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Book Review: Mindset by Carol Dweck

How You Can Fulfil Your Potential

· book review,Education,learning

I loved how accessible this book is. To say it tackles important concepts of thought processes, learning behaviours and people’s reactions to challenge it does so in a very easy to understand way. It is made up of anecdotes and examples throughout that illustrate exactly how mindsets can affect people’s decision making and behaviour in a range of contexts – enough to get anyone thinking about themselves and the people around them.

Carol Dweck, Mindset, Fulfil your potential, book cover

Two Mindsets

Dweck begins early on by outlining the two mindsets that people have about themselves and life:

The Fixed Mindset

  • Your abilities, traits and personality are fixed and not much can be done about them.
  • You may learn new things but not change your overall intelligence.
  • They value performing well.
  • They don’t like to risk looking bad at tasks so shy from challenges.
  • They ignore feedback because it makes them feel they are inadequate or being criticized.
  • They like to feel perfect in their area, seeking validation.
  • They avoid failure – failure leads to inadequacy.

The Growth Mindset

  • Your abilities, traits and personality can be changed over time if you choose to.
  • Your intelligence changes depending on how much you learn.
  • They value effort.
  • They like opportunities to learn so they accept challenges.
  • They take on board feedback because it helps them to improve and learn.
  • They like to feel like they are developing, seeking new experiences.
  • They are resilient in the face of failure – failure is an opportunity to try again another way.
Carol Dweck, Nigel Homes, Mindset, Fixed Mindset, Growth Mindset, Flow diagram

The differences between the mindsets is covered early in chapter 1 and then built upon thereafter and applied to different situations; child prodigies, businesses, relationships, students in school, sport.

For those just wanting to understand the concepts then chapters 1 and 2 will be enough as the rest of the book is mostly further examples. This can be a little dragged out, but each one is clearly designed to grab a different type of reader who may be wondering how this affects them.

I certainly read the definitions thinking I have a growth mindset and it wasn’t until I got to the section on sport that I realised I have a fixed mindset in terms of my physical abilities: Especially in regards to my ability to follow directions. Friends and colleagues will often here me say ‘Oh I’m no good at that.’ Or ‘I just don’t have a memory for directions.’ Before getting out my trusty sat nav. This was a bit of a revelation for me…

Mindsets in Different Areas

Dweck points out that whilst people may have a particular mindset overall, there may be small areas that differ. Just as I realised that I have a growth mindset but am fixed with directions, many people have fixed mindsets about creative pursuits such as dance, art and music. They can firmly believe ‘You have talent or you don’t’ whilst maintaining that anyone can learn maths if they try hard enough.

For that reason, dipping into each of the chapters can help you to uncover your attitudes in each of the areas – checking your belief systems and seeing evidence that change is possible in all areas of your life with the right attitude.

Mindsets and Language

Chapter 7 is a very important read – where mindsets come from. Anyone interested in changing their mindset, working with people or being a parent should definitely make time for this section. Our language is very important, always having deeper meaning and implications, and with mindset it’s no different.

Simple phrases such as ‘You got full marks, how clever.’ Have a massive impact on people’s mindset about learning. This implies that not getting full marks wouldn’t be clever, that any less could be a failure or disappointing. Furthermore, if someone else had tried really hard but gotten half marks heard this comment it would de-value their effort.

Dweck presents a range of commonly heard phrases in teaching, sport, parenting and dinner conversation – explaining what implications they might have about mindset and how to change them into more ‘growth’ phrases.

‘You got full marks. I’m sorry, this must not be challenging enough for you.’

‘Wow, you improved so much more since last time, you must have done lots of learning.’

These two phrases are focussed much less on praising the final result but instead comment on the process of learning, encouraging effort, challenge and development over time rather than a flawless performance.

Carol Dweck, Mindset, Fixed Mindset, Growth Mindset, Comparing Mindsets

My Take Home Points

As someone involved in education and training the most important point for me is about language. It’s really got me thinking about the way I give feedback to students and even in front of them about myself… “I am not very good at processing directions YET, but I know I can learn.”

I also found it really rewarding to understand how the two mindsets interact with challenges. This has really helped me to understand why some people love to push themselves whilst others hide and make excuses. It will make a valuable contribution to the way I train and understanding this will be the first step to changing people’s mindsets for the better.

Images taken from Carol S. Dweck: Mindset
Two Mindsets graphic by Nigel Holmes

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