I recently finished reading a book that blew me away, called Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.
Unlike so many other books that have the words “mindset” and “success” in the title, this was a serious book that steered clear of pop psychology and soundbites and offered a simple, yet astonishingly empowering concept that will forever change the way I approach challenges…and teach my daughter to do the same.
It’s not based not on abstract metaphysics, but on hardcore research conducted by the author, Stanford University Professor and acclaimed developmental psychology researcher, Carol Dweck, Ph.D. The fundamental idea was that, from the time we are little kids, we approach challenge with one of two mindsets:
- The “fixed” mindset or
- The “growth” mindset.
The fixed mindset assumes that our potential to succeed in any particular endeavor is largely determined by genetics. It is a gift that we either have or we don’t. The growth mindset, however, assumes that, barring the rare savant, success in not inborn, but rather is a function of how hard we work at something.
Through a variety of influences that include parents, teachers, friends and colleagues and coaches, we tend to adopt one of the two mindsets fairly early in life. And, which of the two we adopt will likely have a massive impact on both how successful we become in nearly anything…and how fulfilled we remain along the way.
Fixed mindset individuals often excel in an activity early on, but then, once that activity requires a substantial amount of work to move to the next level, instead of stepping up, they back away.
In fact, according to Dweck, they often go further and completely shut down.
Because, in the their mind, “if they really were gifted and talented, they shouldn’t have to work.” “Work,” they believe, “invalidates their claim to talent and that can be a crushing psychological blow when you’ve defined yourself, as so many people do, by a claim to a special gift. Plus, if you either “have it or you don’t,” then there’s no clear path to growth and improvement, once you’ve been defeated by any given challenge.
You’re done. Cooked. Talent debunked.
So, those with a fixed mindset will often achieve early success, but then quickly retreat from progress out of fear of testing their talent, coming up short, then deeming themselves irretrievable failures.
Folks who operated with a growth mindset, however, work on the basic assumption that success comes through work and practice. Understanding this, they welcome challenge, tests and trials as new opportunities to discover where they stand at any given time, then use that information as a benchmark to direct future efforts.
Guided by the growth mindset, you don’t define yourself by a gift or talent, rather by effort.
So you’ve got nothing to lose by regularly testing your current knowledge, skills and abilities. Because, even if you fail at any given trial, unlike the fixed mindset that says you either have it or you don’t, you’ve now got a process to grow and improve by working harder and smarter.
Adopting this mindset leads to not only a higher level of success across the board, but a much happier pathway as well.
The book shares many fascinating case-studies, from 4-year olds all the way up through college and pro athletes, artists, musicians, executives and supposed prodigies of all manner.
And, it shares a relatively straight forward approach to understanding which mindset YOU operate under, then, if necessary, making the transition to the growth mindset.
But, here’s where it gets really interesting…
At the same time I was reading Dweck’s book, there was a lot of hubub in our local paper about my daughter’s elementary school adding a second “Gifted & Talented” class. And, that got me wondering how the concept of Gifted & Talented programs fit into the dual-mindset framework. So, I asked Professor Dweck:
From what you’ve written, it sounds like the net effect of installing a separate track for “gifted and talented” kids, then labeling them as such may be destructive to both the kids intentionally labeled and those inadvertently labeled “not gifted and talented” by default. I wonder whether you might be kind enough to share your thoughts on this topic
And, in short order, Professor Dweck shared this kind reply:
Actually, I don’t have a strong position against gifted programs per se. I believe that all children need to be challenged at school. I am concerned, however, when the “gift” is portrayed as a fixed trait and the label becomes a symbol of worth. Students may then care more about the label than about learning–they may become afraid to take on challenges or make mistakes.
I also don’t like the word “gift.” It implies that abilities are simply bestowed from on high, that some students have them and some don’t, and that students have no role to play in developing them. Yet, researchers are beginning to agree that giftedness and talent are quite dynamic and can flourish at any time under the right circumstances (or wither under the wrong ones). Research is also showing the enormous role of dedication, practice, and resilience in the development of talent.
So, any gifted program should focus on teaching students how to challenge themselves, seek learning, value and enjoy effort, and recover from setbacks. This is what they need to develop their abilities. Then again, these lessons would help all students develop their abilities.
So, I’m curious. What do you think?
Which mindset do you operate under?
And, how might labeling kids gifted and talented or just plain regular affect the mindset they adopt?
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