Dan Has Another Good Book for You – Mindset by Carol Dweck (#2)

tennis racket and balls

He was reasonably coordinated.  Others thought so and he believed it, too.  He wasn’t the athlete Gabe or Lenny was, but he was decent.  He played all the sports as a kid.  A tennis court down the street was where he hung out most of the time.  He got good, made the high school team as a junior, even played first singles his senior year.  Unbeknownst to many, he was nervous on match days and didn’t really relish the playing.  He liked the winning and he liked the status of being #1; he just didn’t like the pressure to win.

He played on his small college tennis team but dropped the sport as soon as his college days were over.  His college coach thought if you won, you played well.  If you lost, you didn’t.  The quality of the post-match meals depended on whether the team won or lost.  It was all about winning.  He enjoyed the camaraderie of his teammates, but his fixed mindset on the outcome drove him from tennis.

Carol Dweck

Carol Dweck

I didn’t know it then, but I needed coaches who focused on my effort not the results, a coach who had embraced Carol Dweck’s Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.  I believe a focus on my effort would have improved my results.  And it’s not just coaches, it’s parents, grandparents, people in relationships, and teachers who could benefit from the insights of this book on the value of praising effort over outcomes.

Listen to what Tammy from California, one of our favorite parents and teachers says.

I am so glad that Mindset is getting around & getting some love!  I think it’s one of the most important books I’ve read.  I’ve bought copies for my principal, Keegan’s principal & his teacher, as well as several other wonderful peeps.  I’ve talked with the superintendent of our school district about getting it in the hands of every teacher that works here. 

Adolescent brain diagram of fixed and growth

Check out this mind-blowing example from Mindset:

Dweck and her researchers set up an experiment with a group of adolescents.  First, all the young people were given ten challenging non-verbal questions (IQ-type questions).  As a group, these kids did reasonably well on all ten problems.  But afterward, to half of the students, the researchers praised them for their ability, for being smart.  To the other half, they praised their effort, for working hard.

Then she gave all the students ten additional questions, more difficult than the first ones.  All the students didn’t do as well.  The students that were told they were smart started to doubt their ability.  If success meant they were smart, a lack of success meant they were not.  The kids praised for their effort thought the more difficult questions meant they just needed to work harder.

After the success of the first set of problems, everyone loved working on them.  After the challenging problems, the kids who were told they were smart said it wasn’t fun anymore.  The kids praised for their effort loved the challenge.  All the kids were then given some easier questions similar to the first ones.

The scores and performance of the kids who were told they were smart plummeted while the kids who had their effort praised improved.  By having their ability praised, their IQ actually went down.

Asked later to write a letter to students who were going to take this kind of test and also asked to include their scores, 40% of the students who were praised for being smart lied about their scores.  Praising them for being smart turned many into liars.

Fixed and growth mindset diagram

Those students that were told they were smart fell into the “fixed mindset” as I had as a tennis player.  They were praised for their talent and ability; praised for the outcome.  “Fixed mindset” people are overly concerned with mistakes and failure.  In the end such students see teachers and parents as judges not allies.  As seen in the above example, praising intelligence harms motivation as well as performance.

brain is like a muscle

The kids who were complemented on their effort were of the “growth mindset.”  Those with a “growth mindset” love a challenge, believe in effort, and the value of being resilient.  Their focus is on improving and learning.  These people value what they are doing no matter the result.  It is not surprising that practice, persistence, and finding good strategies support motivation and performance.

In the last chapter of Mindset, Carol Dweck elaborates how to change from a “fixed mindset” to a “growth mindset.”

ping pong table

And you should see me play ping pong these days with my friend George.  I make each point about learning, getting feedback to improve.  We do keep score, but the joy is in the extended rallies, making incredible shots and “gets,” and celebrating each other’s good shots.  No one will remember or, in fact, care who won the games.  We will long remember the joy of just playing and getting better and better.