Mindset by Carol Dweck: Top Lessons and Book Summary
The lessons from the book Mindset by Carol Dweck can have a massive impact on your future when applied properly. So in this video I’m going to give you a summary of the most important lessons from the book and more importantly, I’ll show you how to apply those lessons in your life.
The basic idea from the book is that people can have either a fixed mindset or a growth mindset.
A fixed mindset is when you believe that your intelligence, abilities or personality are part of who you are and can’t be changed. A student with a fixed mindset will see a C+ on their test scores and feel like a failure because they feel that C+ is a measure of who they are.
A person with a growth mindset believes that intelligence, abilities or personality can all be improved with effort. They will see a C+ on their test scores and won’t feel like a failure. Instead, that person will think about what needs to be done to raise their score in the future. The C+ isn’t a measure of who they are, it’s only an indicator of where they’re at right now.
The key idea is that a person with a growth mindset is willing to push past challenges and failures because they know they can change. A person with a fixed mindset doesn’t want to try to push past failure because they don’t believe they can make a difference.
This fixed or growth mindset can carry over to every aspect of your life from relationships, career, sports, abilities and even your personality. Having a fixed mindset can harm your future in all of these areas.
Brain scans actually show a distinct difference between people with a fixed mindset and a growth mindset. During a study people were given hard problems to solve. After they were told their answers were wrong, they were given information on how they can learn from those wrong answers. At this point people with a fixed mindset showed low brain activity on the scan because they don’t believe they can change so the information was pointless. They didn’t have any interest in the information and didn’t pay attention. People with a growth mindset were highly interested with this information and their brain scans lit up with activity. They knew this information would help them learn and improve so it was worth focusing on.
That right there is a huge lesson to remember. It shows why a fixed mindset can be so devastating to a person’s future. If a person doesn’t believe they can change who they are, they stop paying attention to anything that could help them change – which makes it even harder to change. A fixed mindset creates a self-fulfilling prophecy that limits a person’s future. If there’s one thing you take away from this video, make sure you remember this lesson.
This finding resonates strongly with me as it explains so much of what I’ve seen in the last fifteen years teaching guitar. Most people think they need to have some sort of natural talent to learn a musical instrument, when the reality is you only need a growth mindset. Students with a fixed mindset give up early and say “I guess I missed the musical genes in my family”.
The truth is everybody is terrible in their first lesson and that’s fine. What separates the students is their commitment to practicing. If you have a fixed mindset, practicing feels pointless. But if you have a growth mindset, you know that practicing is what actually creates your musical abilities.
At this point I want to highlight a big mistake I’ve noticed in some summaries and reviews of this book. The mistake is to assume that each person either has one mindset or the other. Some people have a fixed mindset while other people have a growth mindset.
The reality is that each person has a mixture of growth and fixed mindsets across abilities, areas or skills. Nobody has a growth mindset over every aspect of their life and nobody is completely fixed.
This is important to recognize because it can create a trap for people who think they have a growth mindset. If you currently think you have a growth mindset, there will be aspects of your life where you have a fixed mindset and you don’t know it. Not knowing you have a fixed mindset with an ability or area of your life prevents you from making changes.
For example an athlete is highly likely to have a growth mindset when it comes to sports. You probably know somebody who can rapidly learn and excel at any sport. That person has a growth mindset when it comes to sport. But when it comes to other areas such as academic subjects, that same person may have a significantly fixed mindset and feel they just aren’t smart in that way.
Now let’s look at how you can apply these lessons in your life and how to change your mindset.
To change to a growth mindset you first need to identify when you’re in a fixed mindset. If you’re in a fixed mindset with a skill or aspect of your life, it’s going to cause you problems. So your first priority is to recognize the signs that you’re in a fixed mindset.
From now on, try to catch yourself whenever you say or think something that comes from a fixed mindset such as “I can’t do that”, “I’m not talented in that way” or “I’m not that type of person”. Making a statement on what you can or can’t do is a sign of a fixed mindset. Studies have shown that people with a fixed mindset are terrible at estimating their abilities so if you feel there’s something you can’t do, not only is that fixed mindset likely to be wrong, it’s also holding you back.
If you catch yourself thinking that you can’t do something, stop and try to replace it with a growth mindset thought.
Instead of saying “I don’t have any musical talent”, replace it with “I’ve never tried to learn that instrument before” or “I haven’t practiced enough yet to develop my musical abilities”. If you disagree with those statements or find it difficult to say, that’s a sign you have a heavily fixed mindset and you should work on it.
Instead of thinking “I can’t do that”, replace it with “I can’t do that yet”. It might not seem like much of a difference, but those statements come from very different mindsets. Saying “I can’t do that yet” tells yourself that it’s something you can learn to do if you choose to. Saying “I can’t do that” shuts your mind down from believing you could learn it.
The next major way you can apply these lessons in your life is to change the way you think about success. The fixed mindset approach to success is to celebrate positive results. For these people it’s the results that matter – the A+ on a test or the gold medal after the race.
But for growth mindset people results aren’t as important as the process, practice and work that goes in before those results.
The way to develop a growth mindset is to celebrate the process rather than results. That can be hard to do because we’re all conditioned to focus on results rather than process. It’s why we see sports highlights rather than footage of athletes in training. It’s why we hear about so-called overnight successes but don’t hear about the five or ten years of hard work to get to that point.
To get you used to this change, the next time you hear someone celebrating a result, stop and think about what that person went through to get to that point. Celebrate the process instead.
If you’re a teacher or parent, you have the opportunity to help your student or child move towards a growth mindset. Instead of celebrating results, try to praise effort, curiosity and process instead.
For example if you say to a child “You’re a smart girl”, that reinforces a fixed mindset. It tells her that intelligence is something that people either have or don’t have. So in the future if she gets a poor test result, it will conflict with her ‘smart’ identity. Instead of seeing the poor result as an opportunity to improve, she sees it as a threat to her identity and will feel defensive. She might look for excuses or blame others instead of trying to study harder or asking for help.
So from now on, remember that statements like “you’re a smart child” accidentally cause more harm than good. Don’t suggest that abilities are fixed. Replace praise for results with praise for hard work, effort and persistence.
This week, pay close attention to any signs that you’re in a fixed or growth mindset. At first it will be hard to notice, but with some practice you’ll find it quite easy to notice any fixed mindset thoughts and then you can replace them with growth mindset thoughts. If you want your future to be better than today, work on forming a growth mindset.
Key Lessons to Remember
- A Growth Mindset is when you believe you can change or improve over time if you put in the effort
- A Fixed Mindset is when you can’t change and the skill/attribute/aspect of your life is just part of who you are
- Forming a growth mindset can have a dramatically positive impact on your future
- A growth/fixed mindset can apply to every important area of your life
- Focusing on effort, curiosity and process helps develop a growth mindset
- Focusing on results develops a fixed mindset