We often set artificial limitations on our abilities in life. For example, we may believe that we’ll never be good at creative writing, public speaking, or other valuable skills. In some cases, we reach these conclusions based on a few early attempts that either didn’t go well or ended with a negative experience.
Mindset by Carol S. Dweck is about unlocking our full potential by maintaining a growth mindset. Rather than assuming our abilities are static or fixed, this mindset recognizes that we can develop new skills over time. So, by switching from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset, we can unlock new options for ourselves and others.
With that in mind, let’s explore my three favorite insights from the book.
1. Comparing The Fixed Mindset To A Growth Mindset
The way we think about our abilities and our intelligence can significantly impact the course of our lives. This book is about developing and maintaining a growth mindset rather than falling into the trap of a fixed mindset. So, let’s quickly clarify the difference between these two ways of thinking.
People with a fixed mindset believe that their abilities are largely set in stone. They think they are born with certain natural traits and that they have a fixed level of intelligence. As a result, they often focus their energy on validating their existing abilities rather than challenging themselves to learn and grow.
As noted earlier, this can cause someone to assume they will never be good in certain areas of life, like public speaking, creative writing, math, science, or even art. In some cases, when they experience difficulty learning something new, they assume they lack the natural abilities required to succeed in that area.
Those with a growth mindset also believe that they begin life with natural strengths. However, they view this as only a starting point and understand they can learn and grow through hard work and persistence. So, rather than viewing their abilities as set in stone, they view them as a foundation for future growth.
Naturally, they still experience difficulties and challenges when trying to learn something new. But, instead of feeling permanently stuck or limited, they view early setbacks as a challenge to be overcome. As a result, they invest effort, try alternative strategies, and seek feedback to overcome difficulties.
“Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t, you’re right.”Henry Ford
It’s important to note that everyone maintains a blend of both mindsets. We may have a growth mindset in contexts that we’ve found past success while simultaneously holding a fixed mindset in areas where we’ve struggled. This is quite normal, but we should aspire to develop or maintain a growth mindset in all areas of life.
2. How To Develop And Strengthen A Growth Mindset
At its core, a growth mindset is about recognizing that we can develop and improve our abilities. One of the best ways to initiate a growth mindset is to consider how we’ve grown in the past. In other words, to consider skills that were once very challenging but are now easy or even automatic.
Nobody is born with the ability to ride a bike, read or write, understand basic math, play popular sports, or even speak a language. Yet you’ve likely mastered several of these skills at some point in your life. Recognizing this fact can serve as a helpful reminder that we can all develop new and powerful skills.
Naturally, some people will pick up certain abilities faster than others. That’s okay. While we cannot control where we start, we can invest time and effort to improve steadily. By maintaining a growth mindset, we can set aside concerns about where we’re starting and focus instead on the end result we want to achieve.
Note: It’s also helpful to consider that others’ rapid progress isn’t always related to innate ability. They may have used better learning strategies, spent more time practicing, or have other relevant experiences from the past. By considering these possibilities, we can find ways to accelerate our progress.
Helping Others Develop A Growth Mindset
Parents, teachers, and coaches can support growth-minded thinking in children by embodying a growth mindset in their everyday actions. Here are some quick tips:
- Rather than labeling people with fixed traits, focus on praising effort and persistence. For example, instead of saying “You’re smart!” when they achieve a milestone, we can say, “You put in the practice, and it shows!”
- Rather than treating setbacks as a form of failure, treat them as opportunities for further learning and growth. For example, “I like the effort you put in, but it looks like that method didn’t work. Let’s try another way.”
- Rather than focusing on memorizing facts and figures, make it clear that deep understanding is the goal of learning. When we genuinely care about understanding something and put in the work to make it happen, we’re more likely to appreciate that our abilities can improve over time.
It’s helpful to remember that innate ability is only the starting point. The most critical factor is the effort we put in to learn and grow beyond that base level. We can learn to love challenges, be intrigued by mistakes, enjoy action and effort, explore new strategies, and seek to keep on learning.
3. Avoid The Trap Of A False Growth Mindset
There are some common misconceptions regarding the growth mindset. As a result, many people incorrectly apply the insights from this book. So, let’s take a look at three common misunderstandings as addressed by author Carol S. Dweck.
Mistake #1 – People believe that a growth mindset is only about celebrating effort or praising effort in others. However, while it is indeed essential to praise effort rather than labeling fixed traits (e.g., “you’re smart!”), this alone isn’t the point. The purpose of praising effort is to link it with the achievement of a goal. Put differently, the praise of effort must be tied to the outcome that was achieved.
The mistake many people make is praising all effort—even that which does not contribute to an outcome. Even worse, some praise effort (or any other part of the process) that isn’t happening. Praising effort, or even just the idea of effort, is often treated as a consolation prize when learning isn’t occurring.
We should never be content with effort that isn’t creating results. Instead, we must find out why the effort is ineffective and guide children, or ourselves, towards alternative strategies that may work better. In short, we want to discover the right approach for creating results and then praise the process once the outcome is reached.
Mistake #2 – Some believe that a growth mindset is just about telling others that they can do anything. While it’s great to believe in people’s potential and let them know that they can learn anything, this alone doesn’t create results. Whether we are trying to improve ourselves or help others learn and grow, the priority must be developing skills and finding the resources to make real progress.
Teachers, parents, and coaches must take responsibility to create growth-friendly environments where kids discover how to learn and develop. If their efforts aren’t paying off, we must take responsibility for providing alternative strategies and ongoing support until they find a method that works.
Mistake #3 – People take what they like about themselves and label it a “growth mindset.” For example, if they consider themselves open-minded or flexible, they may mistakenly assume they have a growth mindset. However, there is a difference between being flexible and being dedicated to personal growth.
By misunderstanding the “growth mindset” concept, we can miss out on the benefits that come with this kind of thinking. For example, we may never do the hard work of cultivating our abilities or supporting the skills of children or students.
Growth Is About Converting Potential Into Outcomes
It’s worth mentioning that some people think that having a growth mindset creates an obligation to take on every learning challenge. However, having a growth mindset is simply about recognizing that you can develop skills and abilities. In other words, it’s the recognition that we can learn and grow through hard work and persistence.
Beyond The Mindset Book Summary
To learn more about the growth mindset and its many implications in life and business, I recommend reading Mindset by Carol S. Dweck. The original book covers so much more than what can be highlighted in this short format. So, if you’re an entrepreneur, parent, teacher, or anyone else passionate about learning, pick up a copy!
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