Mindset Review

Matt | Books: Mindset | Monday, November 24th, 2008

In the process of learning to be a better teacher, blogger, person I stumbled across the book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, by Carol S. Dweck.

Mindset: The New Psychology of Success

This little book hit me like speeding bus and and has fundamentally changed the way I think about learning, teaching and living.  I’ve been struggling how to get the ideas in this book across on my site.  I tried to review the entire book in one post, but it was a monster, so here I’m going to review a chapter a week and review some of the bigger insights I got out of the book.  It also gives me a chance to review the book again.  I highly recommend this book to everyone to see what you can learn from it.

Open your mind.  Open the book.  Here goes…

Chapter1 The Mindsets

Do you think people are born: smart; artists; athletes; teachers?  Do you think men can’t change?  Or do you think that anyone can change?  Do you think you can become smarter (more artistic, more athletic, a better teacher)?  Here the author splits us into two groups: fixed mindset or growth mindset. She stated, “my research has shown that the view you adopt for yourself profoundly affects how you lead your life.”

Fixed mindset – is based on the belief that we can’t get any smarter; that our intelligence is fixed at birth (who knows), but that it’s carved in stone; every situation is evaluated as: will I succeed or fail?  Will I look smart of dumb?  Will I be accepted or rejected?

Growth mindset – is based on the belief that you can cultivate and grow any and every area of your life; that everyone can change and grow through application and experience and effort. That you can become smarter, through effort.

Here is a partial test to see which mindset you hold (mainly).

Read each statement and decide whether  you mostly agree with it or disagree with it.

  1. Your intelligence is something very basic about you that you can’t change very much.
  2. You can learn new things, but you can’t really change how intelligent you are.
  3. No matter how much intelligence you have, you can always change it quite a bit.
  4. You can always substantially change how intelligent you are.

Qs 1 and 2 are the fixed-mindset questions.  Qs 3 and 4 are the growth-mindset ones.

In the book, Ms. Dweck also mentions that people can be a bit of both, but they usually lean towards one or the other.

In my case this was true as I am a fixed-mindset person. While I do have great examples of being a growth person: learning Chinese; learning to skate to play hockey; becoming a teacher and teaching ESL for 3 years; learning to blog (still a learning experience).  Mostly though, my view on life holds the fixed mindset view: that I’m afraid of failing, that I view most decisions I make as win/lose, right/wrong, smart/dumb.  I don’t know why this is the case, but I do.  So when I found this book, it was an mind-opening experience and I couldn’t wait to hear and read more…especially the how do I become more of a growth mindset person.

Unfortunately, in order to grow and to learn something, I actually have to do something.  Fortunately, from this chapter I learned that the first thing we can do is to realize the situation we are in and to physically change our own minds: to think of someone we know who is a growth person; when we’re in tough situations, ask ourselves what would that person do here?  To think of a situation where we were in a fixed mindset and then to review it and to try to “put” yourself in a growth mindset and see what you can learn out of that situation.

To grow we need to learn.  To learn we need to work.  To work effectively we need to work on only those things we can control: ourselves.

Book Review: Mindset

admin | Books: Mindset | Monday, October 6th, 2008

When a student gets a 100% on an exam and finishes quickly, should you as a teacher/parent/friend?

a) Praise them on how brilliant they are and on how quickly they did it?, or

b) Ask them did they learn anything from the exam and how they prepared for exam?

From my past experience as a student and now as a teacher, I constantly praised the result getting the right answer, “Great job! That’s perfect! You’re brilliant!” Instead I should have asked about the process the student followed and the work they put into getting that mark.

According to Carol S. Dweck Ph.D.’s book

Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, she states that


By telling your kid/student that he or she is brilliant can actually result in the child performing worse in the future.  What!? You may ask.  Let’s jump in to see what we can learn from this book:

1) The Mindsets

In summary, everybody has one of two mindsets -  fixed mindset, or a growth mindset – which guides us in how we approach learning or doing anything.

Fixed mindset – people believe that we only have a fixed amount of intelligence, a fixed personality, a certain moral character that does not change, like it’s fixed in stone; these people urgently try to prove themselves over and over.

Growth mindset – people believe everyone can change and grow through their application and experience; that your basic qualities  are things that you can develop through your efforts.

Most people can have both characteristics, but we usually lean closer to one side.  I’m more of a fixed mindset, always wanting to prove myself over and over and terribly afraid of failing.  While I do have some growth tendencies – learning hockey at the young age of 26; working on my fear of public speaking; learning Chinese and calligraphy – I still have a lot of the mental baggage that fixed mindsetters carry: you either succeed or fail in your endeavor; focusing on the outcome more than the process itself.

In the book there’s a great test of 4 questions to test which area you lean towards (E.g. Your intelligence is something very basic about you that you can’t change very much.).  The most interesting thing for me was that you could replace the word intelligence with “artistic ability,” “sports ability,” “or business skill” and the results hold true.  Most people carry this thought process with them through all aspects of their lives.

2) Inside the Mindsets

This chapter describes in more detail the different mindsets in different settings, in school, in sports and in business.  The school examples talk about children who either love doing math/logic puzzles and can’t get enough of them, or kids who either quit quickly or won’t try in case they fail.  The kids with the fixed mindset don’t try because if they fail, or can’t do the puzzle quickly, it must mean they aren’t special, that they aren’t smart, so they don’t even try.  While the kids with the growth mindset are the kids who can’t get enough, who love trying new puzzles, new strategies, to learn.  I was the kid who’d try to get the puzzle done quickly, perfect and in the fast time, to show off that I was special or good in math.

3) Truth about Ability and Accomplishment

Again this chapter had more powerful examples starting off with students transitioning from grade school to high school and how marks usually are affected.  But her studies found that it was only the fixed mindset students whose marks declined while the students with the growth mindset actually improved.  The fixed mindset students were facing the transition and were threatened by it.  “It threatened to unmask their flaws and turn them from winners to losers....in the fixed mindset, a loser is forever.” My thoughts on this chapter were that some students enjoyed learning the material, whereas others simply memorized it for a test and then forgot about it.  In university, sadly, I was more of the memorize and move on mentality.

4) Sports: Mindset of Champions

As an university athlete, I loved this chapter as it compared athletes like Michael Jordan and John McEnroe: two athletes I enjoyed very much.  According to Dweck, John McEnroe had a fixed mindset always blaming others for his losses or problems.  Even though he was quite talented, he didn’t seem to enjoy the process of practicing, playing or improving.  While Jordan had a growth mindset, focusing on practicing and improving until he was the best.  The examples of him practicing till he got his fadeaway shot perfect and countless other examples were quite impressive.  Also, I really enjoyed hearing about Babe Ruth, the famous baseball player, who loved to practice and take batting practice.  In the growth mindset, it’s the effort, the practice, that matters, not the results. There are many other great examples, saying “we”not “I”, being a team player; being a role model, that these growth mindset athletes demonstrate.

5) Business: Mindset and Leadership

Similar to the sports chapter, this one compared business leaders who focused on profit at the expense of everything else, versus those who wanted to build a great organization that would continue after they left.  The growth mindset business leaders included: Jack Welch (GE), Lou Gerstner (IBM), and Anne Mulcahy (Xerox).  All who did amazing things and helped build amazing companies.  On the fixed side, were the likes of Enron, Al “Chainsaw” Dunlap, and Lee Iacocca (Chrysler).  The bottom line for me was: the the growth mindset leaders truly wanted to build learning organizations, left behind strong organizations that were set up to succeed in the future while the growth leaders were more about showing how smart an individual they were and didn’t care about the future of the company.

6) Relationships: Mindsets in Love (or Not)

This was another eye-opening, mind-opening chapter for me as I had never really thought about having a process to deal with and learn from relationships.  The fixed mindset people here are those who believe in the Hollywood love story, where the relationship is easy, does not take work and where the other person knows you so well that they can always know what you’re thinking and do the right thing.  The growth mindset people, and all relationship experts agree, that relationships always require WORK; that they require learning, honestly communicating and growing from both parties, AND that it’s usually the work that you put in that makes the relationship feel worthwhile in the end.

7) Parents, Teachers, and Coaches: Where do mindsets come from?

From the title of this chapter you can guess where they come from.  The example given earlier, that: “Praising children’s intelligence harms their motivation and it harms their performance,” was another shocking statement for me.  She notes that children love praise, and they (we) always crave it, but by praising the wrong thing you could be motivating the wrong thing.  By focusing on them being “perfect,” or “brilliant,” or a “natural talent,” could lead the kids to believe they have to be perfect, so they stop trying when things get difficult.   The big takeaway I got from this chapter is praise the effort put in, the strategies used, not the results.

There were also many powerful examples, but the most powerful for me was the child gymnast who failed to get any ribbons at the competition, and how would you as a parent console the child afterwards? Would you:

  • Tell them they were the best in your eyes? (lie to your child),
  • Tell your child the competition really doesn’t matter? (tell them they really wasted their efforts), or
  • Tell them they deserved to come in the place they did?  (be honest)

In reality, only by being honest, can your child improve.  The example, shows how the parent was very tactful, saying that the other girls had been competing longer and had worked harder than she did.  If she wanted to do gymnastics for fun, that would be okay, but if she wanted to compete against those girls, she’d have to work harder.  So she worked harder and the next time around won all the ribbons.  Being honest with your loved ones is the best approach.

‘8) Changing Mindsets

This chapter gave some tips and some great questions to follow to help one change their mindset and also reminded us that it may take a while to change your mind (set), as we have some ingrained habits we need to change.  But to stay positive and keep growing.  Some of the questions included:

  • What can I learn from this?
  • How can I improve?
  • How can I help my partner do this better?

And if you want to set a goal, in your mind, secure it in “mental concrete” by picturing: When you’ll do it? Where you’ll do it? How you will do it?  By thinking in vivid details, you’ll be more likely to DO IT.

  • What are the opportunities for learning and growth today? For myself? For the people around me?
  • What do I have to do to maintain and continue the growth?

Should you buy this book?

This book was an eye-and-mind opening experience for me.  In attempting to summarize the book, I continue to write and write and write, being almost unable to summarize her book because I felt it’s so important for any and every teacher, parent and coach to read.  If you are one of these situations I strongly urge you to buy a copy yourself.  It has given me more to think about concerning teaching, training, and praising students, than any thing else I’ve yet to come across.  This book has also helped me open my mind to my own mindset and how I can work on growing it more and more every day.  Bring on the math/logic problem and buy this book!

Weekly Roundup: Emotions & Olympic greats

Matt | Books: Mindset,China Developing,Driving in China,Visas | Friday, May 9th, 2008

It’s been an emotional time in China lately. I’m continually moved by the stories of people who have donated their efforts to help Sichuan recover from the earthquake. Yesterday on the news I saw an 80 year old grannie who came down to volunteer. It reminded me of my grammie back in Canada who did a similar thing back during the ’95/’96 referendum when she supported her country. I don’t know what it is, nor how to describe it, except to say that I’m continually moved by these outpourings of love. On a financial front, I have given some money, but it never seems like it’s enough. As there are more and more needy charities asking for donations, there are more emotionally-charged images and requests for much needed money.

On a round up front, I came across some nice stories I wanted to share.

Here was a quick one from the PekingDuck which talks about a doctor who told his wife he was going out, jumped on a plane and went to Sichuan to help.

Here are a couple of interesting posts from Sinosplice. This one about the candlelit vigil moved me. And this one about how much donation was appropriate in a company was an interesting insight in the the Chinese culture. Both well worth a read.

From the emotional challenges China has been facing, I keep thinking how China needs and truly deserves a great Olympic games. I continue to send out positive energy pray that this happens. At China Briefing, they do more than send out thoughts as here they give some great tips on how to set up your Chinese office to make the environment as Olympic and employee friendly as possible. Their tips reminded me of working in Canada and watching the 2002 gold medal hockey game in my company cafeteria and thinking how lucky I was to be working for a company that would set up a big screen TV in the cafe for it’s employees.

Here is an interesting article from Asia Times about the quake and how the government is listening to the people.  Hopefully from this disaster some good will come, like improving the safety and quality of schools.

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