The trajectory of my mindset journey
A book review of Mindset by Carol Dweck
Review by Mark Herbert
This well-known book provides a rich and insightful overview of the significance our mindset has on shaping our thinking, decisions and behaviours. The key premise of the book is that success is rooted in the right mindset.
As a recognised psychologist at Stamford, we should not be surprised that Carol Dweck roots her insight in evidence and rigorous research – yet it is packaged it in a simple and accessible way, applied through examples of mindsets at play in sport, relationships, parenting, teaching and in business. The wide range of applications it touches on has made it a popular and recommended book with benefits for any reader. The book is an easy read, yet thought-provoking; stretching the reader away from thinking about mindset in an overly reductionistic and binary way.
The book opens by defining what mindset is and unpacking the reasons behind the contrasting mindsets we encounter in day-to-day life. The concept of contrasting individual and organisational mindsets was particularly interesting, suggesting that mindsets can be created and developed, rather than the often more static understanding of mindset being something a person has, that changes very little.
Each chapter ends with a few focused points of application, aimed at supporting a growth mindset. A great benefit can come if the reader resists the urge to rush through these useful summaries. The final chapter brings together various streams of thought touched on earlier in the book, helping the reader reflect on how mindset can be changed.
Reading the book has challenged my understanding of mindset, and I am already seeing this play out in the maturing of my mindset in various aspects of life.
I highly recommend reading!
3 key insights
Insight #1: Think about mindset across two axes: individual and organisational
The end of chapter 5 addresses the concept of organisational mindset. I’ve often reflected on organisational culture but rarely if ever on organisational mindset. There is clear overlap, but the book has pushed me to see that a collective mindset underpins any collective culture.
Dweck studied a group of large corporations consisting of Fortune 500 and 1000 companies, seeking to determine what the overall mindset of the company was. What was most fascinating was that in the companies epitomised by a growth mindset, there were high levels of trust, empowerment, ownership, innovation and commitment. This can be contrasted with a clear trend in companies with a fixed collective mindset which was marked by low trust, minimal collaboration and the withholding of information.
Dweck suggests that,
“The view you adopt for yourself profoundly affects the way you lead your life” (p6)
What is interesting is that by adding up all of the individual views adopted by self (and the resultant ways individual’s lives are led), the sum total provides a view of the collective mindset of an organisation – and by definition therefore, the resultant way that organisation lives its life. An individual’s mindset matters because it contributes to an organisation’s mindset.
As Dweck points out,
“It’s possible to weave a fixed or growth mindset into the very fabric of an organisation to create a culture of genius or a culture of development” (p144)
💡 Top tip: Every organisation will model a prevailing mindset – and the longer we are exposed to this, the greater the potential for us to absorb this collective mindset. It, therefore, takes careful thought and intention to ensure we only absorb helpful organisational mindsets, and that we are deliberate in the mindset(s) we model back to others across the organisation.
Insight #2: No one possesses an entirely open or entirely fixed mindset
A person may have a higher proportion of growth mindset, compared to a fixed mindset but Dweck argues that this person will not always be in that mindset. She suggests that the strong link between trust and mindset means that if trust is undermined in a specific moment or over time, a person’s mindset may also change with this.
Thinking that a person has either a fixed mindset or a growth mindset is like the trap we can easily fall into when entering into the age-old debate of Nature vs Nurture. The reality is that our genes (nature) require environmental stimuli to work properly. One descriptor may be dominant but who we are (and how we are) can never be attributed alone to Nature or to Nurture.
This should remind us that when it comes to mindset, perhaps it would be more helpful to think of it as a descriptor rather than a label. This would allow us (and others) to describe our mindset in any given situation and provide a prompt towards healthy reflecting on the influences that can derail open mindsets (see Insight 3, below).
By way of example, I see myself as someone with an open mindset. I am an avid reader I love learning and generally receive and act on feedback well. I love to be challenged and recognise I have much growth still to come. That said, I noticed recently in a coaching conversation that this prevailing mindset began to shift in me. I was coaching someone who displayed traits associated with a more fixed mindset and their apparent unwillingness to think differently triggered a growing internal frustration in myself. It was not long before I was internally labelling them as uncoachable. Notice the trap I’d fallen into. My open mindset had begun to shut down and a more fixed mindset was replacing it.
Dweck touches on a similar scenario, providing the following advice:
“Don’t blame the other person for having a fixed mindset. Focus as a leader in posturing a growth mindset in them” (p217).
I took this as a challenge and now make more of a conscious effort to meet the fixed mindset in others with an open mind of my own, challenging myself to coach them more effectively to gradually shape their mindset towards being more open.
💡 Top tip: Mindsets are flexible and can be shaped and changed in different circumstances. To view them as binary is therefore overly reductionistic and misleading.
Insight #3: Open mindsets can be shut down quickly, often catching out people.
Dweck points out that our mindset shapes our internal monologue (self-talk) - how we talk to ourselves about ourselves, about our circumstances and our decisions. In turn, this self-talk reinforces within us a particular mindset.
Mindset development is therefore ongoing. As she states in Chapter 7,
“You don’t get a growth mindset by proclamation. You move towards it by taking a journey” (p217).
Reading this book challenged me to be more honest about how quickly my mindset can shift from growth to fixed and to keep embracing an ever-evolving journey towards nurturing a healthy mindset in the various circumstances I find myself.
One particularly helpful thought-experiment you could conduct would be to write down a list of as many influences that could trigger a shift in yourself towards a more fixed mindset. Becoming more aware of these triggers can be a helpful first step in either avoiding them altogether or making conscious choices to not allow fixed mindsets to take root.
Here are a few examples of things that appeared on my list:
Unknowns and a sense of vulnerability
Criticism, especially when offered in a particular tone
Unrealistic expectations from others
Not eating well
Failure and rejection
Lack of understanding
💡 Top tip: Remember that because mindsets can shift quickly and often very easily, every day involves the task of choosing and seeking to sustain healthy mindsets in ourselves and others. What do you do at the start of each day to position your mindset in a place that will give you the very best start to the opportunities and challenges that await you that day?
My best next step will be to regularly consider how every step I take moves me deeper into an open mindset or deeper into a fixed one. I want to be less anxious about overanalysing each individual moment, instead focusing on the overall trajectory of my mindset journey. I know in which direction I want to go deeper. The challenge will be to keep making positive choices to support this.