck’s basic experiments, children were given a simple task to do. After their performance half were told something like, “Wow! That was really great. You must be very smart!” The other half were told, “Wow! That was really great! You must have worked really hard!” She followed up the experiment with two more. The results were really dramatic. Students with a growth-mindset really pulled ahead and the children with a fixed-mindset did not want to learn. Dweck has completed similar studies with children of different ages and different ethnicities and the results were always the same.
A brief article in the NYTimes reports that Dweck’s freshman psych seminar typically has 140 to 200 applicants for 16 spots. As part of the class, the students are urged to tackle something “they have never had the guts to try.” A student belted out “The Phantom of the Opera” on a public bus; another struck up conversations with strangers in San Francisco. Ricardo Flores, a self-described introvert, challenged himself to run for dorm co-president and though filled with anxiety, gave a campaign speech. He spoke and won the election. For his next task, Mr. Flores is honing his salsa skills in hopes of performing with Los Salseros de Stanford.
Changing your mindset
The best place to begin to change your mindset is with Carol Dweck’s little book, Mindset:The new psychology of success. Carol told me she wrote the book at 12th grade level on purpose—so both high school students and adults can use it. She deals with the issues of change, providing examples from areas like sports, relationships and business. Change isn’t like surgery. Changing your beliefs is not like getting a new hip or a new knee. Instead, the new beliefs take their place alongside the old ones. You’re going to have to put a lot of effort in catching your old mindset and destroying it.
When we hold on to a fixed mindset, there’s typically a reason. That mindset got us to the successes we’ve had thus far. When you start making changes you’re going to be acutely aware of how unsettling it can be. I like to say that when you first try on a new behavior, you may feel like a monkey on roller skates. Get used to the idea that that’s just normal. Put a lot of effort into your changes and gradually you’ll find learning fun. Sure, you’ll experience setbacks, but it’s a reminder you’re an unfinished human being and a clue to how to do it better next time.