Mindset: The New Psychology of Success–A Review

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.

3 thoughts on “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success–A Review

  1. carolteach4

    I found my way to your blog from a hotlink on Matt Montagne’s blog, and I really enjoyed your first few posts. I do not wax eloquent, as you do, on my blog, but hopefully, some folks find my links useful.
    Anyway, in response to your criticism of Ms. Dweck’s anecdotes making the “hard business of change” seem too easy, I will have to reserve judgment since I’ve not read the book. However, the essence of her message that you put in the table is a terrific one and needs to be repeated over and over to our students and to ourselves. If we believe in that message, hopefully change will be effected, even if it does take hard work and time. I especially like the “success of others is to be celebrated and serve as inspiration”. I often feel inadequate when I see what other great things teachers are doing with their students, but they do inspire me, and we have made strides in our school to utilize more of these wonderful technology tools to enhance our student’s learning experiences. As has often been said, “It’s not about the technology; it’s about the learning.”
    I have learned so much this summer by participating in webcasts from EdTechTalk and from webinars, and I’m grateful to folks like Matt for encouraging other teachers and students along the path to connected learning in this 21st century overload.

  2. sjtaffee Post author

    Thank you, Carol, for your kind words about my blog. I fear I may have come across as too critical of Dr. Dweck’s book, for her message, as you so aptly remind me, is profound. As she is from nearby Stanford, it is quite possible that our paths may cross someday, in which case I hope she had not read my review, or if she has will have the good grace to ignore my quibbles. I have tried to practice some of her suggestions and I find that for me it is teach others the value of the open mindset, especially those who are “older” and may have to undo decades of fixed thinking.

  3. Pingback: Review: Why Students Don’t Like School : Blogg-Ed Indetermination

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