Mindset: The New Psychology of Success

By Carol S. Dweck


I bought Mindset because Erik Spoelstra–the Miami Heat coach–said it inspired him. But I wasn’t ready for it. I didn’t think there was anything in it I didn’t already know.

In hindsight, I was in my own fixed mindset.

The Aha! moment came on my second reading a few years later. It was like a curtain being pulled back. All this time, I had been afraid of any challenge that would threaten my dearly held assumptions.

I think this book should be required reading for parents and teachers. Really, for anyone in a position of development.

When you enter a mindset, you enter a new world.

  • Success is about proving you’re smart or talented
  • Validation
  • Failure is having a setback–bad grade, losing a tournament, getting fired, getting rejected. It means you’re not smart or talented.
  • Effort is a bad thing. If you were smart or talented, you wouldn’t need effort
  • It’s about stretching yourself to learn something new.
  • Development
  • Failure is not growing. Not reaching for the things you value. Not fulfilling your potential.
  • Effort is what makes you smart or talented.

Many great leaders confront their shortcomings on a regular basis. Darwin Smith, looking back on his extraordinary performance at Kimberly-Clark, declared, “I never stopped trying to be qualified for the job.”

“When you’re lying on your deathbed, one of the cool things to say is, ‘I really explored myself.'” -Patricia Miranda

Students with the fixed mindset stayed interested only when they did well right away. They forgot the yet.

For growth-mindset students, it’s not about immediate perfection. It’s about learning something over time; confronting a challenge and making progress.

Many of the most accomplished people of our era were considered by experts to have no future.

John Wooden says you aren’t a failure until you start to blame.

Failure has been transformed from an action (I failed) to an identity (I am a failure).

We endow our heroes with superhuman abilities that led them inevitably toward their greatness. It’s as if Midori popped out of the womb fiddling, Michael Jordan dribbling, and Picasso doodling.

Why is effort so terrifying? One is that in the fixed mindset, great geniuses are not supposed to need it. The second is that it robs you of all your excuses.

You can look back and say, “I could have been…” polishing your unused endowments like trophies. Or you can look back and say, “I gave my all for the things I valued.”

Just by knowing about the two mindsets, you can start thinking and reacting in new ways.

In the fixed mindset, everything is about the outcome. If you fail–or if you’re not the best–it’s all been wasted. The growth mindset allows people to value what they’re doing regardless of the outcome.

The fixed mindset creates the feeling that you can really know the permanent truth about yourself. And this can be comforting: You don’t have to try for such-and-such because you don’t have the talent. You will surely succeed at such-and-such because you do have the talent.

A wonderful feature of the growth mindset is that you don’t have to think you’re already great at something to want to do it and enjoy it.

Next time you’re tempted to surround yourself with worshippers, go to church. In the rest of your life, seek constructive criticism.

Low effort syndrome is often seen as a way that adolescents assert their independence from adults, but it is also a way that students with the fixed mindset protect themselves.

Benjamin Bloom concludes, “After 40 years of intensive research on school learning in the US as well as abroad, my major conclusion is: What any person in the world can learn, almost all persons can learn it, if provided with the appropriate and prior conditions of learning.”

When stereotypes are evoked, they fill people’s minds with distracting thoughts–secret worries about confirming the stereotype. People usually weren’t even aware of it, but they don’t have enough mental power left to do their best.

The fixed mindset, plus stereotyping, plus women’s trust in people’s assessments: I think we can begin to understand why there’s a gender gap in math and science.

The growth mindset lets people–even those who are targets of negative labels–use and develop their minds fully. Their heads are not filled with limiting thoughts, a fragile sense of belonging, and a belief that other people can define them.

Sports is where the idea of a “natural” comes from–someone who looks like an athlete, moves like an athlete, and is an athlete, all without trying.

Boxing experts relied on physical measurements, called “tales of the tape” to identify naturals. Muhammad Ali failed these measurements. This didn’t change people’s minds about physical endowment. No, we just look back at Ali now, with our hindsight, and see the body of a great boxer.

The mark of a champion is the ability to win when things are not quite right–when you’re not playing well and your emotions are not the right ones.

In some cultures, people who tried to go beyond their natural talent received sharp disapproval.

Character grows out of mindset.

Those with the growth mindset…
Found success in doing their best, in learning and improving.
Found setbacks motivating. They’re informative. A wake-up call.
Took charge of the processes that bring success… And maintain it.

The power that CEOs wield allows them to create a world that caters night and day to their need for validation. It allows them to surround themselves with only the good news of their perfection and their company’s success, no matter what the warning signs may be.

This is a radical extension of the fixed mindset: My genius not only defines and validates me. It defines and validates this company. It is what creates value. My genius is profit.

They were not evil in the usual sense. They didn’t even set out to do harm. But at critical decision points, they opted for what would make them look good and feel good over what would serve the longer-term corporate goal.

It’s hard for courage and innovation to survive a company-wide fixed mindset.

Real self-confidence is not reflected in a title, an expensive suit, a fancy car, or a series of acquisitions. It is reflected in your mindset: your readiness to grow.

Winston Churchill set up a special department. Others might be in awe of his titanic persona, but the job of this department was to give Churchill all the worst news. Then Churchill could sleep at night, knowing he had not been groupthinked into a false sense of security.

Herodotus reported that whenever the ancient Persians reached a decision while sober, they later reconsidered it while drunk.

Hewlett-Packard told a young engineer to give up work on a display monitor he was developing. In response, he went “on vacation,” touring California and dropping in on potential customers to show them the monitor and gauge their interest.

HP sold more than 17,000 monitors and reaped sales revenue of $35 million.

David Packard gave the young man a medal “for extraordinary contempt and defiance beyond the normal call of engineering duty.”

Creating a growth-mindset environment involves:
  • Presenting skills as learnable.
  • Conveying that the organization values learning and perseverance, not just ready-made genius or talent.
  • Giving feedback in a way that promotes learning and future success.
  • Presenting managers as a resource for learning.

Create an organization that prizes the development of ability–and watch the leaders emerge.

It had to be a person with the fixed mindset who coined the phrase “Revenge is sweet”–the idea that with revenge comes your redemption–because people with the growth mindset have little taste for it.

Remember the fixed mindset idea that if you have ability, you shouldn’t have to work hard? This is the same belief applied to relationships: If you’re compatible, everything should come naturally. Every single relationship expert disagrees with this.

There are no problem-free candidates. The trick is to acknowledge each other’s limitations, and build from there.

One day I was talking to a dear, wise friend. I was puzzled about why she put up with the behavior of some of her friends. One often acted irresponsibly; another shamelessly flirted with her husband. Her answer was that everyone has virtues and foibles, and that if you looked only for perfect people, your social circle would be impoverished. There was, however, one thing she would not put up with: People who made her feel bad about herself.

Who will stand by you when you’re in trouble? Sometimes an even tougher question is: Who can you turn to when good things happen?

Students with the growth mindset were not as prone to see the bullying as a reflection of who they were. Instead, they saw it as a psychological problem of the bullies, a way for the bullies to gain status or self-esteem.

Every word an action can send a message. It tells children–or students, or athletes–how to think about themselves. It can be a fixed-mindset message that says: You have permanent traits and I’m judging them. Or it can be a growth-mindset message that says: You are a developing person and I am interested in your development.

Parents think they can hand children permanent confidence–like a gift–by praising their brains and talent. It doesn’t work like that. It makes children doubt themselves as soon as anything is hard or goes wrong. If parents want to give their children a gift, the best thing they can do is teach their children to love challenges, be intrigued by mistakes, enjoy effort, and keep on learning.

Often for children with learning disabilities, it is not shear effort that works, but finding the right strategy.

Withholding constructive criticism does not help a child’s confidence; it harms their future.

Children as young as toddlers pick up messages from their parents.

Don’t judge. Teach. It’s a learning process.

Next time you’re in a position to discipline, ask yourself, What is the message I’m sending here: I will judge and punish you? Or I will help you think and learn?

When Benjamin Bloom studied his 120 world class concert pianists, sculptors, swimmers, tennis players, mathematicians, and research neurologists, he found something fascinating. For most of them, their first teachers were incredibly warm and accepting. Not that they set low standards. Not at all, but they created an atmosphere of trust, not judgement. It was, “I’m going to teach you,” not, “I’m going to judge your talent.”

When students don’t know how to do something and others do, the gap seems unbridgeable. Some educators try to reassure their students that they’re just fine as they are. Growth-minded teachers tell students the truth and then give them the tools to close the gap.

It’s been said that Dorothy DeLay was an extraordinary teacher because she wasn’t interested in teaching. She was interested in learning.

“You have to apply yourself each day to becoming a little better. By applying yourself to the task of becoming a little better each and every day, you will become a lot better.” -John Wooden

Beware of success.

Think of something you need to do, something you want to learn, or a problem you have to confront. What is it? Now make a concrete plan. When will you follow through on your plan? Where will you do it? How will you do it? Think about it in vivid detail.

These concrete plans–plans you can visualize–about when, where, and how you are going to do something lead to really high levels of follow through, which, of course, ups the chances of success.

It’s a learning process–not a battle between the bad you and the good you.

As you encounter the inevitable obstacles and setbacks, form a new plan and ask yourself the question again: When, where, and how will I act on my new plan?

And when you succeed, don’t forget to ask yourself: What do I have to do to maintain and continue the growth?


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