Back   Positive Psychology
Post a Comment
Original Content at
(Note: You can view every article as one long page if you sign up as an Advocate Member, or higher).

July 23, 2010

Renowned Stanford Psychologist Carol Dweck on "Mindset: The New Psychology of Success"

By Joan Brunwasser

My most compelling story relates to what happened when we introduced the growth mindset to adolescents. We taught them that the brain is like a muscle that grows with exercise. We also taught them that, every time they stretch themselves to learn something new, their brain grows new connections and, over time, they can get smarter. It was like a lightning bolt struck. One of the boys said, "You mean I don't have to be dumb?"


Originally Published on OpEdNews

My guest today is Carol Dweck, Lewis and Virginia Eaton Professor of Psychology at Stanford University. She is also the author of Mindset, The New Psychology of Success. Welcome to OpEdNews, Carol. In the introduction to Mindset, you mention that your students demanded that you write this book. That's pretty unusual. Why did they feel so strongly about this subject?

For many years, we researchers published our findings in scholarly journals, with only other researchers as our audience. In other words, we were "scientists" and we spoke to other scientists. As my students and I began to learn more and more about the important role of mindsets in people's lives, my students began using this knowledge in their own lives. (Of course, I did too!) They also used this knowledge to help their friends and families, and people found it extremely beneficial. That's when my students asked me to break out of the mold and write a book that shared our findings with the public. I knew immediately that they were right. And I loved writing Mindset.

And we're so glad you did. Can you give those who haven't read it yet an idea what it's about?

In many years of research, I've found that some people hold a "fixed mindset" about their personal qualities (like their intelligence or talents). They believe they have a fixed amount and that's that. This belief often makes people so concerned with how much they actually have, that they will close themselves off to challenging tasks for fear that they will reveal (permanent) deficiencies.

But other people hold a "growth mindset" about these same qualities. They believe these qualities can be developed with effort and instruction. As a result, they are ready to take on challenges, they are not afraid of mistakes, and they bounce back from failures. And they often end up accomplishing more.

In my book, I show how these mindsets operate in educational settings, in business, in sports and in relationships. I also show how parents, teachers, and coaches promote the fixed and the growth mindsets. For example, my work has shown that praising students intelligence can be harmful because it creates a fixed mindset. More about this later.

It's such a simple concept, really, but revolutionary for all that. Freeing ourselves of that fixed mindset is incredibly liberating, also a bit scary. How do you teach people to radically alter a way of thinking that has been entrenched for so long? Is it a difficult and painful process? Can you give some examples of how this works?

You're so right--freeing ourselves of a fixed mindset can be incredibly liberating, but also scary. Why is it so scary? Well, maybe our "fixed" intelligence or talent made us feel special, a bit better than others, and it's hard to give that up. Or maybe we used our lack of fixed talents to explain why we haven't succeeded or as an excuse for not exerting effort. That's also hard to give up. In short, a fixed mindset offers a simple way to see the world (everyone has fixed traits) and an easy way to understand why some people succeed (they have high fixed ability) and some don't (they have low fixed ability).

But people can be taught to embrace a new way of thinking--to replace a fixed mindset with a growth mindset. First, people should be aware of the new neuroscience, which is finding that the brain is much more malleable than we ever imagined. Cognitive psychology is also identifying the core components of intelligence and showing they can be taught.

Next, people can look into their own experiences for evidence for a growth mindset. What is something that you weren't good at and are now very good at? How did this happen and what does it tell you about ability and how it can be developed? Or, think of someone you thought could never do something, but he or she did it.

Finally, look at the diagram below. Every time you find yourself thinking a fixed mindset thought, transfer over to the growth mindset side of the chart and replace it with the growth mindset thought. Use the diagram to learn to think and talk to yourself from a growth mindset place.

Nigel Holmes' Mindset Diagram by Carol Dweck

Stories are often more convincing than statistics or cold, hard facts. Can you give a few examples of how the growth mindset concept was introduced with startling results?

I agree. We should be more convinced by controlled studies that yield significant effects (because that's the real test), but we seem to be built to respond to compelling stories that capture us emotionally and strike us as true. Fortunately, in my work we have both.

My most compelling story relates to what happened when we introduced the growth mindset to adolescents. We taught them that the brain is like a muscle that grows with exercise. We also taught them that, every time they stretch themselves to learn something new, their brain grows new connections and, over time, they can get smarter. It was like a lightning bolt struck. One of the boys, who was the least motivated and engaged of anyone in the workshop, sat upright, stared at us, and said, "You mean I don't have to be dumb?"

He and many of his classmates in this workshop caught fire. Their goal was to get their neurons to grow as many new connections as possible! In fact, the group that got this workshop showed a marked improvement in their final grades. And their teachers, who didn't know which workshop their students were in, singled out many more students in the growth mindset workshop to say that they were showing remarkable changes in motivation. The teacher of the boy I mentioned above said: "Your workshop has already had an effect. L, who never puts in any extra effort and often doesn't turn in homework on time, actually stayed up late working for hours to finish an assignment early so I could review it and give him a chance to revise it. He earned a B+ on the assignment (he had been getting C's and lower)."

So, the statistics told us that the growth mindset workshop really helped students. But the story makes those statistics real to us.
Two good links are: (provides a description of the growth-mindset workshop, Brainology, and samples of it) (website for my book)

Okay. Now we've seen how this works with middle-schoolers. But what have you got for us adults who may have become less flexible as we have aged?

It's never too late. For example, Peter Heslin, a researcher, developed a short program that taught business managers a growth mindset. He had them read an article and watch a video about how the brain changes with learning. They then drew evidence from their own experience:

What is an area in which you once had low ability, but can now perform quite well? How were you able to make this change?

Who is someone in your life who dramatically improved their performance? What did they do that enabled them to improve?

Who is a person in your life who is struggling with their performance in some area? What unhelpful beliefs or strategies does this person have that interferes with their performance? How could they improve?

He also told them: Sometimes it's hard to believe that certain people can really develop their abilities beyond a certain point. Think back and identify three different instances in which you observed someone learn to do something that you were convinced they could never do. In each case, why do you think their improvement occurred? In each case, what could have been the implication of your belief that they couldn't do it?

As people go through these exercises, they realize that they have plenty of personal evidence for a growth mindset. The managers in his studies did indeed adopt more of a growth mindset--they became more open to feedback and they became more eager to mentor others and help them develop.

Also, don't forget the mindset diagram! You can use it to catch yourself when you lapse into a fixed mindset--but even better, you can monitor your progress as your thinking changes from fixed-mindset fears (about challenges, setbacks, and people who are doing better than you are) to a growth-mindset welcoming and use of these opportunities.

You look at athletes, CEOs and teachers who clearly demonstrate one mindset or the other. Taking familiar figures and examining their behavior within this context is extremely helpful. Can you give us one or two of your favorite examples?

My favorite fixed-mindset example is Jeffrey Skilling, the CEO of Enron. Being "the smartest guy in the room" was the focus of his existence. When people didn't understand him, he mocked their intelligence rather than thinking that maybe he had something to learn. In fact, he created a whole culture at Enron in which everyone wanted to demonstrate their brilliance rather than work for the good of the company. For example, it was considered brilliant to bring about fancy but essentially bogus deals that they could put on the books. In the end, these deals brought about the company's demise.

At the opposite end of the continuum was Anne Mulcahy who took the reins of Xerox when it was in very hot water. Instead of acting as though the messiah had arrived to walk on that water, she went into a furious learning mode, studying up on every aspect of the company and making herself into the CEO Xerox needed to survive. For example, in a move that is all too rare for a CEO, she studied accounting so she could begin to understand how her decisions affected the bottom line. She ended up doing the impossible---turning what looked like a dinosaur into a dynamic, modern company. Later, one of the trustees said to her "I never thought I would be proud to have my name associated with this company again. I was wrong."

There are also so many growth mindset teachers (and coaches) I love. Not only do they make good on their belief that every student can learn--by getting amazing results with the most unpromising students-- but they are totally fascinated with the learning process itself. They are lifelong students of the learning process, and difficult students are just fodder for their own learning. What interested me so much was that many of them had old-fashioned and rather mundane teaching techniques. They didn't have some magic curriculum either. It was their belief that everyone can learn and their relentless (but caring) insistence that everyone do it, that seemed to produce their remarkable results.

Marva Collins is a great example of that. Let's pause here. In the second half of our interview, Carol has much more to say about how our mindset affects everything we do. Please join us!


Part two of my interview with Carol
Mindset: The New Psychology of Success

Submitters Bio:

Joan Brunwasser is a co-founder of Citizens for Election Reform (CER) which since 2005 existed for the sole purpose of raising the public awareness of the critical need for election reform. Our goal: to restore fair, accurate, transparent, secure elections where votes are cast in private and counted in public. Because the problems with electronic (computerized) voting systems include a lack of transparency and the ability to accurately check and authenticate the vote cast, these systems can alter election results and therefore are simply antithetical to democratic principles and functioning.

Since the pivotal 2004 Presidential election, Joan has come to see the connection between a broken election system, a dysfunctional, corporate media and a total lack of campaign finance reform. This has led her to enlarge the parameters of her writing to include interviews with whistle-blowers and articulate others who give a view quite different from that presented by the mainstream media. She also turns the spotlight on activists and ordinary folks who are striving to make a difference, to clean up and improve their corner of the world. By focusing on these intrepid individuals, she gives hope and inspiration to those who might otherwise be turned off and alienated. She also interviews people in the arts in all their variations - authors, journalists, filmmakers, actors, playwrights, and artists. Why? The bottom line: without art and inspiration, we lose one of the best parts of ourselves. And we're all in this together. If Joan can keep even one of her fellow citizens going another day, she considers her job well done.

When Joan hit one million page views, OEN Managing Editor, Meryl Ann Butler interviewed her, turning interviewer briefly into interviewee. Read the interview here.

While the news is often quite depressing, Joan nevertheless strives to maintain her mantra: "Grab life now in an exuberant embrace!"

Joan has been Election Integrity Editor for OpEdNews since December, 2005. Her articles also appear at Huffington Post, RepublicMedia.TV and