Thursday, October 16, 2008


I mentioned in my reading round up post that I wanted to write more about this book:

Mindset: the psychology of success / Carol S Dweck

This writer believes people have a tendency to a particular mindset, and this affects how successful they are.

A person with the Fixed Mindset thinks that:

  • Your intelligence/artistic talent/sports ability/business skill is something very basic about you that you can’t change very much.
  • You can learn new things but you can’t really change how intelligent etc you are.
  • You are a certain kind of person and there is not much that can be done to really change that.
  • You can do things differently but the important parts of who you are can’t really be changed.

This person is:

  • supersensitive about making mistakes and being wrong
  • always trying to prove themselves
  • trying to confirm their superiority
  • concerned how you will be judged

A person with the Growth Mindset thinks that:

  • No matter how much intelligence/artistic talent/sports ability/business skill you have you can always change quite a bit.
  • You can always change substantially how intelligent etc you are.
  • No matter what kind of person you are, you can always change substantially
  • You can always change basic things about the kind of person you are.
This person:
  • is concerned with improving
  • thinks important qualities can be cultivated
  • will confront obstacles and stretch themselves
It is possible for people to have a mix of mindsets for particular areas of their lives.

I found this book interesting on several levels. Firstly, as a teacher/learner I'm always interested in learning about how to be a better teacher/learner. Secondly, as a parent I'd like to be someone who is able to encourage certain traits in my kids, and learn how I can be a better parent. Thirdly, I'd like to understand better the whole artistic/creative thing for myself - how to get the best out of it.

I recognise myself in both mindsets. When it comes to thinking about intelligence and learning, I'm more in the growth mindset point of view. But when it comes to my artistic creative side I tend towards the fixed mindset. When I think about my interest in creative writing I definitely am a fixed mindset person!

Artistic ability - is it a gift? Many people would agree with these statements.

“…some people seem to naturally draw well or poorly.”

“... view drawing as a magical ability that only a select few will possess, and that only a select few will ever possess.”

I found the author's response to these statements interesting. She writes that some of the famous artists e.g. Jackson Pollack early work was hardly inspiring. She says,

“... people don’t understand the components - the learning components - of drawing. Actually… they are not drawing skills at all but seeing skills. They are the ability to perceive edges, spaces. Relationships, lights and shadows and the whole. .. Some people simply pick up these skills in the natural course of their lives, whereas others have to work to learn them and put them together.”

She refers to the book Drawing on the right side of the brain by Betty Edwards. This author has shown that people who take her drawing class will dramatically improve their drawing skills through their learning of how to see. My Dad worked through this book, and I have to say I agree.

Edwards states,

“Just because some people can do something with little or no training, it doesn’t mean that others can’t do it (and sometimes do it even better) with training.”

I was also interested in her chapter on teachers and parents, particularly this section.

Praising children’s intelligence or talent … sends a fixed mindset message. It makes their confidence and motivation more fragile. Instead, try to focus on the processes they used - their strategies, efforts or choices.

I had read somewhere that it is good to praise a child's efforts, and had been attempting to do that but this reaffirmed why I want to continue doing so.

From a teaching standpoint, I found this paragraph food for thought.

Lowering standards doesn’t raise student’s self-esteem. But neither does raising standards without giving students ways of reaching them. The growth mindset gives you a way to set high standards and have students reach them. Try presenting topics in a growth framework and giving students process feedback.

It's so easy to spoon feed our students. Many of them come with so little patience for and knowledge of good, efficient information seeking habits. I'd like to learn how to inculcate a little "growth mindset" into them!

On a personal level, I was interested in the section on relationships. Some of this stuff I've had to learn the hard way. I sure wish I'd known it earlier.

The fixed mindset thinks if you have to work at it, it wasn’t meant to be. A fixed mindset person expects everything good to happen automatically, to magically occur through their love like in a fairy tale. John Gottman [relationship researcher] says, that one of the most destructive beliefs for a relationship is
“If we need to work at it, there’s something seriously wrong with our relationship.”
He says
“Every marriage demands an effort to keep it on the right track; there is a constant tension… between the forces that hold you together and those that can tear you apart.”

A no-effort relationship is a doomed relationship. It takes work to communicate accurately and it takes work to expose and resolve conflicting hopes and beliefs. It doesn’t mean there is no “they lived happily ever after”, but it’s more like “they worked happily ever after.”

The book is US-centric and got annoying in places with the focus on story telling, but there is a chapter about how to change your mindset. I found it thought provoking.


  1. I have the book in my little hot hand. But I enjoyed reading your perspective on it. Will email you the things that strike a chord for me once I have finished it.

  2. Thanks for posting this, Penny. Most interesting!

  3. Thanks for taking the time to give us this synopsis of the book. ;) Had heard about it, but not much detail.