Author: Carol S. Dweck
This book is about the significant and wide-ranging effects of mindset, the belief we have about ourselves, on our life outcomes. The author, a psychology Professor, sees mindsets as important components of our personality, and she outlines how they determine a vast array of human traits such as character, willpower and self-control (pages 46, 93, and 249-251). She hinges her arguments on groundbreaking research in the field, many of which she led, and on her experience teaching the subject in schools. She explored the two types of mindsets, fixed mindsets and growth mindsets, arguing that ‘everyone can change and grow through application and experience‘, and adding that ‘changing people’s beliefs-even the simplest beliefs-can have profound effects’ (pages 7 and ix).
The book’s major themes revolve around the all-encompassing advantages of possessing or acquiring a growth mindset. It describes the hallmark of the growth mindset as ‘the passion for stretching yourself and sticking to it, even…when it’s not going well’ (page 7). The author describes several key characteristics of people with growth mindsets; for example, they thrive on challenges, and they endeavour to ‘stretch their knowledge‘ (pages 18 and 21). They are therefore more likely to become successful than people with fixed mindsets-those who believe their abilities are set in stone. The author demonstrates this with several research findings which show that students with growth mindsets are better motivated to learn and therefore achieve better grades. Furthermore, people with growth mindsets show better perseverance when they come up against difficulties (pages 61 and 48).
Nothing projects the book’s key points as graphically as its depiction of the detrimental consequences of having a fixed mindset. The author portrays the fixed mindset as an obstacle to development and change which often results in deleterious outcomes; it is, for example, associated with a high risk of depression, and a predisposition to criminality (pages 50, 25, and 38). The book asserts that the fixed mindset is antithetical to success because it ‘makes effort disagreeable, and it leads to inferior learning strategies’ (page 67). The author demonstrates how people with a fixed mindset may develop ‘the low effort syndrome‘ because they only engage in activities they find easy (pages 23 and 58). She explored several other destructive characteristics of people with fixed mindsets such as rumination over failures, blaming others for their mistakes, and making excuses for their failings (page 36).
The research findings on mindsets have major social implications especially with regard to parenting and child education. The book particularly highlighted the harm inherent in the self-esteem movement which, by encouraging the constant validation of children, promotes the development of fixed mindsets (page 30). The author advised teachers and parents not to praise children’s intellect or ability, asserting that this harms the children’s motivation and performance, and it causes them to develop an aversion to difficult challenges. She also argued that such praise encourages children, when faced with failure, to engage in dishonest behaviour. On the contrary, she recommended praising children’s efforts as this facilitates the development of a growth mindset (pages 72-73 and 178-179). Similarly, she argued against the practice of lowering academic standards, often done in a misguided attempt to improve self-esteem; rather she urged parents and teachers to inculcate a growth mindset in children as this enables them to believe in their abilities (pages 215-222).
Beyond parenting and education, the book also reviewed the impact of mindsets on other important spheres of life. For example, discussing the impact of growth mindsets on business, the author argued that many successful corporations are led by people who appreciate growth mindsets. She illustrated this with examples of leaders such as Jack Welch of General Electric, Lou Gerstner of IBM, and Anne Mulcahy of Xerox (page 125). Conversely, she demonstrated how fixed mindset-dominated organisations enable the emergence of groupthink because they suppress dissent. To illustrate this, she used the example of Lee Iacocca, who she portrayed as an ego-driven chief executive who manifested the ‘key weapons of the fixed mindset-blame, excuses, … the stifling of critics and rivals‘, …and the ‘need for validation‘ (pages 112-117 and 136). She illustrated how mindsets trump natural talent with the examples of Muhammad Ali, Michael Jordan, Babe Ruth and Wilma Rudolph, people who succeeded in fields in which they were not naturally gifted because they applied their growth mindsets (pages 83-87).
The author made several recommendations to guide people to develop growth mindsets. As an example, she advised people making any plans to make them concrete in terms of when, where, and how they will be implemented; she stressed that this is a strategy that leads to high levels of follow-through (pages 140 and 238). She outlined the 4 practical steps in the ‘journey to a growth mindset’, and she discussed programmes that help to achieve this, such as the growth mindset workshop and brainology (pages 254-262 and 231-232). To buttress its arguments, the book referred to many experts in other related fields, for example psychiatrist Aaron Beck on cognitive behaviour therapy, and Benjamin Bloom on the superiority of mindset over talent (pages 224-225 and 65). The book covers many other topics including relationships, friendships, making mistakes, bullying, revenge, shyness, and rejection (pages 155-161).
The author established the concept of mindsets, and she supported her arguments with many of her research findings. Mindset is fundamental to successful life outcomes, and it permeates all fields of life. Its ramifications extend into healthcare where challenges and uncertainty abound, and where the right mindset clearly determines the success or failure of clinical outcomes. The key lessons from the book, that mindsets are alterable and growth mindsets can be learnt, are relevant to medical education and practice.
The book is well-written and its arguments are supported by solid research. The subject is relevant at all stages of life, and the consequences of the wrong mindset have implications to all spheres of human activities, healthcare included. The book has explored the subject in detail, and the author used many anecdotal examples to drive home her key lessons. I recommend it to all doctors.
- Publisher, Place, Date: Robinson, London, 2017
- ISBN: 9780345472328
- Number of Chapters: 8
- Number of Pages: 301
- Star rating: 5
- Price: £7.66