Mindset

So I’ve finished Mindset.  Mostly, I liked it.  What Now had mentioned in a comment that Dweck didn’t have the style down quite right, and I think that’s true.  She doesn’t quite read like Gladwell or Shirky or some other writers who are well-educated but who also spend a lot of time writing for the general public.  Still, I think Dweck did a good job of not lapsing into purely academic prose.  It’s just that the writing felt stilted at times.

If you haven’t read it or heard about it, the main idea of the book is that we all fit into two mindsets, the fixed mindset or the growth mindset.  With a fixed mindset, you basically believe that intelligence is a fixed thing and that it can’t be changed.  This idea often applied to talent (i.e. in sports or music) as well.   In the growth mindset, intelligence (and talent) is something that can be improved, mostly through hard work.  Many fixed mindset people feel that if you have to work hard, it means that you’re not really good at what you’re doing, while growth mindset people believe that working hard leads to success.  There’s a handy chart near the end of the book that lists things like how each mindset reacts to criticism.  Fixed mindset people ignore it or get defensive.  Growth mindset people use it to improve themselves.

I have to say, I see traits of both mindsets in myself, and looking back over the years, I see reactions that reflect both mindsets.  For example, I mostly feel that I can always improve myself.  I can work hard, learn new things and get better at something.  That’s certainly reflected in my career path, which has taken me from poetry writing to programming.  It seems on the surface like a huge leap, but it really a gradual process of learning one new thing that led to new insights.  So, for example, a part-time job scanning in my professor’s poetry book led to another job laying out and writing a newsletter and laying out a proceedings and then I started thinking about writing and its relationship to technology and using technology to write and thinking about how technology changes how we write, how we think.  And then I shifted focus to the technology itself and using it to solve problems and then to teaching those problem solving skills to kids via technology and programming.

But then, there have been moments along that path where I’ve thought that I just gave up.  Like when I didn’t finish my MFA.  When I look back now, I know that part of my decision was that I felt untalented compared to my peers.  But I did know, even then, that I needed to work a lot harder, but I still looked at it as I have to work harder because I’m not as talented as the others are.  But that wasn’t true.  They worked hard.  That’s *why* they were talented.  Even now, I know that some people think that writing comes easy to me.  It doesn’t.  I may have more practice than a freshman in college, but I still work hard on everything I write.

Besides lots of helpful tips about how to become more firmly in the growth mindset mentality, the book offers insight into the way many fixed mindset people behave.  I recognize among some of the stories she tells people that have given me grief in the past.  And she confirms that fixed mindset people can be quite difficult to work with.  The cool thing is, you can change your mindset.  Dweck considers herself a reformed fixed mindset person.  tShe still struggles sometimes with fixed mindset moments.  She offers advice to teachers and parents for how to cultivate the growth mindset in students and children.  Simple things like encouraging them to set goals and work toward them.

Overall, the book is a worthwhile read.  I’d especially recommend it for parents and teachers and if you suspect you might be working for a fixed mindset boss, it can help in that area, too.

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4 Replies to “Mindset”

  1. I like the ideas in the book, but am troubled by the lack of strong empirical support (in published manuscripts). There are a number of studies Dweck cites with authority, but I need to see details on studies like those. In particular, I think it’s easy to cite psychology/social psychology/education studies to support a preconceived notion, and I need to see the data to be convinced otherwise.

  2. As I have been reading it (and I haven’t finished yet), I keep being struck by the many ways in which I clearly have a fixed mindset, so I’ve been deliberately striving for more of a growth mindset in the last month or so. It’s a big transition to make, but one that seems worthwhile.

  3. That’s interesting, WN. And it’s great that you’re striving to change. And I know that it is a big transition. Though I feel like I lean toward the growth mindset, I feel like that’s just come about in the last 5-8 years, and that it took a couple of years to transition. Dweck herself says she finds herself slipping back into the fixed mindset.

  4. Interesting idea but sounds a little polarised. I’m not sold on Myers-Briggs by any means but I find their theoretical base that one expresses a particular kind of energy in a very contingent way and that that energy is very much a blend of a number of things more attractive as a model – Fixed or Growth sounds a little limited.

    You may be interested in an article on the London Review of Books reviewing a recent book about the MFA program – the article takes the position that it produces technically amazing, expert writers but very few great books – http://www.lrb.co.uk/v32/n18/elif-batuman/get-a-real-degree

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