Author | Freelance Writer | Entrepreneur | Speaker and Workshop Leader

The Growth Mindset: How Our Self-Beliefs Shape Us

Photo Noah Berger

“For twenty years, my research has shown that the view you adopt of yourself profoundly affects the way you lead your life.”

We can all agree that meaningful schoolwork promotes students’ learning of academic content. But why stop there? Meaningful work can also teach students to love challenges, to enjoy effort, to be resilient, and to value their own improvement. In other words, we can design and present learning tasks in a way that helps students develop a growth mindset, which leads to not just short-term achievement but also long-term success. That’s what Carol Dweck’s findings in Mindset: The New Psychology of Success demonstrate through groundbreaking research. And that’s primarily what sets this book apart from just any ol’ self-help book that purports that if you just “think a little more positively” you’ll see what great results abound.

During the past several decades, Dweck and her colleagues conducted research identifying two distinct ways in which individuals view intelligence and learning. Individuals with a fixed mindset believe that their intelligence is simply an inborn trait—they have a certain amount, and that’s that. In contrast, individuals with a growth mindset believe that they can develop their intelligence over time.


How can one belief lead to all this – the love of challenge, belief in effort, resilience in the face of setbacks, and greater (more creative!) success?”

Although Dweck’s insights and research apply broadly into any given human occupation and pursuit, they probably apply most distinctly to younger people. That’s not to say that behaviors can’t be unlearned by any means. They can. In fact, that’s one of the more hopeful takeaways from her thesis. Change is a process, but a shift in beliefs and attitudes can in fact happen for everyone. The ideas presented in Mindset also provide a helpful lens through which to understand narcissistic, egotistic and arrogant behavior. It’s not merely about “insecurity,” but it’s a deep-seated need to reaffirm one’s special standing in the world because a fixed mindset leads one to believe that one is a cut-above. It’s a constant re-proving. It’s just that the formal research Dweck and her colleagues performed focuses on students, mostly young ones. It’s also a transformative means through which we can work on changing our very education system, and therefore the next generation.


The fixed mindset stands in the way of development and change. The growth mindset is a starting point for change, but people need to decide for themselves where their efforts toward change would be most valuable.”

These two mindsets lead to different school behaviors. For one thing, when students view intelligence as fixed, they tend to value looking smart above all else. They may sacrifice important opportunities to learn—even those that are important to their future academic success—if those opportunities require them to risk performing poorly or admitting deficiencies. Students with a growth mindset, on the other hand, view challenging work as an opportunity to learn and grow. Through her four decades of research, Dweck has seen students with a growth mindset meet difficult problems, ones they could not solve yet, with great relish. Instead of thinking they were failing (as the students with a fixed mindset did), they said things like “I love a challenge,” “Mistakes are our friends,” and “I was hoping this would be informative!” Students with a fixed mindset do not like effort. They believe that if you have ability, everything should come naturally. They tell us that when they have to work hard, they feel dumb.

We like to think of our champions and idols as superheroes who were born different from us. We don’t like to think of them as relatively ordinary people who made themselves extraordinary.” 


Students with a growth mindset value effort. They realize that even geniuses have to work hard to develop their abilities and make their contributions. Students with a fixed mindset tend not to handle setbacks well. Because they believe that setbacks call their intelligence into question, they become discouraged or defensive when they don’t succeed right away. They may quickly withdraw their effort, blame others, lie about their scores, or consider cheating. Students with a growth mindset are more likely to respond to initial obstacles by remaining involved, trying new strategies, and using all the resources at their disposal for learning.

After seven experiments with hundreds of children, we had some of the clearest findings I’ve ever seen: Praising children’s intelligence harms their motivation and it harms their performance. How can that be? Don’t children love to be praised? Yes, children love praise. And they especially love to be praised for their intelligence and talent. It really does give them a boost, a special glow—but only for the moment. The minute they hit a snag, their confidence goes out the window and their motivation hits rock bottom. If success means they’re smart, then failure means they’re dumb. That’s the fixed mindset.”

A necessary corrective to the constant pressure from experts in the 90s to praise children. Her ideas also focus on a recognition that it’s not about prestige, nor about being destined to be special. It’s about praising effort and hard work, a couple of pieces of the success puzzle that are often overlooked entirely. In fact, wouldn’t you say it’s more heroic to have worked hard for something than merely to have been “naturally” good at it all along? Food for thought.

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