3 min read

Author: Carol Dweck

Published: 2006

Started reading: 10.June.2016

Finished reading: 17.June.2016

Brief description

As someone who was prone to a fixed mindset growing up, reading this book was a formative experience.

What is a ‘fixed mindset’?

Essentially, it’s the belief that intelligence or ability is innate and immutable. As Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck describes it in Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, it’s the idea that “you’ve either got it or you don’t.”

The problem with this mindset is (a) it is factually wrong, brains are changeable and skills can be learned through hard work. And (b) it leads to a whole host of unproductive, counter-productive and self-destructive behaviours.

For example, if you have the fixed mindset, you’re less likely to put in effort, whether at school or in sport, because “genius doesn’t require effort”. Moreover, allowing yourself to be measured risks being exposed as imperfect. This is the old, “if you don’t try, you can’t fail” maxim.

Many people fail to reach their full potential because of this thinking.

Enter, the ‘growth mindset’.


Carol Dweck, jumping on the TED bandwagon

The growth mindset, as the counterpoint to the fixed, holds that people can improve in almost anything, provided they are willing to do the work. Even if they don’t ultimately win, simply striving sees them ending up in an objectively better position than those who believe IQ is inherent.

Dweck cites numerous examples of inspiring underdog athletes, supposedly lost-cause school students, and CEOs who turn company cultures around to show the power of the growth mindset in action.

Caveat: not everyone can become Picasso. However, as Dweck points out, it is also true that “human potential is unknown (and unknowable).”

Mindset is based on a career’s worth of research, including numerous studies of school children. But my own personal take is that the ‘mindsets’ are actually blanket concepts made up of a patchwork of other, interrelated psychological models, including, for example, self-esteem, internal vs external locus of control, narcissism, perfectionism and factual beliefs about growth vs innate ability.

That said, adopting a growth mindset for yourself, in all aspects of your life, will yield practical results.

Actionable insights


Fixed or growth mindset?

> DON’T praise children for their intelligence or talent. Instead, applaud them for effort and perseverance. This will produce little humans that derive their worth from hard work and grit rather than self-saboteurs frightened to lose their mantle of ‘being the best’. This might seem counter-intuitive, but according to Dweck it is worth it.

> Apply the growth mindset to romantic relationships. If things aren’t going well, you could discuss with your partner how to improve either you, him/her or the relationship itself. This isn’t mandatory, it’s just an option to keep in mind. Fixed mindset people risk writing off a potentially great partner prematurely: “she doesn’t understand me” or “he’ll never change” are familiar refrains.