By Carol Dweck (2007)

Pages: 276,Final verdict: Should-read

Is intelligence a birth right or a quality that can be developed? How can the way we face setbacks have a decisive impact on our lives, and more importantly, how can it help set ourselves for success?

In a book chosen by Bill Gates as one of the best he read in 2015, Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck reveals her theory on how embracing one of two mindsets can fundamentally change the way we overcome obstacles, embrace change, and find happiness.

A tale of two mindsets

"You can't substantially improve your intelligence over time". "Some people are born with natural talents". "Charisma cannot be taught". How much do you agree with these statements?

Carol Dweck's book is all about the power of belief. Its premise is that human beings can approach life from two different mindsets, and much like our brain, each side behaves in its own particular way. What might come as a surprise is that the mindset you set yourself in affects not only what you believe in, but what you can achieve in life.

But what are those mystical mindsets all about?

  • The fixed mindset: The belief that most of your qualities, achievements and successes come from fixed traits. These are shaped either genetically or early on in life, and help define the person you are.

  • The growth mindset: The belief that your most basic abilities can be cultivated through effort and perseverance (and a pinch of luck). Talent merely serves as a ramp that can help you propel to the air, but it is in your power to explore how far you can fly.

Coming back to statements from before, the more skeptical you are of them (you can take another look at them now), the closer you are to seeing the world through the growth mindset. And why does this matter? It does because, as you will just see in the article, it can have a profound effect on how you cope with failure and success.

"Becoming is better than being" - a famous saying from the 1960s

A world of examples

The basic framework for the reader is laid out in the first chapters: a fixed mindset makes you a prisoner to your genetic inherited abilities and talents, and the growth mindset lets you flourish and unleash your true potential.

What I wanted to find out was how it translated to the "real world". From business to the realm of sports and education, the core of the book focuses on studies and experiments done to highlight the impact that the right mindset can have in life.

A few of the examples that resonated with me include:

  • Education: One of the studies focuses on how the way teachers and parents praise children's accomplishments can determine their motivation to pursue challenges. As an example, when children are praised on their natural abilities ("That was fast, you're great at math!"), they are actually less likely to engage in challenges with increased difficulty. The opposite takes place when the child is praised based on his/her effort and determination.

  • Sports: This might be one of the areas where the fixed mindset is more prevalent in our society. Fans, broadcasters and even coaches endorse the idea of athletes having "natural talent" or just being "born to play". In Mindset we see stars such as Michael Jordan or Tiger Woods through a difference lens. Reading about their approach to the game, resiliency and insane work ethic sheds light into how little "natural gift" had to do with their extraordinary achievements.

  • Business: It is only appropriate that the main character from one of our latest reviews is the object of study for Dweck. In the realm of the business world, our author takes a closer look at how the former GE CEO Jack Welch evolved from a fixed to a growth mindset and how through that process he propelled GE to unprecedented success.

"The mental toughness and the heart are a lot stronger than the physical advantages you might have" - Michael Jordan

In contrast to only seeing how the growth mindset can help bring a positive impact to your endeavors, the book also explores the other side of the coin, as it unravels examples of how the fixed mindset has caused people and companies to fall. In one of those examples, we are taken back in time to see how a couple of "geniuses" lead AOL to the largest yearly loss in American history.

The growth mindset is just around the corner

We get it. The fixed mindset can create the illusion that you either won or lost the genetic lottery, and drive you towards the needs to constantly prove yourself. How to make the transition to the growth mindset is the last chapter of the book's raison d'ĂȘtre.

Here, Carol describes the workshops she leads on enabling the change of mindset, and presents the reader with a few real life dilemmas where the right mindset impacts decision making.

However, if you are expecting the book to be a guide towards a growth mindset, you are in for a disappointment. More that following a scripted number of steps in order to reach "enlightenment", Carol advocates that one of the most powerful ways to make the transition is through acknowledging both mindsets. If when faced with an obstacle you start to question yourself "How should I approach this from a growth mindset perspective?", you are on the right track for positive change.

Bottom line

Mindset can be a paradigm shifting book for many of us. Its simple premise, tied with a series of studies and examples that range from the business world to love relationships can have a profound effect on the way you make decisions and bounce back from failure.

Over-simplistic at times, the reader can get a sense that the growth mindset is "the cure for all evil". And although it is well complemented with a lot of research and scientific studies, it falls into the mistake of shortcutting the correlation effect between cause (mindset) and the effect.

It is specially fascinating to see the way Carol's premisse can be applied to areas such as education and parenting, and how the book gets you to reflect on yourself. And despite its flaws, I had a great time reading the book, and would recommend it to anyone interested in exploring how our mind works and the effect it can have on our social and psychological well being.

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