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Book Review: Mindset: The New Psychology of Success

Meghan Mathis

“Growth mindset” seems to be quickly taking the lead in the race to become the educational catchphrase of the year. It isn’t difficult to see why. The idea that a person’s intelligence and ability are not fixed traits assigned at birth, but rather are changeable attributes, is somewhat revolutionary. Educators everywhere are gravitating toward this research, hungry for scientific backing to what they’ve been telling their students for years. As author Carol Dweck writes, “The view you adopt for yourself profoundly affects the way you lead your life.” “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success” is Dweck’s latest attempt to help people see and accept this idea, as well as to begin to address how someone can begin to develop a growth mindset for themselves or encourage it in others.

Focused on Growth

“Mindset” makes the argument that having a fixed mindset makes overcoming obstacles, any obstacles, far more challenging than approaching those same challenges with a growth mindset. Dweck does an excellent job of making this case. Written in a conversational rather than academic tone, it is a text that would be a thought-provoking read for anyone, educator or otherwise. The beginning of the book does a great job of giving someone with little or no background in this concept a sufficient understanding to progress with ease. For those who come to the book familiar with the idea, Dweck manages not to bore or sound repetitive by providing examples outside the academic world and in-depth discussion of why growth mindset should matter to everyone, not just teachers.

There were a few moments where I found Dweck’s assertions about who demonstrated a fixed mindset versus who had a growth mindset amusing. The numerous examples she provides is a major strength of the text, but a problem inherent with this is that it becomes a bit repetitive. An athlete who does well? Growth mindset. One who failed and didn’t recover? Obviously fixed. A selfish romantic partner? Fixed mindset. A loving spouse? Proof of growth mindset. I laughed out loud when she implied that the nation of France had more of a fixed mindset, whereas Italy demonstrated a growth mindset. She explains her reasoning in the book, but I found myself wondering if this concept could legitimately be stretched to cover entire countries.

Not Just for Teachers

Although this idea is particularly interesting for teachers, “Mindset” is not geared specifically towards them. In fact, Dweck seems very interested in making sure readers know just how important a person’s mindset is in all aspects of life. She dedicates entire chapters to illustrating this through examples from the sporting world, the business world, and in personal relationships. As a reader, I found these sections interesting, but as an educator, I admit to skimming a bit. Since I already believe in the importance of growth mindset, I grew a little weary of reading about John McEnroe’s fixed mindset and how it hurt him as a tennis star. That is not to say, however, that these sections were a waste. I did find numerous excellent examples of popular athletes, successful businesspeople, and well-known celebrities who, using a growth mindset, overcame obstacles and achieved their goals to discuss with my students in the upcoming school year. I also appreciated Dweck’s diverse selection of people used in her examples. A teacher would be able to find an example to reach almost any student in this text.

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What’s In It For Me?

As an educator, I found the last two chapters of “Mindset” to be the most applicable to my classroom and my role as teacher. Dweck writes about parents, teachers, and coaches all together in chapter 7, stating that these roles are very similar when it comes to encouraging young people to develop a growth mindset. The chapter is a bit daunting, and Dweck does not shy away from asserting that, “Every word and action can send a message,” and that despite our best intentions, our “Helpful judgements, lessons, and motivating techniques often send the wrong message.”

While most teachers won’t find this concept new (we’ve been learning about how important it is to praise a student’s effort instead of its result for years), Dweck is a bit intimidating in her language about how easy it is to instill a fixed mindset in a student if one is not careful. Overall, however, I found this section to be full of useful ideas, reminders, and suggestions for how a teacher can begin to show their students that they can continue to grow, improve, learn, change, and become better throughout their lives. And isn’t that what every teacher wishes for their students?