By Carrie Dorr
After talking a lot about Mindset last month, including my podcast with Will and Dan from D1, I decided to pick up this book. I assumed the takeaways would be applicable to business, and they were, but by far what I found most impactful were the learnings around parenting. Holy cow. Whether you are a parent or not, you should definitely read this book. I earmarked so many pages I can’t share them all but here is some of the content I loved.
When I was a young researcher something happened that changed my life. I was obsessed with understanding how people cope with failures, and I decided to study it by watching how students grapple with hard problems. So I brought children one at a time in to a room in their school, made them comfortable and then gave them a series of puzzles to solve. The first ones were fairly easy, but the next ones were hard. As the students grunted, perspired, and toiled, I watched their strategies and probed what they were thinking and feeling. I expected differences among children in how they coped with the difficulty, but I saw something I never expected.
Confronted with the hard puzzles, one 10 yr-old boy pulled up his chair rubbed his hands together, smacked his lips, and cried out “I love a challenge!” Another, sweating away on these puzzles, looked up with a pleased expression and said with authority, “You know, I was hoping this would be informative”.
What’s wrong with them? I wondered. I always thought you coped with failure or you didn’t cope with failure. I never thought anyone loved failure. Were these alien children or were they on to something? They obviously knew something I didn’t and I was determined to figure it out- to understand the kind of mindset that could turn a failure in to a gift.
What did they know? They knew that human qualities, such as intellectual skills, could be cultivated. And that’s what they are doing- getting smarter. Not only weren’t they discouraged by failure, they didn’t even think they are failing. They thought they were learning.
I on the other hand, thought human qualities were carved in stone. You were smart or you weren’t, and failure meant you wren’t. If you could arrange successes and avoid failures (at all costs), you could stay smart.
What are the consequences of thinking your intelligence or personality is something you can develop, as opposed to something that is a fixed, deep-seated trait?
* Today most experts agree that it’s not either-or. It’s not nature OR nurture, genes OR environment. From inception, there is 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 but it is clear that experience, training and personal effort take them the rest of the way. “It’s not always the people who start out the smartest who end up the smartest”. Binet
* What does this all mean for you? 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. Believing your qualities are carved in stone- the fixed mindset- creates an urgency to prove yourself over and over. The growth mindset is based on the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts, your strategies, and help from others. Although people may differ in every way- in their initial talents and aptitudes, interests, or temperaments - everyone can change and grow through application and experience. Do people with this mindset believe anyone can do anything? No, but they believe that a person’s true potential is unknown and unknowable; that it’s impossible to foresee what can be accomplished with years of passion, toil and training.
* Parent Says
You learned that so quickly? You’re so smart!
Look at that drawing. Martha, is he the next Picasso or what?
You’re so brilliant, you got an A without even studying!
If I don’t learn something quickly, I'm not smart.
I shouldn’t try drawing anything hard or they’ll see I’m no Picasso.
I’d better quit studying or they noun’t think I’m brilliant.
* Parents think they can hand children permanent confidence- like a gift- by praising their brains and talent. It doesn’t work, and in fact has the opposite effect. It makes children doubt themselves as soon as anything is hard or anything goes wrong. If parents want to give their children a gift the best thing the can do is to teach their children to love challenges be intrigued by mistakes, enjoy effort, seek new strategies and keep on learning. That way, children don’t have to be slaves of praise. They will have a lifelong way to build and repair their own confidence.
* So what’s the alternative to praising talent or intelligence? Praise the process and the growth.
You really studied for your test and your improvement shows it.
I like the way you tried all kinds of strategies on that math problem until you finally got it.
I’m really excited to see you stretching yourself and working to learn hard things.
I like that you took on that challenging project- it will take a lot of work but you will learn a lot of great things.
You put so much thought in to this essay, it really makes me understand Shakespeare in a new way.
This picture has so many beautiful colors, tell me about them.
* What about when they worked hard and it didn’t go well….
I like the effort you put in, but let’s work together some more and figure out what it is you don’t understand.
We all have different learning curves. It may take more time for you to catch on and be comfortable with this material but if you keep at it like this, you will.
Everyone learns in a different way, let’s keep trying to find the way that works for you.
*Praise should deal, not with the child’s personality attributes, but with his/her efforts and achievements. Haim
Skills and achievement come through commitment and effort...not through being born with it. Ginott