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Mini Book Review: Mindset

Mindset: How You Can Fulfil Your Potential by Dr. Carol S. Dweck

At first glance, Carol Dweck seems to have a rather simplistic view of humans. According to her, people have one of two mindsets that she identified in her studies. Some people have what she calls the fixed mindset. These people think in terms of talent - either you "have it" or you don't. The other side is what she calls the growth mindset. These people think that (almost) everything can be learned - talent merely serves as a starting point. Fortunately, things are not as clearly separated as this may sound and the rest of the book then goes on to explore the boundaries between the two mindsets in more depth.

First the good news: People can change their mindset (both ways). The bad news is that this change can also come from outside, i.e. you can be put into one of the two mindsets by outside influences.

After explaining the experiments and research she did which led her to come up with the theory of the two mindsets, the author explains the differences in terms of examples. This part of the book is quickly growing tedious to read, especially the chapter about sports, which is very US centric. If you are not a US citizen, you've probably never heard of most of the people in this chapter and neither do you care about them or their sports. In my opinion, you can safely skip this chapter entirely - there's really nothing new in it.

Things get more interesting again when she looks at how the two mindsets influence relationships and children. Especially the chapter about the effect that praise can have on children, when viewed from the perspective of the fixed vs. growth mindset has some startling insights:

After seven experiments with hundreds of children, we've had some of the clearest findings I've ever seen: Praising children's intelligence harms their motivation and it harms their performance.

Praising children for their intelligence (You're a smart kid!), she writes, will put them in the fixed mindset. When they are then confronted with something they don't know or can't do, they start to question their intelligence - and as a consequence will stay away from challenges that include the possibility of failure. In other words, offering praise (a natural and understandable reaction) could cause your child to perform below his or her abilities.

The rest of that chapter then does an interesting dance around the question of how to best support the efforts of your child without falling into the trap of offering praise for their intelligence. There is a very fine line between "good" and "bad" praise here and it seems hard to stay on the right side of it. Which makes me think that maybe there's more to the idea of two mindsets that hasn't been fully explored and understood yet.

Carol Dweck is certainly on to something with her concept of the fixed vs. the growth mindset. Ignoring the more repetitive portions of the book (especially chapter 4, on sports) it's an interesting read that makes you think about your own approach to life and its challenges. Which mindset are you in, usually?

Creative Commons Licence "Mini Book Review: Mindset" by Dirk Haun is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International Licence.

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