Carol Dweck on the growth mindset



“In this mindset, the hand you’re dealt is just the starting point for development. This growth mindset is based on the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts.”

In her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, psychologist Carol Dweck considers two basic attitudes and paradigms about human ability and development.

Here are a few excerpts.

Carol DweckToday most experts agree that it’s not either–or. It’s not nature or nurture, genes or environment. From conception on, there’s a constant give and take between the two.

In fact, as Gilbert Gottlieb, an eminent neuroscientist, put it, not only do genes and environment cooperate as we develop, but genes require input from the environment to work properly.

At the same time, scientists are learning that people have more capacity for lifelong learning and brain development than they ever thought. Of course, each person has a unique genetic endowment.

People may start with different temperaments and different aptitudes, but it is clear that experience, training, and personal effort take them the rest of the way.

Robert Sternberg, the present-day guru of intelligence, writes that the major factor in whether people achieve expertise “is not some fixed prior ability, but purposeful engagement.”

Or, as his forerunner Binet recognized, it’s not always the people who start out the smartest who end up the smartest.

It’s one thing to have pundits spouting their opinions about scientific issues. It’s another thing to understand how these views apply to you. For twenty years, my research has shown that the view you adopt for yourself profoundly affects the way you lead your life.

It can determine whether you become the person you want to be and whether you accomplish the things you value. How does this happen? How can a simple belief have the power to transform your psychology and, as a result, your life?

Believing that your qualities are carved in stone–the fixed mindset–creates an urgency to prove yourself over and over. If you have only a certain amount of intelligence, a certain personality, and a certain moral character–well, then you’d better prove that you have a healthy dose of them. It simply wouldn’t do to look or feel deficient in these most basic characteristics.

Some of us are trained in this mindset from an early age.

sixth grade classroomEven as a child, I was focused on being smart, but the fixed mindset was really stamped in by Mrs. Wilson, my sixth-grade teacher. Unlike Alfred Binet, she believed that people’s IQ scores told the whole story of who they were.

We were seated around the room in IQ order, and only the highest-IQ students could be trusted to carry the flag, clap the erasers, or take a note to the principal.

Aside from the daily stomachaches she provoked with her judgmental stance, she was creating a mindset in which everyone in the class had one consuming goal–look smart, don’t look dumb.

Who cared about or enjoyed learning when our whole being was at stake every time she gave us a test or called on us in class?

I’ve seen so many people with this one consuming goal of proving themselves–in the classroom, in their careers, and in their relationships.

Every situation calls for a confirmation of their intelligence, personality, or character. Every situation is evaluated: Will I succeed or fail? Will I look smart or dumb? Will I be accepted or rejected? Will I feel like a winner or a loser?

But doesn’t our society value intelligence, personality, and character? Isn’t it normal to want these traits? Yes, but . . .

There’s another mindset in which these traits are not simply a hand you’re dealt and have to live with, always trying to convince yourself and others that you have a royal flush when you’re secretly worried it’s a pair of tens.

In this mindset, the hand you’re dealt is just the starting point for development. This growth mindset is based on the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts.

Although people may differ in every which way–in their initial talents and aptitudes, interests, or temperaments–everyone can change and grow through application and experience.

From Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, by Carol Dweck, PhD.

Related book: Wisdom, Intelligence, and Creativity Synthesized, by Robert J. Sternberg, PhD.

[Photo of sixth grade classroom from Saint Benedict Academy.]

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Originally posted 2007-09-29 13:10:00.

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