Why it helps to have a growth mindset
For the past 40 years, Carol Dweck has been studying the ways we respond to our own strengths and shortcomings and to those of others, and what that means for our self-esteem and ability to grow. Mindset, her first book for non-academics, shares her findings …
Some people, she says, have what she calls a ‘fixed mindset’. They see themselves (and others) as essentially unchangeable: what they are good at they are good at, and what they aren’t good at they avoid. This has advantages of course. If everyone we know stays the same, it’s easy to navigate our social world. But the downside of a fixed mindset is that it makes it almost impossible for people to change. After all, if what you are good at is set in stone, there’s no point in making an effort to improve. And, for fixed-mindset people, setbacks are catastrophic: if who you are is inextricably linked with what you are good at, failure attacks the core of your identity.
As an alternative, Dweck proposes adopting a ‘growth mindset’, a way of thinking that allows almost total fluidity. This is a point of view that essentially loves learning, that sees complex challenges as opportunities in their own right and setbacks as chances to improve. People with the growth mindset welcome the opportunity to try out new things, even if their experiments don’t go well. They see themselves and others as changeable (in Dweck’s world, for the better), and, like the tortoise in the fable of the tortoise and the hare, they often overtake those whose initial ‘natural’ talents seem to have put them ahead in the race. In fact, for Dweck, the growth mindset offers almost limitless possibilities: “Just because some people can do something with little or no training, it doesn’t mean that others can’t do it (and sometimes do it even better) with training.”