I was recently asked “what one sentence has changed your life?”
This was my answer.
“You cannot learn from a mistake if you deny that you ever made it.” -Dr. Carol Dweck
Pretty simple — most people make excuses, blame others, and do everything they can to refuse to admit that they made a mistake — but the reality is that when you do that, you rob yourself of the ability to learn from that mistake and grow.
This is a huge reason why we have such a hard time even agreeing on what’s objectively true.
That single quote is also one of the biggest things that distinguishes people who achieve their goals and are very successful from those who plateauand can’t figure out why they are stuck.
This is based in hard psychology science from an acclaimed Stanford psychology professor Dr. Carol Dweck.
Here’s what Dr. Dweck said about the robustness of the research in a recent interview:
“We’ve been doing research on the fixed and growth mindset for about 35 years. We have actually, and others have hundreds of studies with people of all ages. For example, in some of the studies, we might measure people’s mindsets about their intelligence, ask them to answer questions like this, agree or disagree. Then we look at say in students, we look at their achievement over time and we have often found that students endorsing that growth mindset, achieve more in terms of grades or test scores or going on to college or graduating from college. Achieve more over time. Recently we did a study with all the 10th graders in Chile, 168,000 students. Those who held more of a growth mindset, achieved substantially more at every level of family income.” — Dr. Carol Dweck on The Science of Success
You See… It’s all about Your MINDSET
The above graphic (which was created originally by Nigel Holmes) summarizes the essential lessons of having a “growth mindset” (which is what Dr. Dweck calls it).
One of the key items here is to understand that when you’re in a “Fixed Mindset” you care about appearances — you care about demonstrating how great you are, showing everyone how smart you are — but you’re secretly terrified to ask a dumb question or look dumb.
OK — but what does that mean — the fixed mindset and the growth mindset?
Dr. Dweck’s recent interview goes much deeper on explaining this topic, but here are a few key lessons and highlights that may help explain the core idea behind Dr. Dweck’s work.
What Exactly Is a Mindset?
“Well, when I say mindset in the sense that it’s used in my book, I mean people’s beliefs about their most basic abilities and talents. When people are in a fixed mindset, they believe their basic abilities, talents, personal attributes, personalities. That these are fixed traits, you have a certain amount, you have a certain type and that’s it.
But, when people are in more of a growth mindset, they believe that, people differ but everyone can develop their talents, abilities and personal qualities.Again, it doesn’t mean everyone’s the same or everyone will go to the same place ultimately.” -Dr. Carol Dweck on The Science of Success
What Does It Feel Like To Be In A Fixed Mindset?
Being in a fixed mindset sucks. I should know, I was incredibly fixed mindset before I read Dr. Dweck’s book.
If you are worried about looking dumb or think that being eager and asking basic questions will somehow hurt you, instead of helping you, you’re probably in a fixed mindset.
Dr. Dweck goes on in this interview to explain the pain of having a fixed mindset in your daily life:
“When you’re in a fixed mindset, you think, for example. My intelligence is just fixed, I have a certain amount, I can’t do anything about it, I really value being intelligent. The goal of my life becomes to look smart at all cost and all situations and never look dumb.
When you’re in that fixed mindset, a voice in your head says, maybe you shouldn’t do this, maybe you’ll mess up here. Hey, do this, people will think you’re really brilliant. When someone else is looking really smart, you feel threatened by that, when you’re working on something hard and maybe struggling a little, you get really anxious, you think, maybe I’m not as good at this as I hoped I was, as I want to be.
When you hit a setback, that’s a calamity, that’s a real condemnation of your natural talent. If you are so talented, would you have had that failure? Would you have plunged into this mistake like that? Will everyone know it? Will you be unmasked, will you be found out finally? The fixed mindset system is kind of this fear based system, kind of fear alternating with arrogance because if you’re going around thinking it’s fixed and you have this arrogance you feel, I’m better than other people who have less of it but if you’re struggling or having setbacks, then you’re feeling really kind of insecure.
But, what we found in our research whether you’re in the arrogant phase or the un arrogant phase, you’re not primarily a learner. You’re not looking always to grow your skills to create teams that will help you develop and so forth. You’re primarily about showing you’re smart.” — Dr. Carol Dweck on The Science of Success
What Does It Feel Like To Live In a Growth Mindset?
Having a positive outlook and a growth mindset can massively transform the way you live your life, think about yourself, deal with setbacks, handle criticism, and much more. Dr. Dweck continues:
“The growth mindset as I mentioned is a place where you believe your abilities can be developed. Again, it doesn’t mean you saying you’re Michael Jordan or Mia Ham or Yoyo Ma but you understand that abilities can be developed through hard work, learning good strategies, pushing out of your comfort zone as often as possible.
Just keep pushing that limit and getting lots of great input and mentoring from others. It’s a place where if you’re not pushing out of your comfort zone, something’s wrong. If you’re just feeling smart but not feeling you’re getting smarter, something’s wrong.
When you get feedback rather than being threatened, you try to learn from it. If you see someone who is really better than you at something you pride yourself on, instead of thinking, maybe they’re the ones with the talent, you think, I wonder how they got there? I wonder what they can teach me? I wonder how I can get as far as they got or maybe even further.
The focus is, not on looking and feeling smart all the time or being perfector beating out the competition for smartness all the time. But, it’s about becoming smarter, growing, learning. Again, pushing out of your comfort zone, using mistakes and setbacks as opportunities to learn. It was a long time before I could really get in to the idea that setbacks were welcomed, setbacks were inevitable because it’s so different from a fixed mindset place.” — Dr. Carol Dweck on The Science of Success.
Want To Learn More About Mindset?
There is a tremendous amount of research, information, and actionable insight from Carol Dweck’s work, and going much deeper is beyond the scope of this article. To that effect, I wanted to provide you with some additional resources to follow up, check out, and absorb if building a growth mindset is something that interests you.
If you want to learn more about developing a growth mindset and implementing the things Dr. Dweck mentions above, you may enjoy checking out the following books, interviews, and podcasts:
- The book Mindset by Dr. Carol Dweck
- This interview with Dr. Carol Dweck on Mindset
- Dr. Carol Dweck’s Ted Talk “The Power of Believing That You Can Improve”
Moving into a growth mindset is a critical piece of putting on your rationality oxygen mask. It helps you move ego out of the way and accept things as they are, so that you can move forward and grow.
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