Review: “Mindset” by Carol Dweck

Mindset is not a recent book. I wish it were even less so.

Written in 2006 by world-renowned Stanford University psychologist, Carol Dweck, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success (Random House) describes two ways of thinking about our capabilities. We can approach them from a fixed mindset—believing we have innate and fixed traits—or a growth mindset; one that believes we can improve our traits.

Mindset: The New Psychology of Success

On the surface, this seems rather obvious. Everybody grows, right? I believe I can grow, so I must have the growth mindset.

But which mindset is most dominant for you (we all have some measure of both) is revealed by what you focus on. As Dweck puts it: “The fixed mindset makes you concerned with how you’ll be judged; the growth mindset makes you concerned with improving.”

The fixed mindset, she says, “creates an urgency to prove yourself over and over. If you have only a certain amount of intelligence, a certain personality, and a certain moral character—well, then you’d better prove that you have a healthy dose of them. It simply wouldn’t do to look or feel deficient in these most basic characteristics.”

That was me—and still is, from time to time. It explains how I reached the end of my intelligence in college. And why I wish this book were even less recent. Had I read it then, it may have helped me more quickly correct some pretty faulting thinking that took years for me to get a handle on.

My experience, as it turns out, is not uncommon. In addition to numerous, real-life illustrations from business, sports, parenting and teaching, Dweck describes her own journey into the fixed mindset cul-de-sac:

“The scariest thought, which I rarely entertained, was the possibility of being ordinary. This kind of thinking led me to need constant validation. Every comment, every look was meaningful—it registered on my intelligence scorecard, my attractiveness scorecard, my likability scorecard. If a day went well, I could bask in my high numbers.”

Keeping score, internally or externally, as a form of validation is a sure sign of fixed mindset thinking. Look around and you’ll see it everywhere. It’s likely, if you’re a leader in business, a coach, teacher, or parent, that you’ve encouraged some fixed mindset thinking in others as well. (Have you ever praised someone for how smart they are?)

If so, this book will be an immense help. If you lead a business, Chapter 5 on mindset and leadership is a must read and the tips in Chapter 7 for parents, teachers and coaches is especially practical.

Read Mindset for others, but as importantly, read it for yourself. If I could send reading material back to my earlier self, this book would be among them.

Have you ever been down the fixed mindset cul-de-sac?

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