Charles Darwin and Leo Tolstoy were ordinary students; they showed no spark of creativity or genius. Ben Hogan, one of the greatest golfers of all time, was an uncoordinated and graceless child. Photographer Cindy Sherman, on every list of top artists of the 20th century, failed her first photography course examination. Geraldine Page, a great actress, was advised to give up acting for lack of talent. What is common among them? If you ask Carol Dweck, she will tell you that all of them, most likely, had a ‘growth mindset’.
Why do people differ in the way they approach things? Why are some people more enthusiastic or morally stronger? We have sought answers to these questions for thousands of years. Some claim that it is some physical feature. At one time, it was bumps on the skull (phrenology), the size and shape of the skull (craniology), and, today, it is the genes. Others point to cultural forces: backgrounds, experiences, upbringing, parenting, etc.
Then there is a third view which says it’s not nature or nurture, genes or environment. There is a constant give-and-take between the two. Gilbert Gottlieb, a top neuroscientist, says that not only do genes and environment cooperate, but genes require input from the environment to work properly. People have more capacity for lifelong learning and brain development than thought of earlier. While each person has a unique genetic imprint and starts with a different temperament, it is experience, training and personal effort that really shape us.
That’s the central point of Dweck’s book Mindset—belief about oneself, or our mindset, guides a large part of our lives. Much of what may be preventing you from fulfilling your potential grows out of the mindset. Backed by over 30 years of research, she has come to the conclusion that there are broadly two types of people: those with a fixed mindset and those with a growth mindset. Those in the first category largely believe that your intelligence is something very basic about you that you can’t change very much. Or you can learn new things, but you can’t really change how intelligent you are. Or you are a certain kind of person, and there is not much that can be done to really change that. They feel the pressure to prove themselves. “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?” writes Dweck.
Those with a growth mindset, on the other hand, believe that, although people differ in their initial talents and aptitudes, interests, or temperaments, everyone can change and grow. It is not that people with this mindset believe that anyone can become an Einstein or a Mozart with a mindset change. “But they believe that a person’s true potential is unknown (and unknowable); that it’s impossible to foresee what can be accomplished with years of passion, toil, training, strategies, and help from others. The belief that cherished qualities can be developed creates a passion for learning and leads to a virtuous cycle of achievement and improvement,” writes Dweck.
She claims that this is the first book that explains the concept of ‘mindset’ and shows how to make use of it in our lives. Understanding mindset, she believes, allows you to understand the thought processes of the greats—in the sciences and arts, in sports, and in business—and the would-have-beens. “You’ll understand your mate, your boss, your friends, your kids. You’ll see how to unleash your potential—and your children’s.”
The book is divided into eight chapters. The first explains the mindset concept; the second goes deeper into it and chapter three is about the truth about ability and achievement. Chapters 4-7 are mindsets at work in specific areas: sports, business, relationships, and on parents/teachers/coaches. At the end of each chapter, and throughout the last chapter, that is chapter eight, Dweck show you ways to apply the lessons—ways to recognise the mindset that is guiding your life, to understand how it works and to change it, if you wish to.
Dweck is one of the world’s leading researchers in the fields of personality, social psychology and developmental psychology. She was the William B Ransford Professor of Psychology at Columbia University and is now the Lewis and Virginia Eaton Professor of Psychology at Stanford University and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. This is a practical book backed by solid theory and has sold almost two million copies. Don’t miss it.