The other day, I posted part of my summary of chapter one of Carol Dweck’s book Mindset. Here is a portion of my summary of chapter two.
The chapter begins with a review of the concepts in the previous chapter and with the added assertion that mindset is a choice. One can change one’s beliefs and, therefore, one’s approach to life.
Dweck describes situations in which children are given choice to redo a puzzle or to begin a new one. Children with the fixed mindset chose to redo the puzzle, but children with the growth mindset chose to do a new puzzle. She states that when children begin to be able to evaluate their own abilities, some of them begin to fear not being smart.
Dweck also states that the fixed mindset turns people into non-learners. However, people with a growth mindset thrive on challenges. She asserts that people with a fixed mindset tend to perfectionists, while people with a growth mindset focus on progression over time.
This concept extends to areas of life other than academic. In relationships, fixed mindset leads people to wish for mates who “put them on a pedestal”. Contrarily, growth mindset people seek mates who “challenge them to become a better person” (Dweck 19).
People with a fixed mindset believe that their ability must already be evident prior to learning. This implies that they see the learning process as an opportunity to prove ability, not to gain ability.
People with a fixed mindset believe that one test can measure not only their current ability but also their future abilities. This leads such people to labeling themselves based on the test results. People with a growth mindset, however, believe that a test can only measure certain ability at the moment of the test, but that their future abilities could not be measured. Hence, they would not define themselves based on the results of the test.
People with a fixed mindset react to depression by succumbing to negative thinking and by failing to keep up with daily tasks and obligations. People with a growth mindset react to depression by taking action to confront their problems.
A fixed mindset can produce a fear of effort. For these people, genius means not having to work, and conversely, having to work means lack of genius. Thus, when effort is required, people with a fixed mindset see it as an indicator of their own failure. To expend effort and to fail would be to solidify their identity as a failure. As a result, they cease to try and use that lack of preparation as an excuse for any failure. People with a growth mindset value expending effort in order to achieve goals and find more risk in the failure to try.
Dweck’s ideas ring true. I can see them in both my students and in myself. I used to be quite the perfectionist. Actually, I still am. I hate to be wrong, and when I am, as everyone must be at least sometimes, I take it harder than I should. I find that I believe completely in the growth mindset. I preach it, and I judge myself by it. However, in reality my behavior on many occasions reflects the fixed mindset. It almost seems that the logical part of my brain has the growth mindset, but the emotional side has the fixed mindset.
I often see fixed mindset behavior in students. They believe that if they are not good at something, they cannot get better at it. When they get grades they don’t like, they can be crushed and have to be rallied into continuing.
I think the school system builds fixed mindset thinking into students. When I was in school, a lot of things were easy for me. I didn’t make great grades, but I didn’t have to work hard to get grades with which I was satisfied. Everyone said I was smart, and I equated that with not having to work hard. If things are easy for you, people tell you that you are smart. But what does “smart” really mean? Maybe we should stop telling kids that they are smart or not smart. Maybe we should praise them for the work they put into something. If we did that, it would probably change the way we teach as well. We need to teach them that it what they do that matters.