There are several factors that determine our success life — talent, luck, access to resources, etc. We have no control over some of them and a bit of control over the others. But there’s one factor that we have complete control over and that’s our mindset. Psychologist Dr. Carol Dweck has studied mindsets for over two decades and has discovered that there are two broad mindsets that people have that will determine their success or failure in life: a growth mindset or a fixed mindset. In her book Mindsets, she highlights and summarizes her research on these two mindsets for a general audience. Today on the podcast we discuss why we want to develop a growth mindset and the research-backed tactics on how to do it. Lots of great actionable tips in this podcast that you can implement right away.
- The difference between a growth and fixed mindset
- How our childhood determines our mindset
- What you can do to change from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset
- How you can help your children develop a growth mindset
- How growth and fixed mindsets affect your relationships
- How growth and fixed mindsets affect men and women differently
- And much more!
Mindset really did a great job of getting me thinking about my, well, mindset. I definitely have fixed mindset tendencies in some areas of my life and a growth mindset tendencies in others. I’ve been working on moving those fixed mindsets into growth mindsets. The one thing this book has really helped me with is how I parent my kids. I’m much more conscious about talking and engaging with them in a way that encourages a growth mindset.
Listen to the Podcast! (And don’t forget to leave us a review!)
Listen to the episode on a separate page.
Subscribe to the podcast in the media player of your choice.
Brett McKay: Brett McKay here and welcome to another edition of The Art of Manliness podcast. Talent is an important part of our success in life. Talent that we develop through deliberate practice or the talent that we were just born with. There’s another factor that contributes a lot to our success and that is our mindset. My guest today has spent decades researching mindset. Her name is Carol Dweck, she wrote a book called Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. Her research has shown that there are basically two mindsets that a person can have, a growth mindset or a fixed mindset. The mindset that you have will determine your success in life. Today on the podcast we’re going to discuss these two mindsets, how we can develop the mindset that will lead to success and what we can do as parents, as fathers to help our children develop a growth mindset that will help them put them in position for a lasting success through their life. Really great discussion, you’re going to get a lot out of it. Without further ado, Carol Dweck and Mindset. Carol Dweck, welcome to the show.
Carol Dweck: Pleasure to be here.
Brett McKay: You have spent your career researching mindsets and you uncovered that there are two mindsets, broad mindsets, that people can have about themselves. It’s a fixed mindset and a growth mindset. Can you briefly describe the characteristics of these mindsets?
Carol Dweck: Absolutely. Now we’re all a mixture but when we’re in a fixed mindset or people who are predominantly in a fixed mindset believe that their basic qualities, their talents and abilities are just these fixed traits. You have a certain amount, that’s it. But when you’re in a growth mindset you understand that yeah people differ but even most basic talents and abilities can be developed through your hard work, your good strategy, your input and mentoring from others.
Brett McKay: Okay. How do we develop these mindsets? Is it something that happens in childhood, the way we’re brought up? Is it an innate temperament? What’s going on there?
Carol Dweck: Yes. All of the above, but first let me point out why these mindsets make such a difference.
Brett McKay: Sure.
Carol Dweck: When you’re in a fixed mindset and you think “My intelligence is fixed.”, you’re always asking “Am I smart? Am I not smart? Will this make me look smart? I made a mistake will people think I’m not smart?” You’re kind of obsessed with what level your traits are fixed at. You’re often less likely to take risks or to give up more easily when have setbacks. But when you believe your abilities can be developed, you go for it. A risk isn’t that risky, a setback is a natural part of learning and people end up accomplishing more in the long run when they have a growth mindset.
As you asked, where do these mindsets come from? Are we born that way or what? We don’t rule out the idea that your temperament can play a role, some kids come out and they’re more afraid of mistakes, more sensitive to criticism, other kids tear around the world, devil may care. But we have shown in our research that the environment can play a really big role, in particular the kind of praise adults give to kids. We found that when you praise intelligence or ability, it puts kids into a fixed mindset. It says “You’ve got a fixed ability, I can tell what it is. It seems good.”, but then the child is always worried that the next time they won’t look so good and you’ll take back that praise. They become more cautious and vulnerable. When kids are given process praise, and by that it’s praise for not just hard work but also strategies, focus, improvement, that conveys the idea “Your abilities can be developed and this is how you do it.”
Brett McKay: Okay, so you don’t say to your kid “You’re so smart.”, you say something like “You worked really hard on that.”
Carol Dweck: Yeah.
Brett McKay: Okay.
Carol Dweck: “You tried a lot of different ways to do it, and they worked.”
Brett McKay: You said earlier that we could be a mixture of both, how can we both have a fixed and growth mindset? Or certain situations we have a fixed mindset and other situations we’re more growth mindset oriented?
Carol Dweck: Exactly. We can have one area in which we believe our talents can be developed and another where we think they’re fixed, or you can maybe a lot of the time be in more of a growth mindset but then there are certain triggers that elicit a fixed mindset. For example when you’re asked to step way out of your comfort zone then you think “Uh oh, will I show up my fixed abilities?”, or when you have a serious setback where you’re struggling with something, that may lead you to take a fixed mindset perspective on your abilities, or you encounter someone who’s so much better than you are at something you think you’re good at. You think “Uh oh, they’re talented, I’m not.” Even people who have predominantly a growth mindset may have these events or situations that trigger a fixed mindset. It’s important to be aware of them.
Brett McKay: Okay. Before we get into talking about if you’re an adult and how you can transition to a growth mindset, the research in your book is fascinating, how having a fixed mindset or a growth mindset can affect different areas of your life. For example relationships, how can a fixed mindset be a detriment to your relationship and how can a growth mindset help nurture a good strong relationship?
Carol Dweck: When you’re in a fixed mindset you’re always proving yourself. If you have a disagreement with your partner you have to be right, or say there’s a real problem in the relationship, something goes wrong. Am I the bad person? Is he the bad person? Is the relationship gone? Has it gone sour? You’re always looking to judge, “Am I good or bad?”, “Is the partner good or bad?”, “Is the relationship good or bad.” Instead of focusing on solving the problem. In a growth mindset you think “Okay, let’s focus on the problem. Let’s do something about it and maybe the relationship will even grow from that.”
As a legacy of my fixed mindset I did have this “I told you so” or this tendency to want to be right or blame, so my husband and I invented this guy Maurice. We blamed Maurice for everything so that we could then actually stop playing the blame game, focus on the problem and solve it.
Brett McKay: You have a fixed mindset before going … How did you discover this idea of fixed and growth mindsets? Was it something you uncovered in yourself or that you saw in other people first?
Carol Dweck It’s both. It’s both. Often psychologists are teased that we do not research but me-search. I came out of quite a fixed mindset background. I grew up in the hay day of the IQ test, my sixth grade teacher seated us around the room in IQ order and I felt like “I always have to look perfect.”, and all that. When I went to graduate school I became very interested in studying how people cope with failure and setbacks because even though I was pretty successful I worried about stepping out of my comfort zone and maybe not looking smart. As I studied, I started by studying kids and as I studied them I saw that some kids were devastated when they failed but other kids when I gave them problems that were too hard loved it. They said things like “I love a challenge.”, or “I was hoping this would be informative.” I thought “This is crazy, this is fabulous. I’m going to figure out their secret and disseminate that secret widely.”
Brett McKay: They had the growth mindset.
Carol Dweck: Yes. Ultimately I figured out in my research that it was the mindsets that were creating these different reactions to failure.
Brett McKay: Interesting. I thought it was really interesting how you talked about how your mindset can even affect things like depression or anxiety. Can you talk a little bit about that?
Carol Dweck: Yes. We studied undergraduate students at a University on the east coast where I used to teach and we found that by the spring time, there was a long winter, and by the spring time a lot of the students were pretty depressed, really bad moods, really feeling bad about themselves. But we found that they reacted to this depression in different ways. Now I’m not talking about clinical depression, they’re not able to function, but moderate depression. We found that the students who were in more of a fixed mindset started letting things go. They didn’t do their chores, they might not hand in their paper on time. The students who were more in a growth mindset made sure, they forced themselves to get up, shower, groom, do their chores, go to their meetings, study for their tests. This growth mindset didn’t let the mood overtake them. They felt they could still function, still develop, still go for it, so that when their moods lifted their life was intact.
Brett McKay: That’s fascinating. Basically if someone out there who’s listening to this and they tend to get in a low mood every now and then, there’s a temptation I guess when you are in a low mood to think that things are never going to get better.
Carol Dweck: Yes.
Brett McKay: “I’m always going to be like this.”, but that’s not necessarily the case.
Carol Dweck: Yes, not at all. We also find in another research, we and others have found that people in a fixed mindset don’t like effort, they feel like if you’re good at something it should be easy so effort is really distasteful. When you’re depressed everything is effortful so that adds to the feeling of incompetence.
Brett McKay: Going back to this idea of effort, it seems like our culture contributes to a fixed mindset because there’s this idea that everything to be…what’s that French word? Savoir faire?
Carol Dweck: Savoir faire.
Brett McKay: Yeah, be like the Fonz, everything is just cool. You don’t have to really try hard.
Carol Dweck: Yeah.
Brett McKay: Has that contributed to a fixed mindset in individuals.
Carol Dweck: It absolutely does. The idea that if you’re really smart and cool and competent, you should just slide along, life should be easy, things should come easily. That is what people believe when they’re in a fixed mindset and that’s one way the culture contributes to that. But I asked the students in my courses to look up their hero. They always think their hero was one of these people who coasted to greatness on their enormous talent and they coasted easily. But they always, every single time, find out that that person worked harder than anyone else, had setbacks, overcame those setbacks and that’s how they got where they got.
Brett McKay: Awesome. What can adults do? If someone is listening to this right now they’re thinking, “I’m kind of a fixed mindset kind of guy.” What can you do to shift into a growth mindset?
Carol Dweck: The first step is to acknowledge that you have fixed mindset moments, at least fixed mindset moments, and get in touch with them. Start figuring out when these fixed mindsets get triggered. As I said before, is it when you’re trying something hard out of your comfort zone? Is it when you’re struggling or have setbacks? Is it when you’re comparing yourself to someone who has more ability at the moment? Is it when someone is criticizing you? Start figuring out when does my fixed mindset get triggered. Now my colleague in Australia named Susan Mackie has business executives not only figure out their triggers, but has them give their fixed mindset persona a name. You might call your fixed mindset person Dwayne or Harriet or Yanni, whatever. You notice when Dwayne pops up, you notice how that makes you feel and think. You notice the impact it has on people around you. Little by little you start working with Dwayne to see how maybe you can collaborate with him. Next time maybe he’ll be a little less defensive or a little less anxious, a little less defeated, a little less aggressive in these trigger situations.
Brett McKay: Beyond that it’s just recognizing or acknowledging that there is a growth mindset, that you can get better. Is that part of the process as well?
Carol Dweck: Yes, keep setting these growth goals, how you want to improve, how you want to grow and keep noticing when your fixed mindset person crops up and tries to prevent you from meeting those goals.
Brett McKay: Yeah I thought is was sad and also empowering listening to the story, when you’re talking about teaching kids in inner city schools about the growth mindset and there’s one little boy or girl that said “You mean isn’t going to be broken anymore?” It was crushing, it was heart crushing to hear that person but it was also like “Man, he’s going to get better because he knows he can get better.”
Carol Dweck: He did. He did, he really caught fire. He really pulled up those grades and worked with the teacher avidly.
Brett McKay: Besides praising process over results are there things that parents can do to, and teachers or mentors can do to encourage growth mindset?
Carol Dweck: Yes, we have new research showing how you react to your kids’ mistakes or setbacks is crucial, that parents who react to their kids’ mistakes as though they can be harmful, harmful to the child’s learning, those kids are developing a fixed mindset, “Oh, failure is so terrible. It must mean something bad about me.” Even when the parent says they have a growth mindset, but parents who react as though “Hey, this setback is interesting. It’s going to help you learn, let’s talk about it.” That helps a child develop a growth mindset.
Brett McKay: Interesting. I’m curious if your research has found anything where a fixed mindset, does it affect boys or girls differently, or some more susceptible to the evil, I don’t want to say evils but the ill effects of a fixed mindset?
Carol Dweck: Sometimes we find that girls, especially the high achieving girls are a little more prone to a fixed mindset but the thing we have found consistently is that fixed mindset is especially harmful to girls in areas where women are negatively stereotyped. Because a negative stereotype is a fixed mindset label, it says “It’s fixed and your group doesn’t have it.” If female herself thinks it’s fixed, even at some point thinks “It’s fixed and I have it”, if she starts struggling or doing poorly then the stereotype rears its head and she may start thinking “Maybe they’re right, maybe we don’t have it.” We’ve seen in our research that females in computer science or math will really start retreating from the field when that happens if they have a fixed mindset perspective on their skills. But we have shown that if they have a growth mindset perspective or you teach them a growth mindset about math or computer skills, they don’t like stereotyping but they can survive, if they can withstand it they can thrive.
Brett McKay: I guess there’s some of the research out there that similar things happen with race as well.
Carol Dweck: Yes, exactly. Research has found that having a growth mindset, teaching a growth mindset is especially important for anyone laboring under a negative stereotype. We have found this with African American and Hispanic students as well. Having a growth mindset, not thinking that … Rather understanding that your skills can be developed, really helps them thrive in the face of academic challenges.
Brett McKay: Carol this has been a great conversation. I’m curious if there’s any place where people can go to find out more information about your work or perhaps tell their teachers or schools to go check this. Do you have a program that people can check out to learn more about the growth and fixed mindset?
Carol Dweck: There is my book Mindset. There’s my website, mindsetonline, one word, mindsetonline.com. There’s also a company called Mindset Works that makes an online program for teens that teaches the growth mindset.
Brett McKay: Fantastic. Carol Dweck this has been a fascinating conversation. Thank you so much for your time, it’s been a pleasure.
Carol Dweck: You’re very welcome.
Brett McKay: My guest today was Carol Dweck, she’s the author of the book Mindset and you can find that book on amazon.com. Really great book, go check it out. Also you can find out more information about her work at mindsetonline.com. That wraps up another edition of the The Art of Manliness podcast. For more manly tips and advice make sure to check out The Art of Manliness website at artofmanliness.com. If you enjoyed the podcast, I’d really appreciate if you gave us a review on iTunes, tell your friends about us. Really appreciate your support, until next time this is Brett McKay telling you to stay manly.