Among the books on this year’s summer reading list was Carol S. Dweck’s Mindset: A New Psychology of Success (Amazon citation.) Dweck, currently a cognitive psychologist at Stanford University, reports on her years of research and practice in helping people recast their thoughts from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset. In so doing, people can live more productive, enriched, challenging, and satisfying lives.
The core of Dweck’s arguments about the superiority of the growth mindset versus the fixed mindset may be summarized in the following table:
|Fixed Mindset||Growth Mindset|
|Intelligence||Is static||Can be developed|
|Challenges||Are to be avoided||Are to be embraced|
|Obstacles||Lead to defensiveness and giving up||Are there to be overcome|
|Effort||Is fruitless||Is the path to mastery|
|Criticism||Should be ignored||Is to be learned from|
|Success of Others||Is a personal threat||Is to be celebrated and serve as inspiration|
Dweck’s book is long on examples of how famous and non-famous people have been held captive by fixed mindsets. Such people may find success, but such success is often short-lived and comes at the expense of other people and their own personal growth.
But for each example of the downsides of fixed mindsets, Dweck counters with even more examples of how the growth mindset can and does lead to success in the classroom, in the corporate board room, or in the sports arena.
Long on examples, as I said, but short on how to make such a change. Indeed, her examples of “research” are replete with too-good-to-be-true anecdotes of how various groups were put into a certain mindset with a simple set of directions and then, when asked to solve problems, predictably behave in ways that reinforce the superiority of the growth mindset. But if we know anything about personal change it is that it is hard. One cannot simply start thinking happy thoughts and snap out of depression, nor can one easily change a mindset.
Perhaps I am being a bit unfair. In her chapter on “Changing Mindsets,” Dweck acknowledges that “old beliefs aren’t just removed like a worn-out hip or knee and replaced with better ones.” But nonetheless I was disappointed in the relatively short-shrift paid to the really important work of how to change your mindset, or those of your students. This is the book that needs to be written. In the absence of a discussion that is at least as prolonged as Dweck’s hundreds of mindset examples, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success is just another feel good, cognitive psychology text for the masses that, like Professor Harold Hill’s band in The Music Man, relies more one’s imagination than on the hard personal work of change.
Those interested in hearing Dweck discuss her work will find the short interview (below) of interest.