#43. Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. ‘A Book Review’

Nero Okwa
Notes by Nero Okwa
Published in
8 min readMar 3, 2023

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Source: Gates Notes

Dear Reader,

This article was inspired by 2 conversations.

The first was with a friend about receiving performance review feedback, and feeling like there is always a mistake made that prevents an excellent performance. The second was around reflections on 2022, and not being excited about 2023.

For both, my advice was around adopting a growth mindset (a learning mindset), vs a fixed mindset. A distinction I learnt after reading Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Prof. Carol Dweck.

I am writing this book review to enable you identify your dominant mindset, and if needed, change it. Let’s get into it.

Mindset was written by Prof. Carol Dweck who studies human motivation, and why people succeed (or don’t).

In her words:

“My work … examines the self-conceptions (or mindsets) people use to structure the self and guide their behaviour. My research looks at the origins of these mindset, their role in motivation and self-regulation, and their impact on achievement and interpersonal processes”.

Her theory of the two mindsets and the different outcomes they foster is incredibly powerful. This book shows how the power of our most basic beliefs like — the belief that we can improve in a particular skill — can have an impact on if we succeed in achieving it.

These simple beliefs about ourselves can profoundly impact the way we lead our lives. The book provides sufficient examples of this in schools, parenting, business, and relationships.

The Two Mindsets

In Mindset, Dweck writes:

“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.”

[…]

“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?

The growth mindset on the other hand, is about believing that whatever skills, qualities, or intelligence you have can be improved through learning.

In Mindset, Dweck writes:

“There’s another mindset in which these traits are not simply a hand you’re dealt and have to live with… 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.”

This believe that ‘cherished qualities can be developed creates a passion for learning’.

Dweck writes:

Why waste time proving over and over how great you are, when you could be getting better?

Why hide deficiencies instead of overcoming them?

Why look for friends or partners who will just shore up your self-esteem instead of ones who will also challenge you to grow?

The growth mindset doesn’t mean everyone is the same, it means everyone can grow.

In the fixed mindset, everything is about outcome. If you fail — or are not the best — it’s all been wasted. The growth mindset allows people value their effort regardless of the outcome.

It is important to note that people can have different mindsets in different areas. If you have a fixed mindset in a certain area, that mindset can be changed to a growth mindset.

The Two Mindset: Going Deeper

My favourite chapter in this book is: The Truth about Ability and Accomplishment. Where I learnt about:

  1. Mindset and School Achievement
  2. The Danger of Praise and Positive Labels
  3. Negative Labels and How They Work

Regarding School Achievement.

‘Could you march into the worst high school in your state and teach the students college calculus? If you could, then one thing would be clear: With the right mindset and the right teaching people are capable of a lot more than we think

The answer is yes. In Mindset, Dweck recounts the tale of Garfield high School; one of the worst schools in Los Angeles were students were turned off learning, and teachers were burnt out. Without thinking twice, Jamie Escalante taught these inner-city Hispanic students’ college-level calculus.

‘With his growth mindset, he asked “How can I teach them?” not “Can I team them?” and “How will they learn best?” not “Can they learn?”’

‘Not only did he teach them calculus, he (and his colleague, Benjamin Jimenez) took them to the top of the national charts in math. Most of the Garfield students earned test grades that were high enough to gain them college credits’.

Regarding Praise and Positive Labels.

I think every parent and educator should read this section. It starts with:

‘If people have such potential to achieve, how can they gain faith in their potential? How can we give them the confidence they need to go for it?

How about praising their ability in order to convey that they have what it takes. In fact, more than 80 percent of parents told us it was necessary to praise children’s ability so as to foster their confidence and achievement’.

Not exactly.

Prof. Dweck conducted research with hundreds of students to see if this kind of praise encourages people.

‘The ability praise pushed students right into the fixed mindset. When we gave them a choice, they rejected challenging new tasks that they could learn from They didn’t want to do anything that could expose their flaws and call into question their talent’

[…]

‘There was one more finding of our study that was striking and depressing at the same time. Would you believe that almost 40 percent of the ability-praised students lied about their scores? And always in one direction. In the fixed mindset’.

‘We took ordinary children and made them into liars, simply by telling them they were smart’.

It also doesn’t help to label your kids, “this one is the artist and the other is the scientist”. Find growth-minded way to give them compliments. For example, rather than praise their abilities, you can praise their effort. This should encourage them to attempt more challenging tasks and eventually grow.

Regarding Negative Labels and How They Work

This section explained how negative labels harm achievement. No one is more familiar with negative ability labels like members of stereotyped groups.

Dweck writes:

‘For example, African Americans know about being stereotyped as lower in intelligence. And women know about being stereotyped as bad at math and science’

‘Almost anything that reminds you that you’re black or female before taking a test in the subject you’re supposed to be bad at will lower your test score — a lot’

‘When stereotypes are evoked, they fill people’s minds with distracting thoughts — with secret worries about confirming the stereotype. People usually aren’t even aware of it’

This mainly happens to people who have a fixed mindset. They are affected by negative (and even positive) labels.

Besides compromising people’s abilities, stereotypes make them feel they don’t belong.

Dweck writes:

‘Negative stereotypes say: “You and your group are permanently inferior”. Only people in the fixed mindset resonate to this message’.

When you’re given a positive label, you’re afraid of losing it and when you’re hit with a negative label, you’re afraid of deserving it’.

‘Many minorities drop out of college and many women drop out of math and science because they just don’t feel they fit in’.

[…]

‘When people are in a growth mindset the stereotype doesn’t disrupt their performance. The growth mindset takes the teeth out of the stereotype… They don’t believe in permanent inferiority. And if they are behind — well, then they’ll work harder and try to catch up’

‘A growth mindset helps people to see prejudice for what it is — someone else’s point view of them — and to confront it with their confidence and abilities intact.’

Dweck explains that the gender gap in math, science, and high tech can be explained by: the fixed mindset, plus stereotyping, plus women’s trust in people’s assessments.

We need to make these fields more hospitable to women and other members of negatively stereotyped groups.

We can all create an environment that fosters the growth mindset for the children and adults in our life, especially those who are targets of negative stereotypes.

The power of … Yet

In this TED talk, Dweck summarises her work by describing “two ways to think about problems that’s slightly too hard for you to solve”.

You can approach these problems with the two mindsets… “Are you not smart enough to solve it” or “have you just not solved it yet”.

In this TED talk Dweck says:

I heard about a high school in Chicago where students had to pass a certain number of courses to graduate, and if they didn’t pass a course, they got the grade “Not Yet.” And I thought that was fantastic, because if you get a failing grade, you think, I’m nothing, I’m nowhere. But if you get the grade “Not Yet” you understand that you’re on a learning curve. It gives you a path into the future.

“Not Yet” also gave me insight into a critical event early in my career, a real turning point. I wanted to see how children coped with challenge and difficulty, so I gave 10-year-olds problems that were slightly too hard for them. Some of them reacted in a shockingly positive way. They said things like, “I love a challenge,” or, “You know, I was hoping this would be informative.” They understood that their abilities could be developed. They had what I call a growth mindset. But other students felt it was tragic, catastrophic. From their more fixed mindset perspective, their intelligence had been up for judgment and they failed. Instead of luxuriating in the power of yet, they were gripped in the tyranny of now.

So what do they do next? I’ll tell you what they do next. In one study, they told us they would probably cheat the next time instead of studying more if they failed a test. In another study, after a failure, they looked for someone who did worse than they did so they could feel really good about themselves.

Dweck concludes this TED talk by advising that rather than praising intelligence or talent, we praise work ethic and the process that kids engage in. Also, using the words ‘yet’ or ‘not yet’ can give kids greater confidence, encouraging persistence and effort.

Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Prof. Carol Dweck is a must read for anyone looking to improve their mindset, skills, and performance.

In this review I have talked about this from a personal, parent, and teacher’s point of view. But there are interesting chapters with examples for Sports, Business, and Relationship.

I hope you find it useful. Good luck!

Nero

Delivering Value,

Racing Towards Excellence.

If you have any more questions kindly leave a comment below or message me at notesbynero@gmail.com.

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Nero Okwa
Notes by Nero Okwa

Entrepreneur, Product Manager and StoryTeller. In love with Business, Technology, Travel and Africa.