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Economics, Business and  Finance | Education and Teaching | Popular Psychology, Personal Growth and Self-Help


Summary and Critique of

Carol Dweck’s


The New Psychology of Success

by I.K. Mullins

Copyright©2016 I.K. Mullins. All Rights Reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or retransmitted in any form or by any means without the written permission of the author.

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In order to switch between pages of Part  I. A Summary of the Key Ideas and Facts in Dweck’s Mindset, please use tabs located beneath this message  (i.e., I.1. Different Types of Mindset, I.2. A Fixed Mindset, I.3. A Growth Mindset, etc.).

I.1.Different Types of Mindset

According to Dweck’s research, our self-esteem, self-awareness, ability to face and overcome challenges, our levels of depression, creativeness, inclination to stereotyping—practically every aspect of our lives—are strongly affected by simple beliefs that we have about ourselves and our abilities. Such beliefs can enable our success or limit our potential, leading to excellence or mediocrity.

Mindset can be defined as the view a person holds about

  • the person’s qualities and characteristics,
  • the origin of those qualities and characteristics, and
  • the person’s ability to change them.

Our everyday choices and actions are determined by our mindset. Whereas researchers observe a whole spectrum of different types of mindset, they identify two extremes: a growth mindset and a fixed mindset. According to Dweck, the mindset of any person can vary from area to area. That is, the person can have a growth mindset in one area of life, and a fixed mindset in other areas.

I.2. A Fixed Mindset

A fixed mindset is based a person’s belief that their own characteristics, including intelligence, personality, and creativity, are fixed qualities. They are “imprinted” and cannot be developed. When people with a fixed mindset experience setbacks, they make little or no effort to confront challenges.

Much of what people think about themselves grows out of their mindset. Dweck emphasizes in her book that people with a fixed mindset do not believe in effort. They tend not to achieve their potential because they are strongly concerned with looking smart and avoiding any mistakes.

The concept of fixed mind explains that many people give up activities and walk away from challenges because they think they cannot change their skills and abilities. Therefore, a fixed mindset can prevent people from developing their potential, intelligence, talents and skills.

Based on the results of her experiments, Dweck concludes that when it comes to explaining a person’s successes and failures, an explanation based on work and experience of the person may be a better strategy than adhering to concepts of innate abilities.

I.3. A Growth Mindset

A growth mindset is based on a person’s belief that his or her qualities can be cultivated and developed when the person makes an effort, and that people can change and develop their abilities via practice and experience. People with a growth mindset sincerely believe they are able to improve at something and develop their talents. Their mindset encourages them to learn and make an effort in order to achieve something.

Even though people may differ in their talents, abilities, aptitudes and temperaments, they can change and grow through application and experience. People with a growth mindset dare to push their own limits, confront their own mistakes and learn from them. They are more driven to learn and work on their self-improvement, accepting criticism as helpful feedback.

When people with a growth mindset experience setbacks, they do not label themselves as failures and they do not give up. They face challenges and keep working in order to overcome challenges and achieve their goals. In other words, they transform life’s setbacks into future successes. Moreover, they are capable of confronting limiting views of themselves that other people can hold.

How can you know if you are in a fixed mindset? According to Dweck, the answer to this question is your reaction to setbacks and challenging situations. If you react defensively and want to hide from whatever you are facing, to make up excuses for your reaction, then you are in a fixed mindset.

People with a growth mindset perceive challenges to be exciting rather than frightening. They do not think that a challenging situation can reveal their weaknesses. Instead, they consider the situation as an opportunity for growth. So, if you wish to develop a growth mindset, then you must not focus you attention on how good or bad you look in the situation, how much it can damage your reputation and make other people’s perception of you worse. Instead, you should think about the lessons you learn from difficult experiences and think how these lessons can help you move forward next time.

Dweck points out that praising a person’s intelligence and talents puts the person into a fixed mindset. Therefore, Dweck calls on us to reconsider the self-esteem movement, which is based on the assumption that praise for people’s intelligence and talents fosters self-confidence, self-esteem, and, therefore, leads to success. She warns that this approach can fail because when people are constantly praised for their intelligence and talents, they become afraid of new tasks that can make them look less talented and intelligent. As a result, they prefer to remain in their comfort zone, and they become defensive when they encounter setbacks.

Many successful people, including Albert Einstein and Thomas Edison, admitted that they learned more from their failures than from their successes. Indeed, history shows that many significant breakthroughs came after big failures that provided valuable learning experiences. Hence, it is important for people who encounter a negative outcome to ask such questions as: what did this negative experience teach me that might help me to achieve success the next time?

I.4. Mindset, Personality and Personal Relationships

People’s mindsets affect their romantic relationships, relationships between parents and children, as well as relationships between friends. As Dweck explains, people with a fixed mindset feel that others judge them; they believe that they become labeled by rejection. People with a growth mindset are more willing to forgive and move on with their lives. They do not feel permanently labeled because of the setbacks in their personal relationships. They learn something useful about themselves and their relationships.

Because of these striking dissimilarities between the fixed mindset and the growth mindset, marriages between different mindsets can fall apart. From the studies of the two different mindsets, Dweck sees these connections between people’s mindset and their personal relationships:

  • People with a fixed mindset believe that their ideal mate should put them on a pedestal, making them feel perfect. Therefore, a fixed mindset could be blamed for many cultural myths about true love that perpetuate the idea of instant, perfect and everlasting compatibility. Furthermore, people with a fixed mindset expect that everything good in their relationships has to happen automatically and magically through their love. They also expect that a perfect couple should be able to read each other’s minds.
  • People with a growth mindset prefer a partner who recognizes their faults and helps their self-improvement. They believe that their partner and their relationship are capable of growth and change.

When Dweck talked to people with a fixed mindset about their relationships, she found that they felt threatened and grew hostile after talking about discrepancies in how they and their partner perceived their relationship. When people with a fixed mindset blame themselves or their partner for the conflicts in their relationships, they feel anger and aversion toward their partner. Over time, they become dissatisfied with the whole relationship.

People a growth mindset acknowledge their partners’ imperfections and do not assign blame. They view the source of conflicts to problems with communication, not to personality flaws. This approach is used in romantic partnerships, in friendship and in other personal relationships.

I.5. Mindset and Education

Dweck’s Mindset presents material that is particularly applicable to education at all levels. She emphasizes that

  • effective teachers believe in the growth of intellect and talents;
  • they are captivated with the process of learning;
  • they praise their students’ effort to learn and ability to learn; they do not praise “intelligence” as an absolute and fixed quality.

Dweck’s research indicates that praising children’s intelligence actually harms their motivation and performance. That is, when adults tell children that they are smart, the children will doubt themselves when they encounter something difficult or when something goes wrong. To avoid such a negative attitude, adults should encourage children to enjoy effort, face their mistakes and keep on learning. Their message has to be candid and caring at the same time.

In one of the experiments conducted by Dweck and her colleagues, the researchers divided children into two groups and asked them to solve puzzles. After a certain period, the children had to tell how many puzzles they had solved. Then, the experimenter praised them.

  • For the first group of children, the experimenter used such phrases as, “You got eight out of ten! You must be very smart!”
  • For the second group of children, the experimenter used such phrases as “Eight out of ten! You must have worked very hard. You can be proud of yourself.”

After being praised, the children were offered the opportunity to solve another set of puzzles. They were allowed to solve either puzzles that were as difficult as the previous set of puzzles, or puzzles that were more difficult. It turned out that most of the children who were praised for their intelligence picked puzzles of the same level of difficulty; the children who were being praised for working hard chose more difficult puzzles. However, the children were not aware that they actually all got the more difficult puzzles.

  • When the children from the first group, who were initially praised for their smarts, failed to solve the new puzzles, they burst into tears as they felt that they were not smart anymore.
  • The children from the second group, who were initially praised for their hard work, enjoyed themselves.

Then, a third set of puzzles was given to the children to solve. The new puzzles were of the same level of difficulty as the first set of puzzles. While working with these puzzles, the children from the first group performed worse; and the children from the second group improved.

From these experiments and anecdotal evidence, Dweck concludes that when students are often praised for their intelligence rather than their effort, they slowly develop an aversion to challenging and difficult tasks.

Dweck further emphasizes that it is important for teachers and managers to have growth mindsets, to be learners themselves. They lead others in learning, and, therefore, they should also push themselves out of their comfort zone and continue to develop their own talents and abilities. Dweck also refers to Dr. Benjamin Bloom, who found that the first teachers of more than a hundred world-class researchers, artists, musicians and athletes were very warm and accepting.

Dweck argues that these traits are the key to effective education, as they provide both a challenging and nurturing environment. To support her belief, Dweck writes in her book about three “Great Teachers” who maintain high academic standards and at the same time accept their students and guide them to success:

  • Marva Collins, a teacher at an inner-city Chicago grade school, works with students who have been expelled from the traditional school system. Marva sets very high standards, establishes an atmosphere of genuine concern and assures her students that they will succeed.
  • Rafe Esquith teaches second graders in Los Angeles from low-income neighborhoods. He regularly reminds his students how much they are growing intellectually. He reminds his students about the assignments that were once difficult and became easy through discipline and practice.
  • Dorothy DeLay teaches violin students. She applies new teaching methods in order to solve the problems that her students encounter.

In Dweck’s opinion, students with fixed mindsets typically make choices that minimize their learning. Students with a growth mindset tend to be in charge of their learning. Instead of memorizing material, they seek underlying principles in the content they learn. In this way, they prepare themselves to continue learning, and not just to ace a test.

Dweck proposes the following strategy that teachers can adopt to help their students switch from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset:

  • Set up lessons as learning tasks, not judgments of student ability. Remind students that the activities they do are part of a learning process, that skills and the knowledge of subject content can be developed via practice, that the learning activities give them an opportunity to develop these skills.
  • Praise students’ effort not ability by emphasizing the fact that students achieve more when they study hard.

In Dweck’s opinion, this approach teaches students to love challenges, enjoy their effort and continue learning.

In order to demonstrate how a fixed mindset keeps a person in his or her comfort zone, Dweck reminds the reader that many people view drawing as a magical skill, a talent that only selected people have. In reality, people with such beliefs do not understand that various skills and abilities related to drawing can be learnt. This is true for the ability to perceive spaces, edges, lights and shadows,  and relationships. The same is applicable to many areas of our lives: people can learn the art of success and its components or they can wait for magic to happen.

I.6. Mindset and Professional Sports

When writing about sportsmen, Dweck offers many examples of people who overcame short-term failures and reached the top of their professional career in sports by using a growth mindset. Their mindset helped them take charge of the processes that led them to success.

After losing the 2011 NBA finals, Lebron James said that losing the finals was the best thing that could have happened to him and his team. His loss was a reality check that forced him to re-evaluate himself and train harder. He demonstrated the traits of a growth mindset because

  • he did not consider the failure as an intrinsic property of his own identity; he did not think of himself as a failure.
  • he embraced his failure as an action that can be corrected. The defeat helped him find humility and resiliency that one needs in order to develop a growth mindset.

Dweck writes that assigning failure as an identity is not the only problem with a fixed mindset that has to be addressed in order to develop a growth mindset. A person must also recognize and eliminate destructive fixed beliefs that can be described as follows: “I won because I am talented. Hence, I will keep winning.”

Another example of the advantages of a growth mindset is the sports career of Michael Jordan. For years, Michael Jordan had to work hard in order to succeed. He could not make his high school’s varsity basketball team as a sophomore, and he had to struggle and grow.

I.7. Mindset and the World of Business

Dweck observes in her book that companies that worship talent force their employees into fixed mindsets. Controlling and abusive managers and executives put their subordinates into a fixed mindset. Instead of encouraging people to learn and grow, they make people worry about being judged.

Dweck observes that some people can fall into a fixed mindset after they achieve professional success. They become afraid of leaving their comfort zone, making mistakes and ruining their image as successful people. Consequently, such people do not take risks and do not try to develop their abilities any further.

Truly successful leaders tend to be humble people who continuously ask questions and confront the most unpleasant answers. They confront failures and at the same time maintain faith that they will succeed. They acknowledge the efforts and contributions of other people and believe that other people can develop their talents and skills.

Dweck discusses several chief executives and links their growth mindset to their success and their ability to energize their employees. Particularly, she refers to

  • John F. Welch Jr. of General Electric, who places teamwork above individual genius;
  • Anne M. Mulcahy of Xerox, who focuses on development of her employees;
  • Louis V. Gerstner Jr. of IBM, who emphasizes the role of the employees who never gave up on their company.

Dweck suggests looking for prospective hires who demonstrate a combination of a growth mindset: innate talents, a passion for learning and a willingness to face new challenges and change. She argues that such a combination of traits and attitudes makes people resilient, preparing them for the opportunities to turn life’s setbacks into successes.

I.8. Transforming a Fixed Mindset into a Growth Mindset

According to Dweck, people are capable of making a transition from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset. However, it is not an easy task. For those people who feel “stuck” in the fixed mindset, Dweck’s advice is to think about the growth potential they can find in the situations that require them to get out of their comfort zone, to accept the advantages of the growth mindset.

Dweck points out in her book that people with a fixed mindset typically hold on to the things that prevent their growth and help them avoid the risk of leaving what they do well to master something new. They prefer to stay with “the magic” of the fixed intelligence and talents within them. In order to fight this tendency and accept a growth mindset, Dweck recommends that people

  • cultivate faith in human development;
  • nurture a desire to constantly try to improve;
  • surround themselves with people who challenge them to grow;
  • dare to face their own deficiencies and mistakes;
  • approach any tasks with confidence based on facts and not fantasies about their intelligence and talents; and
  • recognize that this strategy of learning is a lifelong strategy.

The key message of Dweck’s Mindset is that you can change your mindset because your mindset is basically a set of beliefs. In order to develop a growth mindset, you have to be accurate in assessing your own current abilities. This assessment will provide you with the information you need in order to learn effectively.

To promote a growth mindset, Dweck encourages praising the effort, the strategies, the perseverance, the grit and the resilience that people demonstrate when they face setbacks and challenges, when they rise from their failures, willing to go forward again. This is why Dweck asserts that the best way of promoting a growth mindset in the classroom and in the workplace is to praise the engagement in the process, the resolve and desire to learn from the process, and not just a positive outcome of the process.

Go to Part II A Critical Analysis

Go Back to Introduction and Overview

Go Back to Table of Contents   

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