Are we static, solid state so to speak or are we products under development? Can I grow smarter or am I stuck with what I have got? Is life a desperate set of tests or an exciting staircase? Can I improve or just hope I don’t sink? Will I never succeed or just not yet?
Carol Dweck’s Mindset suggests we each interpret our world through one of two views: fixed state or growth. The one we pick, or often have instilled in us, deeply affects how we approach life and how we turn out. Whether we scale heights or dimly plod.
Fixed state means we believe things like our intelligence are set and that we are good at some things and bad at others – that’s who we are. This fatalistic attitude backfires quite nastily. It becomes threatening to fail – every test is proving your worth. And it is very tempting to stop pushing ourselves. Why risk brandng yourself a failure? You can imagine how stressful it is to be questioned or confronted – or have your spouse complain about your behaviour. Instead of meeting in the middle and compromising, your very self feels threatened, resulting in blaming matches. What’s more, you can see no way of resolving this.
If we have a growth mindset, the whole picture changes: a mistake is an opportunity to stretch and learn. Life is never hopeless, because we have the power to change. What’s more, difficulties energize and horizons expand.
Sadly, most schools and many parents have a fixed view. I remember asking our daughter’s teacher for ways I could help her learn to read. She had been sick a lot and her hearing was down. Her teacher refused, “She has so many problems.” Door slammed shut. Yet a tutor, eager and encouraging, got her started on a lifetime of reading, culminating in a BA at McGill. More important, she showed Sophy that she had the power to change. It was this early mindset that fuelled Sophy at 23 to fundraise and build a school in a South African homeland. Visiting on holiday, she saw what needed to be done – and did it. There was no stop sign in her mind.
Looking at my life, I can see that I have both mindsets. The fixed came from my father, who told me it was a waste of time sending girls to university. “Educating to a point of dissatisfaction” was how he put it. After all, I would be a housewife. This acted rather like an experiment I read about where a chicken’s beak was held down to the ground, then a circle was drawn with chalk round the chicken, starting and ending with its beak. When the chicken was freed, it wouldn’t step out of the chalk circle. This explains why I often bumped noses with a feeling of lack of permission. At some gut level, there were closed paths.
Much stronger was my belief that I could solve problems, that I could take disaster and stand it on its head. When our future looked bleak in England in the 1970’s, we didn’t stay and sink, but emigrated. With health problems I, like many others, have fought for solutions.
What really excited me about Mindset was the flashlight idea – as a person, I am a work in progress. All the wincing memories: misreading situations, falling flat on my face, even failing my children are steps on a steep and exciting climb. I am not a hopeless cause, but on a hopeful journey. Out of blackening pain comes a stronger, more empathetic human being.
Our mindset doesn’t just affect our careers and achievements, but it frees us to take our setbacks, fears and personal hurts and reframe them into an exciting work in progress. We can be driven by our dreams, no longer bounded by our pasts.
Mindset: the New Psychology of Success – How we can Learn to Fulfill our Potential by Carol Dweck.
TED Talk: The Power of Believing that you can Improve by Carol Dweck – link