Highlights from Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck

Cover of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success

Highlights from this book

  • Much of what you think of as your personality actually grows out of this “mindset.”

  • So I brought children one at a time to a room in their school, made them comfortable, and then gave them a series of puzzles to solve. The first ones were fairly easy, but the next ones were hard. As the students grunted, perspired, and toiled, I watched their strategies and probed what they were thinking and feeling. I expected differences among children in how they coped with the difficulty, but I saw something I never expected. Confronted with the hard puzzles, one ten-year-old boy pulled up his chair, rubbed his hands together, smacked his lips, and cried out, “I love a challenge!” Another, sweating away on these puzzles, looked up with a pleased expression and said with authority, “You know, I was hoping this would be informative!” What’s wrong with them? I wondered. I always thought you coped with failure or you didn’t cope with failure. I never thought anyone loved failure. Were these alien children or were they on to something? Everyone has a role model, someone who pointed the way at a critical moment in their lives. These children were my role models. They obviously knew something I didn’t and I was determined to figure it out—to understand the kind of mindset that could turn a failure into a gift. What did they know? They knew that human qualities, such as intellectual skills, could be cultivated. And that’s what they were doing—getting smarter. Not only weren’t they discouraged by failure, they didn’t even think they were failing. They thought they were learning.

  • What are the consequences of thinking that your intelligence or personality is something you can develop, as opposed to something that is a fixed, deep-seated trait?

  • Robert Sternberg, the present-day guru of intelligence, writes that the major factor in whether people achieve expertise “is not some fixed prior ability, but purposeful engagement.”

  • Believing that your qualities are carved in stone—the fixed mindset—creates an urgency to prove yourself over and over. If you have only a certain amount of intelligence, a certain personality, and a certain moral character—well, then you’d better prove that you have a healthy dose of them. It simply wouldn’t do to look or feel deficient in these most basic characteristics.

  • I’ve seen so many people with this one consuming goal of proving themselves—in the classroom, in their careers, and in their relationships. Every situation calls for a confirmation of their intelligence, personality, or character. Every situation is evaluated: Will I succeed or fail? Will I look smart or dumb? Will I be accepted or rejected? Will I feel like a winner or a loser?

  • This growth mindset is based on the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts, your strategies, and help from others. Although people may differ in every which way—in their initial talents and aptitudes, interests, or temperaments—everyone can change and grow through application and experience.

  • Why waste time proving over and over how great you are, when you could be getting better? Why hide deficiencies instead of overcoming them? Why look for friends or partners who will just shore up your self-esteem instead of ones who will also challenge you to grow? And why seek out the tried and true, instead of experiences that will stretch you? The passion for stretching yourself and sticking to it, even (or especially) when it’s not going well, is the hallmark of the growth mindset. This is the mindset that allows people to thrive during some of the most challenging times in their lives.

  • Even though they [people with a growth mindset] felt distressed, they were ready to take the risks, confront the challenges, and keep working at them.

  • When we (temporarily) put people in a fixed mindset, with its focus on permanent traits, they quickly fear challenge and devalue effort.

  • We often see books with titles like The Ten Secrets of the World’s Most Successful People crowding the shelves of bookstores, and these books may give many useful tips. But they’re usually a list of unconnected pointers, like “Take more risks!” or “Believe in yourself!” While you’re left admiring people who can do that, it’s never clear how these things fit together or how you could ever become that way.

  • If, like those with the growth mindset, you believe you can develop yourself, then you’re open to accurate information about your current abilities, even if it’s unflattering. What’s more, if you’re oriented toward learning, as they are, you need accurate information about your current abilities in order to learn effectively. However, if everything is either good news or bad news about your precious traits—as it is with fixed-mindset people—distortion almost inevitably enters the picture.

  • People with both mindsets came into our brain-wave lab at Columbia. As they answered hard questions and got feedback, we were curious about when their brain waves would show them to be interested and attentive. People with a fixed mindset were only interested when the feedback reflected on their ability. Their brain waves showed them paying close attention when they were told whether their answers were right or wrong.

  • “When you’re lying on your deathbed, one of the cool things to say is, ‘I really explored myself.’"

  • She won the spot for her weight group on the U.S. Olympic team and came home from Athens with a bronze medal. And what was next? Yale Law School. People urged her to stay where she was already on top, but Miranda felt it was more exciting to start at the bottom again and see what she could grow into this time.

  • The plot is about to thicken, for in the fixed mindset it’s not enough just to succeed. It’s not enough just to look smart and talented. You have to be pretty much flawless. And you have to be flawless right away.

  • They granted one test the power to measure their most basic intelligence now and forever. They gave this test the power to define them. That’s why every success is so important.

  • …people who believe in fixed traits feel an urgency to succeed, and when they do, they may feel more than pride. They may feel a sense of superiority, since success means that their fixed traits are better than other people’s.

  • …lurking behind that self-esteem of the fixed mindset is a simple question: If you’re somebody when you’re successful, what are you when you’re unsuccessful?

  • Malcolm Gladwell, the author and New Yorker writer, has suggested that as a society we value natural, effortless accomplishment over achievement through effort. We endow our heroes with superhuman abilities that led them inevitably toward their greatness.

  • People can also have different mindsets in different areas…We’ve found that whatever mindset people have in a particular area will guide them in that area.

  • In the fixed mindset, everything is about the outcome. If you fail—or if you’re not the best—it’s all been wasted. The growth mindset allows people to value what they’re doing regardless of the outcome.

  • Richard Robins and Jennifer Pals tracked students at the University of California at Berkeley over their years of college. They found that when students had the growth mindset, they gained confidence in themselves as they repeatedly met and mastered the challenges of the university. However, when students had the fixed mindset, their confidence eroded in the face of those same challenges. That’s why people with the fixed mindset have to nurse their confidence and protect it.

  • Think of a time you were enjoying something—doing a crossword puzzle, playing a sport, learning a new dance. Then it became hard and you wanted out. Maybe you suddenly felt tired, dizzy, bored, or hungry. Next time this happens, don’t fool yourself. It’s the fixed mindset. Put yourself in a growth mindset. Picture your brain forming new connections as you meet the challenge and learn. Keep on going.

  • How do you act when you feel depressed? Do you work harder at things in your life or do you let them go? Next time you feel low, put yourself in a growth mindset—think about learning, challenge, confronting obstacles. Think about effort as a positive, constructive force, not as a big drag. Try it out.

  • Is there something you’ve always wanted to do but were afraid you weren’t good at? Make a plan to do it.

  • Bloom concludes, “After forty years of intensive research on school learning in the United States as well as abroad, my major conclusion is: What any person in the world can learn, almost all persons can learn, if provided with the appropriate prior and current conditions of learning.”

  • Actually, she informs us, they are not drawing skills at all, but seeing skills. They are the ability to perceive edges, spaces, relationships, lights and shadows, and the whole. Drawing requires us to learn each component skill and then combine them into one process. Some people simply pick up these skills in the natural course of their lives, whereas others have to work to learn them and put them together.

  • After the experience with difficulty, the performance of the ability-praised students plummeted, even when we gave them some more of the easier problems. Losing faith in their ability, they were doing worse than when they started. The effort kids showed better and better performance. They had used the hard problems to sharpen their skills, so that when they returned to the easier ones, they were way ahead.

  • Research by Claude Steele and Joshua Aronson shows that even checking a box to indicate your race or sex can trigger the stereotype in your mind and lower your test score.

  • When they’re little, these girls are often so perfect, and they delight in everyone’s telling them so. They’re so well behaved, they’re so cute, they’re so helpful, and they’re so precocious. Girls learn to trust people’s estimates of them. “Gee, everyone’s so nice to me; if they criticize me, it must be true.”

  • “The strength for that sixth jump came from my assorted heartbreaks over the years…I’d collected all my pains and turned them into one mighty performance.”

  • For those with the fixed mindset, success is about establishing their superiority, pure and simple.

  • In 1981, McEnroe bought a beautiful black Les Paul guitar. That week, he went to see Buddy Guy play at the Checkerboard Lounge in Chicago. Instead of feeling inspired to take lessons or practice, McEnroe went home and smashed his guitar to pieces.

  • “When you can’t control yourself, you want someone to do it for you"

    — ?
  • “The minute a leader allows himself to become the primary reality people worry about, rather than reality being the primary reality, you have a recipe for mediocrity, or worse.”

    — ?
  • Winston Churchill set up a special department. Others might be in awe of his titanic persona, but the job of this department, Jim Collins reports, was to give Churchill all the worst news. Then Churchill could sleep well at night, knowing he had not been groupthinked into a false sense of security.

  • Herodotus, writing in the fifth century B.C., reported that the ancient Persians used a version of Sloan’s techniques to prevent groupthink. Whenever a group reached a decision while sober, they later reconsidered it while intoxicated.

  • David Packard, on the other hand, gave an employee a medal for defying him. The co-founder of Hewlett-Packard tells this story. Years ago at a Hewlett-Packard lab, they told a young engineer to give up work on a display monitor he was developing. In response, he went “on vacation,” touring California and dropping in on potential customers to show them the monitor and gauge their interest. The customers loved it, he continued working on it, and then he somehow persuaded his manager to put it into production. The company sold more than seventeen thousand of his monitors and reaped a sales revenue of thirty-five million dollars. Later, at a meeting of Hewlett-Packard engineers, Packard gave the young man a medal “for extraordinary contempt and defiance beyond the normal call of engineering duty.”

  • The growth mindset says all of these things can be developed. All—you, your partner, and the relationship—are capable of growth and change. In the fixed mindset, the ideal is instant, perfect, and perpetual compatibility. Like it was meant to be.

  • One problem is that people with the fixed mindset expect everything good to happen automatically. It’s not that the partners will work to help each other solve their problems or gain skills. It’s that this will magically occur through their love…

  • Relationship expert Daniel Wile says that choosing a partner is choosing a set of problems.

  • …change isn’t like surgery. Even when you change, the old beliefs aren’t just removed like a worn-out hip or knee and replaced with better ones. Instead, the new beliefs take their place alongside the old ones, and as they become stronger, they give you a different way to think, feel, and act.

  • …cognitive therapy helps people make more realistic and optimistic judgments. But it does not take them out of the fixed mindset and its world of judgment. It does not confront the basic assumption—the idea that traits are fixed—that is causing them to constantly measure themselves. In other words, it does not escort them out of the framework of judgment and into the framework of growth.

  • When they do think about what intelligence is, many people believe that a person is born either smart, average, or dumb—and stays that way for life. But new research shows that the brain is more like a muscle—it changes and gets stronger when you use it.

  • …they were taught that when they studied well and learned something, they transferred it from temporary storage (working memory) to more permanent storage (long-term memory).

  • When people hold on to a fixed mindset, it’s often for a reason. At some point in their lives it served a good purpose for them. It told them who they were or who they wanted to be (a smart, talented child) and it told them how to be that (perform well). In this way, it provided a formula for self-esteem and a path to love and respect from others. The idea that they are worthy and will be loved is crucial for children, and—if a child is unsure about being valued or loved—the fixed mindset appears to offer a simple, straightforward route to this.

  • …it’s not easy to just let go of something that has felt like your “self” for many years and that has given you your route to self-esteem.

  • …it’s not as though the fixed mindset wants to leave gracefully. If the fixed mindset has been controlling your internal monologue, it can say some pretty strong things to you when it sees those counters at zero: “You’re nothing.” It can make you want to rush right out and rack up some high numbers. The fixed mindset once offered you refuge from that very feeling, and it offers it to you again. Don’t take it.

  • Research by Peter Gollwitzer and his colleagues shows that vowing, even intense vowing, is often useless. The next day comes and the next day goes. What works is making a vivid, concrete plan: “Tomorrow during my break, I’ll get a cup of tea, close the door to my office, and call the graduate school.” Or, in another case: “On Wednesday morning, right after I get up and brush my teeth, I’ll sit at my desk and start writing my report.”

  • Think of something you need to do, something you want to learn, or a problem you have to confront. What is it? Now make a concrete plan. When will you follow through on your plan? Where will you do it? How will you do it? Think about it in vivid detail…These concrete plans—plans you can visualize—about when, where, and how you are going to do something lead to really high levels of follow-through, which, of course, ups the chances of success.

  • It’s amazing—once a problem improves, people often stop doing what caused it to improve. Once you feel better, you stop taking your medicine.

  • These changes have to be supported or they can go away faster than they appeared.

  • The second step is to become aware of your fixed-mindset triggers. When does your fixed-mindset “persona” come home to roost?…It could be when you’re thinking about taking on a big, new challenge. Your fixed-mindset persona might appear and whisper, “Maybe you don’t have what it takes, and everyone will find out.”…What about when you encounter someone who’s a lot better than you in the very area you pride yourself on? What does that fixed-mindset voice say to you? Does it tell you that you’ll never be as good? Does it make you hate that person just a little?

  • Each week I give them a different assignment for a short paper: Find something important about yourself that you’d like to change and take the first step….Do something outrageously growth mindset in the service of what you’d like to change…

  • this year I asked them [Dweck’s students] to identify their fixed-mindset triggers and to give their fixed-mindset persona a name. It was fascinating. Not one student claimed to have no triggers or persona. All of them were able to write eloquently (and painfully) about their fixed-mindset persona, its triggers, and its impact.

  • Understanding that everyone has a fixed-mindset persona can give us more compassion for people. It allows us to understand their struggles.

  • Every one of us has a journey to take. It starts by accepting that we all have both mindsets. Then we learn to recognize what triggers our fixed mindset. Failures? Criticism? Deadlines? Disagreements? And we come to understand what happens to us when our fixed-mindset “persona” is triggered. Who is this persona? What’s its name? What does it make us think, feel, and do? How does it affect those around us? Importantly, we can gradually learn to remain in a growth-mindset place despite the triggers, as we educate our persona and invite it to join us on our growth-mindset journey. Ideally, we will learn more and more about how we can help others on their journey, too.

  • Every day presents you with ways to grow and to help the people you care about grow.