Sometimes it’s tempting to say, “I just can’t draw” or to tell my kids “Well done, you’re so clever“.

Carol Dweck however, has discovered something profound.

The idea is that we each tend to hold either a fixed mindset, or a growth mindset.

The fixed mindset

In a fixed mindset, we believe we’re born with in-built limitations on what we’re capable of achieving in life. We praise our kids for intelligence and talent. “Clever girl!”

It turns out that the fixed mindset discourages effort. If we judge ourselves to have less potential than others, we’re stuck with a constant sense of insecurity and envy. What’s more, we’re tempted to cheat because that’s the only way we can create the (temporary) illusion of being ‘better’ than someone else.

On the other hand, when we judge ourselves to be ‘better’ than others, we tend towards a sense of entitlement and a lack of a need to try. After all, what’s the point in trying if you’re lucky enough to be born clever.

When we inevitably come up against someone who we believe is ‘better’ than ourself, we feel crushed because they’re better, we’re worse and there’s nothing we can do about it.

So, we flip flop between feeling entitled and superior with no incentive to improve, and, at any moment, feeling crushed, envious and hopelessly insecure.

Praising our kids for ‘being clever’ merely perpetuates the ‘fixed mindset’ down to the next generation.

The growth mindset

In a growth mindset, we believe we can improve at whatever we set our minds to. In return, we actually do get better.

We praise our kids for effort and persistence. They respond by actually trying harder, believing they can improve. And they do.

We can be in different mindsets for different spheres of our lives at the same time. At one time, we can hold a growth mindset for work, but tell ourselves we can’t draw.

The good news is, we can all learn what kind of mindset we have, decide for ourselves whether we want to change, and develop a new mindset.

Here’s Carol’s TED talk introducing the idea of the fixed vs the growth mindset. Her focus here is on kids and education but the idea applies to us all.

Carol’s book had been on my reading list for well over a year and I’m so glad I got around to it. It’s a must read.