Mindset: The New Psychology of Success

date Aug 10, 2019
authors Carol S. Dweck
reading time 27 mins

Table of Contents

How does the 2 mindsets work?

Nature and nurture work together

It’s not nature or nurture, genes or environment. From conception on, there’s a constant give-and-take between the two. In fact, as Gilbert Gottlieb, an eminent neuroscientist, put it, not only do genes and environment cooperate as we develop, but genes require input from the environment to work properly.

Nurture > Nature

Of course, each person has a unique genetic endowment. People may start with different temperaments and different aptitudes, but it is clear that experience, training, and personal effort take them the rest of the way.

View about ourselves

For thirty years, my research has shown that the view you adopt for yourself profoundly affects the way you lead your life. It can determine whether you become the person you want to be and whether you accomplish the things you value.

Are qualities set in stone or can they be changed?

how a belief that your qualities are carved in stone leads to a host of thoughts and actions, and how a belief that your qualities can be cultivated leads to a host of different thoughts and actions, taking you down an entirely different road.

Validating yourself vs developing yourself

In one world—the world of fixed traits—success is about proving you’re smart or talented. Validating yourself. In the other—the world of changing qualities—it’s about stretching yourself to learn something new. Developing yourself.

Learners (growth mindset) and non-learners (fixed mindset)

“I don’t divide the world into the weak and the strong, or the successes and the failures….I divide the world into the learners and nonlearners.”

Validations or challenges?

If you had to choose, which would it be? Loads of success and validation or lots of challenge?

Relationships in growth vs fixed mindset

People also have to decide what kinds of relationships they want: ones that bolster their egos or ones that challenge them to grow?

Case study of Cézanne’s paintings

Some of the paintings were pretty bad. They were overwrought scenes, some violent, with amateurishly painted people. Although there were some paintings that foreshadowed the later Cézanne, many did not. Was the early Cézanne not talented? Or did it just take time for Cézanne to become Cézanne?

Performance !== assessment

Performance cannot be based on one assessment. You cannot determine the slope of a line given only one point, as there is no line to begin with. A single point in time does not show trends, improvement, lack of effort, or mathematical ability….

Outcome

This point is also crucial. 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. They’re tackling problems, charting new courses, working on important issues.

Confidence gained vs eroded

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.

Gift vs challenge

Most often people believe that the “gift” is the ability itself. Yet what feeds it is that constant, endless curiosity and challenge seeking.

Early adolescnece cannot predict success

Even by early adolescence, you usually couldn’t predict their future accomplishment from their current ability. Only their continued motivation and commitment, along with their network of support, took them to the top.

Hard problems and students

“I wish I could just have fun and relax and not have the responsibility of that potential to be some kind of great man.” As with the kids in our study, the burden of talent was killing his enjoyment. The effort-praised students still loved the problems, and many of them said that the hard problems were the most fun.

Praising effort vs praising ability

Since this was a kind of IQ test, you might say that praising ability lowered the students’ IQs. And that praising their effort raised them.

Ordinary vs extra ordinary

As much as our culture talks about individual effort and self-improvement, deep down, he argues, 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. Why not? To me that is so much more amazing.

Finished product vs work in progress

No, because in the fixed mindset, you don’t take control of your abilities and your motivation. You look for your talent to carry you through, and when it doesn’t, well then, what else could you have done? You are not a work in progress, you’re a finished product. And finished products have to protect themselves, lament, and blame. Everything but take charge.

Fixed mindset vs Growth mindset

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 committed to your development.

Great contributions to the society

Great contributions to society are born of curiosity and deep understanding. If students no longer recognize and value deep learning, where will the great contributions of the future come from?

Minds

In other words, our minds are constantly monitoring and interpreting. That’s just how we stay on track. But sometimes the interpretation process goes awry. Some people put more extreme interpretations on things that happen—and then react with exaggerated feelings of anxiety, depression, or anger. Or superiority.

Fixed mindset

Fixed mindset == no need to put in effort or get help

In other words, risk and effort are two things that might reveal your inadequacies and show that you were not up to the task. In fact, it’s startling to see the degree to which people with the fixed mindset do not believe in putting in effort or getting help.

Fixed mindset == secrets and inspiration

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. So you’re inspired for a few days, but basically the world’s most successful people still have their secrets.

Fixed mindset needs to be proven all the time!

why some students were so caught up in proving their ability, while others could just let go and learn. Suddenly we realized that there were two meanings to ability, not one: a fixed ability that needs to be proven, and a changeable ability that can be developed through learning.

Doing things that are within grasp in a fixed mindset

When do people with the fixed mindset thrive? When things are safely within their grasp. If things get too challenging — when they’re not feeling smart or talented — they lose interest.

Staying interested only when things went well

Students with the fixed mindset stayed interested only when they did well right away. Those who found it difficult showed a big drop in their interest and enjoyment. If it wasn’t a testimony to their intelligence, they couldn’t enjoy it.

Kids with fixed mindset stopped enjoying when things got harder

We gave fifth graders intriguing puzzles, which they all loved. But when we made them harder, children with the fixed mindset showed a big plunge in enjoyment. They also changed their minds about taking some home to practice.

Expect ability to show up

Actually, people with the fixed mindset expect ability to show up on its own, before any learning takes place. After all, if you have it you have it, and if you don’t you don’t. I see this all the time.

One evaluation cannot measure you forever

The idea that one evaluation can measure you forever is what creates the urgency for those with the fixed mindset. That’s why they must succeed perfectly and immediately. Who can afford the luxury of trying to grow when everything is on the line right now?

Sense of superiority

may feel a sense of superiority, since success means that their fixed traits are better than other people’s.

Who are you when you succeed or fail?

However, 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?

Tying up failure or success or your identity

failure has been transformed from an action (I failed) to an identity (I am a failure). This is especially true in the fixed mindset.

Effort is for people with no ability

Effort is for those who don’t have the ability. People with the fixed mindset tell us, “If you have to work at something, you must not be good at it.” They add, “Things come easily to people who are true geniuses.”

Where does this mindset of effortless accomplishment comes from?

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. It’s as if Midori popped out of the womb fiddling, Michael Jordan dribbling, and Picasso doodling. This captures the fixed mindset perfectly. And it’s everywhere.

Natural talents vs effort

Did Beane try to fix his problems in constructive ways? No, of course not, because this is a story of the fixed mindset. Natural talent should not need effort. Effort is for the others, the less endowed. Natural talent does not ask for help. It is an admission of weakness.

Personal greatness

Collins’s comparison leaders were typically concerned with their “reputation for personal greatness”—so much so that they often set the company up to fail when their regime ended. As Collins puts it, “After all, what better testament to your own personal greatness than that the place falls apart after you leave?

Leadership

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 starts with the bosses’ worry about being judged, but it winds up being everybody’s fear about being judged. It’s hard for courage and innovation to survive a companywide fixed mindset.

Self-confidence

What he learned was this: True self-confidence is “the courage to be open—to welcome change and new ideas regardless of their source.” Real self-confidence is not reflected in a title, an expensive suit, a fancy car, or a series of acquisitions. It is reflected in your mindset: your readiness to grow.

Groupthink

There are so many ways the fixed mindset creates groupthink. Leaders are seen as gods who never err. A group invests itself with special talents and powers. Leaders, to bolster their ego, suppress dissent. Or workers, seeking validation from leaders, fall into line behind them.

Fixed mindset managers

Studies by Peter Heslin, Don VandeWalle, and Gary Latham show that many managers do not believe in personal change. These fixed-mindset managers simply look for existing talent—they judge employees as competent or incompetent at the start and that’s that.

Fixed mindset relationships

But in relationships, two more things enter the picture—your partner and the relationship itself. Now you can have a fixed mindset about three things. You can believe that your qualities are fixed, your partner’s qualities are fixed, and the relationship’s qualities are fixed—that it’s inherently good or bad, meant-to-be or not meant-to-be.

Mind reading, not communicating

Part of the low-effort belief is the idea that couples should be able to read each other’s minds: We are like one. My partner should know what I think, feel, and need and I should know what my partner thinks, feels, and needs. But this is impossible. Mind reading instead of communicating inevitably backfires.

Bullying

In our study, the students with the growth mindset were not as prone to see the bullying as a reflection of who they were. Instead, they saw it as a psychological problem of the bullies, a way for the bullies to gain status or charge their self-esteem: “I’d think that the reason he is bothering me is probably that he has problems at home or at school with his grades.” Or “They need to get a life—not just feel good if they make me feel bad.”

Prolonged bullying

Even if a victim doesn’t have a fixed mindset to begin with, prolonged bullying can instill it. Especially if others stand by and do nothing, or even join in. Victims say that when they’re taunted and demeaned and no one comes to their defense, they start to believe they deserve it. They start to judge themselves and to think that they are inferior.

Praising for intelligence, not effort

I remember often being praised for my intelligence rather than my efforts, and slowly but surely I developed an aversion to difficult challenges. Most surprisingly, this extended beyond academic and even athletic challenges to emotional challenges. This was my greatest learning disability—this tendency to see performance as a reflection of character and, if I could not accomplish something right away, to avoid that task or treat it with contempt.

Speed and perfection are enemies of challenge and learning

“Wow, you did that so quickly!” or “Look, you didn’t make any mistakes!” what message are we sending? We are telling them that what we prize are speed and perfection. Speed and perfection are the enemy of difficult learning.

Coaching feedback

Many of the coaches lament that when they give their athletes corrective feedback, the athletes grumble that their confidence is being undermined. Sometimes the athletes phone home and complain to their parents. They seem to want coaches who will simply tell them how talented they are and leave it at that.

Honest and constructive criticism

But as in the example of Elizabeth above, children need honest and constructive feedback. If children are “protected” from it, they won’t learn well. They will experience advice, coaching, and feedback as negative and undermining. Withholding constructive criticism does not help children’s confidence; it harms their future.

Normal kids misbehave - no need to judge!

All kids misbehave. Research shows that normal young children misbehave every three minutes. Does it become an occasion for judgment of their character or an occasion for teaching?

Abusive parents

Abusive parents often don’t understand that children’s crying is a signal of their needs, or that babies can’t stop crying on command. Instead, they judge the child as disobedient, willful, or bad for crying.

When going to a reputed school is the only goal

Sandy had been groomed by her parents to go to Harvard. Because of their fixed mindset, the only goal of Sandy’s education was to prove her worth and competence (and perhaps theirs) by gaining admission to Harvard. Going there would mean that she was truly intelligent. For them, it was not about learning.

Beware of success

Conclusion? Beware of success. It can knock you into a fixed mindset: “I won because I have talent. Therefore I will keep winning.” Success can infect a team or it can infect an individual.

Labeling information strongly

In several studies, we probed the way people with a fixed mindset dealt with information they were receiving. We found that they put a very strong evaluation on each and every piece of information. Something good led to a very strong positive label and something bad led to a very strong negative label.

Wrong kind of effort

Sometimes the problem with a child isn’t too little effort. It’s too much. And for the wrong cause. We’ve all heard about schoolchildren who stay up past midnight every night studying. Or children who are sent to tutors so they can outstrip their classmates. These children are working hard, but they’re typically not in a growth mindset. They’re not focused on love of learning.

Growth mindset

How do you feel when you made a mistake or failed?

Not only weren’t they discouraged by failure, they didn’t even think they were failing. They thought they were learning.

Growth mindset

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.

Growth mindset people are self-aware

exceptional individuals have “a special talent for identifying their own strengths and weaknesses.” It’s interesting that those with the growth mindset seem to have that talent.

Babies have growth mindset

Infants stretch their skills daily. Not just ordinary skills, but the most difficult tasks of a lifetime, like learning to walk and talk. They never decide it’s too hard or not worth the effort. Babies don’t worry about making mistakes or humiliating themselves. They walk, they fall, they get up. They just barge forward.

Seeking challenges in a growth mindset

People in a growth mindset don’t just seek challenge, they thrive on it. The bigger the challenge, the more they stretch. And nowhere can it be seen more clearly than in the world of sports. You can just watch people stretch and grow.

Growth mindset people know they are like everyone else

But here’s what he said when his return to basketball caused a huge commotion: “I was shocked with the level of intensity my coming back to the game created… People were praising me like I was a religious cult or something. That was very embarrassing. I’m a human being like everyone else.

Reminds me of startup hyped up founders seeking validation and urgency with publicity

In short, people who believe in fixed traits feel an urgency to succeed, and when they do, they may feel more than pride.

Failure and growth

When people believe their basic qualities can be developed, failures may still hurt, but failures don’t define them. And if abilities can be expanded—if change and growth are possible—then there are still many paths to success.

If you have a goal, then you do something about it

In the growth mindset, it’s almost inconceivable to want something badly, to think you have a chance to achieve it, and then do nothing about it.

I gave my all

You can look back and say, “I could have been…,” polishing your unused endowments like trophies. Or you can look back and say, “I gave my all for the things I valued.” Think about what you want to look back and say. Then choose your mindset.

Getting awards

Incidentally, people with a growth mindset might also like a Nobel Prize or a lot of money. But they are not seeking it as a validation of their worth or as something that will make them better than others.

Just start!

Actually, sometimes you plunge into something because you’re not good at it. This is a wonderful feature of the growth mindset. You don’t have to think you’re already great at something to want to do it and to enjoy doing it.

No single breakthrough for success

It did not happen suddenly. The lightbulb has become the symbol of that single moment when the brilliant solution strikes, but there was no single moment of invention.

Praising ability

Both groups were exactly equal to begin with. But right after the praise, they began to differ. As we feared, the ability praise pushed students right into the fixed mindset, and they showed all the signs of it, too: When we gave them a choice, they rejected a challenging new task that they could learn from. They didn’t want to do anything that could expose their flaws and call into question their talent.

Stereotypes

When people are in a growth mindset, the stereotype doesn’t disrupt their performance. The growth mindset takes the teeth out of the stereotype and makes people better able to fight back. They don’t believe in permanent inferiority. And if they are behind—well, then they’ll work harder, seek help, and try to catch up.

Growth mindset requirements

Character, heart, the mind of a champion. It’s what makes great athletes and it’s what comes from the growth mindset with its focus on self-development, self-motivation, and responsibility.

Leaders

These great leaders said they didn’t set out to be leaders. They’d had no interest in proving themselves. They just did what they loved—with tremendous drive and enthusiasm—and it led where it led.

Training employees

The article goes on to talk about how change is possible throughout life and how people can develop their abilities at most tasks with coaching and practice. Although managers, of course, want to find the right person for a job, the exactly right person doesn’t always come along. However, training and experience can often draw out and develop the qualities required for successful performance.

Employees in growth mindset companies

What we found was fascinating. People who work in growth-mindset organizations have far more trust in their company and a much greater sense of empowerment, ownership, and commitment.

Parenting

Parents think they can hand children permanent confidence—like a gift—by praising their brains and talent. It doesn’t work, and in fact has the opposite effect. It makes children doubt themselves as soon as anything is hard or anything goes wrong. If parents want to give their children a gift, the best thing they can do is to teach their children to love challenges, be intrigued by mistakes, enjoy effort, seek new strategies, and keep on learning.

Praising the right way

Does this mean we can’t praise our children enthusiastically when they do something great? Should we try to restrain our admiration for their successes? Not at all. It just means that we should keep away from a certain kind of praise—praise that judges their intelligence or talent. Or praise that implies that we’re proud of them for their intelligence or talent rather than for the work they put in.

Honest parenting

In essence, her father not only told her the truth, but also taught her how to learn from her failures and do what it takes to succeed in the future. He sympathized deeply with her disappointment, but he did not give her a phony boost that would only lead to further disappointment.

Supporting change

But change doesn’t work that way. When you’ve lost weight, the issue doesn’t go away. Or when your child starts to love learning, the problem isn’t solved forever. Or when you and your partner start communicating better, that’s not the end of it. These changes have to be supported or they can go away faster than they appeared.

How do non-abused kids behave?

How did non-abused children react to their distressed classmate, by the way? They showed sympathy. Many went over to the crying child to see what was wrong and to see if they could help out.

Parenting

Many parents think that when they judge and punish, they are teaching, as in “I’ll teach you a lesson you’ll never forget.” What are they teaching? They are teaching their children that if they go against the parents’ rules or values, they’ll be judged and punished. They’re not teaching their children how to think through the issues and come to ethical, mature decisions on their own.

Students

Students with the growth mindset described ideals like these: “A successful student is one whose primary goal is to expand their knowledge and their ways of thinking and investigating the world. They do not see grades as an end in themselves but as means to continue to grow.”

A little better every day

a straight-ahead growth-mindset guy who lived by this rule: “You have to apply yourself each day to becoming a little better. By applying yourself to the task of becoming a little better each and every day over a period of time, you will become a lot better.”

Teaching kids

The first important thing to remember here is that the process includes more than just effort. Certainly, we want children to appreciate the fruits of hard work. But we also want them to understand the importance of trying new strategies when the one they’re using isn’t working. (We don’t want them to just try harder with the same ineffective strategy.) And we want them to ask for help or input from others when it’s needed. This is the process we want them to appreciate: hard work, trying new strategies, and seeking input from others.

Other than praising intelligence

No! No! Of course you can appreciate your children’s wonderful accomplishments, but then tie those accomplishments to the process they engaged in. And remember, we don’t have to always be praising. Inquiring about the child’s process and just showing interest in it goes a very long way.

Feedback on kids’ setbacks

It’s the parents who respond to their children’s setbacks with interest and treat them as opportunities for learning who are transmitting a growth mindset to their children. These parents think setbacks are good things that should be embraced, and that setbacks should be used as a platform for learning. They address the setback head-on and talk to their children about the next steps for learning.

Teaching about mistakes, obstacles and setbacks

In other words, every single day parents are teaching their children whether mistakes, obstacles, and setbacks are bad things or good things. The parents who treat them as good things are more likely to pass on a growth mindset to their children.

Change is not easy

Mindset change asks people to give this up. As you can imagine, 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. And it’s especially not easy to replace it with a mindset that tells you to embrace all the things that have felt threatening: challenge, struggle, criticism, setbacks.

Parents-kid dinner table topic

At the dinner table each evening, you and your partner structure the discussion around the growth mindset, asking each child (and each other): “What did you learn today?” “What mistake did you make that taught you something?” “What did you try hard at today?” You go around the table with each question, excitedly discussing your own and one another’s effort, strategies, setbacks, and learning.

Examples

Edison

What eventually set him apart was his mindset and drive. He never stopped being the curious, tinkering boy looking for new challenges. Long after other young men had taken up their roles in society, he rode the rails from city to city learning everything he could about telegraphy, and working his way up the ladder of telegraphers through nonstop self-education and invention.

Darwin

Yet Darwin’s masterwork, The Origin of Species, took years of teamwork in the field, hundreds of discussions with colleagues and mentors, several preliminary drafts, and half a lifetime of dedication before it reached fruition.

Mozart

Mozart labored for more than ten years until he produced any work that we admire today. Before then, his compositions were not that original or interesting. Actually, they were often patched-together chunks taken from other composers.

Pollock

Dedication is how Jackson Pollock got from point A to point B. Pollock was wildly in love with the idea of being an artist. He thought about art all the time, and he did it all the time. Because he was so gung ho, he got others to take him seriously and mentor him until he mastered all there was to master and began to produce startlingly original works.

Enron

But by putting complete faith in talent, Enron did a fatal thing: It created a culture that worshiped talent, thereby forcing its employees to look and act extraordinarily talented. Basically, it forced them into the fixed mindset.

Corporate example

As Morgan McCall, in his book High Flyers, points out, “Unfortunately, people often like the things that work against their growth….People like to use their strengths…to achieve quick, dramatic results, even if…they aren’t developing the new skills they will need later on. People like to believe they are as good as everyone says…and not take their weaknesses as seriously as they might. People don’t like to hear bad news or get criticism….There is tremendous risk…in leaving what one does well to attempt to master something new.”