Book Club Review: Mindset

Book Review Mindset Carol DweckWhat do resilient comeback stars have that others lack? A growth mindset.

Carol Dweck’s title is pretty straightforward: life is a game and your Mindset determines whether you win, or lose.

Let’s start by breaking down this trendy concept of the “growth mindset”: 

“The growth mindset is based on the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts…it’s impossible to foresee what can be accomplished with years of passion, toil and training.
Why waste time proving over and over how great you are, when you could be getting better? And why seek out the tried and true, instead of experiences that will stretch you?
This is the mindset that allows people to thrive during some of the most challenging times in their lives.

According to Dweck (and a LOT of included research), the growth mindset is the key to, …the love of challenge, belief in effort, resilience in the face of setbacks, and greater (more creative) success.

If you’ve been hiding in your comfort zone, you’re probably a victim of a fixed mindset, and it’s time to cultivate a new perspective so that you can start winning.

But, even if you’re a risk taker, don’t write off this book quite yet. 

I’m a firm believer in lifelong learning and constant improvement, core qualities of the growth mindset. However, I had a reckoning coming.

The growth mindset isn’t just on or off. We can be pretty selective with our comfort zones. Perhaps what’s holding us back from our greatest potential is the fear and insecurity rooted into one particular area.

I read the book in the aftermath of a car accident that left me and my car a bit wrecked. I couldn’t prove the other driver had run a red light, and so to add insult in injury, I got saddled with thousands in medical bills.

With my broken (right!) hand and rental car, I held a grand pity party as I struggled to swallow this bitter pill.

Not very growth minded of me. 

As the author points out, it’s hard to spot a fixed mindset until we are experiencing difficulty. It’s in the struggles and the failures that we discover ourselves and either shut down or open up.

This car wreck was prime resiliency practice, and since my mindset needed to be switched from woe is me to challenge accepted, I turned to the book for some strategies for moving into that growth mindset when we find ourself stuck anywhere but:

  • Monitor your meaning-making. Our brains are constantly interpreting every little bit of information, creating meaning from the chaos. The fixed mindset triggers judgments – thoughts like, “It’s not fair!” By listening for our self-talk (or out-loud commiserating), we can reframe and re-train our brains to the growth mindset. The unjust whine becomes, “Can’t change what happened, but what can I learn?”
  • Willpower is a lonely hero. When we attempt something hard, like losing weight or writing a book, we tend to believe we can (and should) will our way to our goal. And when we overeat or never actually write – we feel weak. Instead, we can look at how we are going about it, and try new strategies. Perhaps social accountability is key to your sustained weight loss. Enter Weight Watchers. Or perhaps I need a weekly writing date with no cell phone or wifi. Look for ways to adapt your approach.
  • Get good at failing. Dweck makes it clear that failure is the big trigger for the fixed mindset. Our effort fell short, and so we are a failure. With this belief, we take fewer risks and stick to what we are already good at. “Nothing is harder than saying, ‘I gave it my all and it wasn’t good enough.’” If we practice failing (ie. purposefully exiting our comfort zone and flailing around at something new), we can become experts at learning from our experiences rather than dying by our setbacks.
  • Dose up on inspiration. Simply learning about the growth mindset triggered students in every study in the book to shift. New information can be motivation to look at your situation in a new light. When I’m stuck, it’s exactly this type of book that revokes my pity club privileges and starts the wheels turning in creative directions. Whether it’s TED talks, a book, a movie, or that endlessly optimistic person in your life – turn off the Netflix drama and turn on the inspiration.
  • Rip off the bandaid. When I’m in the fixed mindset, I tend to procrastinate on every possible action that would pull me out. I will make endless lists, and find endless reasons to do those items tomorrow. After my car wreck, it took weeks to get back to writing. Let it rip with just one baby step in the right direction, and the momentum will often follow. It simply feels better to open the curtains, let the sunlight in, and grow.

Dweck approaches this concept from a very academic perspective, and I honestly found the writing and content a little dry and a little redundant. I found I could have skipped from Chapter 1 to Chapter 8 and gotten almost as much out of the book.

From my view, it boils down to asking myself a few questions on the regular:

Am I approaching this with fear, or faith?

Is it a problem, or an opportunity?

Where in my life are I sitting in my comfort zone?

All of the real rewards are waiting on the other side of taking a chance, and it’s through this little but profound mindset shift that we build resiliency, so that when the giant SUV runs the red and broadsides you on the way to gym, you can pick up the pieces, buy that Jeep you’ve been eyeballing, and go on an off-road adventure.