Recently, I have been on a reading spree as my to-read list piles up to an unsightly mess. One of the books I have recently finished reading is Mindset by Carol Dweck.
The first three chapters of the book felt repetitive. It kept on drawing on stories and examples to illustrate the benefits of a growth mindset over a fixed mindset.
However, what I have learned in the later chapters made finishing the book worth the time.
In a general sense, people with a fixed mindset believe that certain traits or qualities are fixed and cannot be changed. For example, people with a fixed mindset believe the talent to draw beautiful arts is God-given – Either you have it, or you don’t.
Such a mindset is not limited to just artistic talents. It extends to intelligence (IQ tests), technical skills, managerial skills, and even entrepreneurial skills.
We often hear people saying that “they have it in them” as if they are born with such gifts.
I also like that the book took a very objective stance on this matter. It acknowledges that certain people might have a natural talent for some things. However, even in such cases, the fixed mindset is disadvantageous.
Often times, a fixed mindset adds stress to the subject. Someone who is deemed as “gifted” is naturally more cautious. They want to maintain the expectations others have for him/her. This cripples them to try new things or seek improvement.
People with such mindset seemed to think that putting in little effort while achieving results is more desirable than giving their best effort. This makes them reluctant to try.
To them, trying is showing weakness.
It reminds me of a line found in the book:
He was trying to protect himself from rejection – by trying not to seem too interested.
Naturally, these people place priority in appearing intelligent rather than learning.
In contrast, people with the growth mindset believe that traits and qualities are malleable.
Talents, to them, are merely a starting point. Regardless of where you start, putting in more effort will almost definitely help you to achieve the results you desire.
With such a mindset, failure suddenly doesn’t seem like a death sentence. It is merely an assessment of the results and prompts improvement.
Instead of worrying about how they will appear, people with a growth mindset focus on the process of improvement and how they can match this process of consistent actions to achieve the desired result.
Putting in Contexts – Parenting, Businesses, and Relationships
In the later chapters, the book talked about how the struggle between the two mindsets is relevant in different contexts.
In parenting, it is interesting to note that parents with a growth mindset do not automatically impart the growth mindset to their children. The key is in how they communicate and encourage such a mindset in their interactions with the children.
Personally, my takeaway is that growth mindset has to be cultivated and the environment plays a main role.
Similar to parenting, managers with a growth mindset believe in training his team and himself/herself. A good manager with a growth mindset will continuously assess his team and seeks feedback to make sure improvement is being made.
On the other hand, an employee with a fixed mindset manager can be stifled with condemnation of the manager’s judgment. An employee who came back from a rigorous training might be deemed as the same as before simply because the manager does not assess/believe that the employee can make any meaningful improvement.
In relationships, effort and commitment have to be continuously exerted by both parties. In a growth mindset, finding “the one” does not stop them from committing effort into the relationship.
Sadly, to a fixed mindset, if a relationship does not work out, it must be because the traits do not align and they break off from their current relationship. They do not believe that work can be done to salvage the relationship as these conflicts of character is more or less permanent.
A spectrum, not a binary
As with many things in life, the contrast between the fixed mindset and growth mindset is not binary. It is a spectrum and people can display a combination of fixed and growth mindset.
Also, having a growth mindset in one area does not automatically mean the same person will have a growth mindset in another area.
My Personal Takeaways
There’s one uncomfortable thought that has been drifting in my mind as I finish the chapters – Is the fixed mindset the opposite of the growth mindset?
After some reflection, I have come to the conclusion that it is not. Despite how the book is written.
Here’s what I think. A fixed mindset is a form of reaction to our surroundings and our experiences. Because of this belief, we feel condemned when we face failures. We fear that we will let down the expectations of our loved ones. And it is because of these insecurities that led to our inaction.
However, like what is stated in the book, the growth mindset isn’t about the focus on the process nor is it encouraging pure effort with no regards to the result. The growth mindset focuses on how we can adjust the process and achieve the results that we want. It is a focus on repeated actions that are effective.
You see, the fixed mindset plays a huge part in affecting our emotions. The growth mindset does not teach us how to manage our emotions. Believing that things can be changed does not negate the devastation of experiencing failures and defeats. Letting down our loved ones can easily be as heartwrenching, regardless of which side of the mindset spectrum you’re in.
The fixed mindset, to me, and despite its name, lives on the values level (refer to my Principle #1). It is the driving force for the type of feelings we have when faced with setbacks.
The growth mindset, with its emphasis on effective actions, seem to live in the thoughts, actions, and habits layer.
The obvious argument is that a fixed mindset is about believing things can’t be changed, and the growth mindset is about believing things can be changed. Thus, they are direct opposites.
My question to internalize my takeaway is this – What values can I change so that the growth mindset is a natural course of action, and not forced into by chucking away the emotions we feel during setbacks?
It is to accept failure and disappointment. Easier said than done. Accepting failure means being able to face the disappointment and genuinely understand that it is caused by my lack of ability.
It is tuning down the emotional guard, facing your vulnerabilities and embracing it, tuning humility all the way up, and then controlling what can be controlled.
This means, instead of constantly attempting to protect yourself from rejection by trying not to seem too interested, plunge yourself into the experience and embrace the rejection when it comes.
A healthy relationship with our emotions isn’t about ignoring them or suppressing them anyway. It is about acknowledging it, embracing it, and responding to it.
As always, my review does not in anyway replace the comprehension you get from actually reading the book. This book is a classic and definitely worth the read. Here’s a link to my disclaimer that can be found in all of my book reviews.