“I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of man to elevate his life by conscious endeavor,” Thoreau wrote in contemplating what it really means to be awake. A century and a half later, Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck took this notion to the lab in her pioneering and altogether illuminating work on the two mindsets that shape our lives. Dweck writes:
For twenty years, my research has shown that the view you adopt for
yourself profoundly affects the way you lead your life. It can
determine whether you become the person you want to be and whether you
accomplish the things you value. How does this happen? How can a
simple belief have the power to transform your psychology and, as a
result, your life?
Believing that your qualities are carved in stone — the fixed
mindset — creates an urgency to prove yourself over and over. If you
have only a certain amount of intelligence, a certain personality, and
a certain moral character — well, then you’d better prove that you
have a healthy dose of them. It simply wouldn’t do to look or feel
deficient in these most basic characteristics.
I’ve seen so many people with this one consuming goal of proving
themselves — in the classroom, in their careers, and in their
relationships. Every situation calls for a confirmation of their
intelligence, personality, or character. Every situation is evaluated:
Will I succeed or fail? Will I look smart or dumb? Will I be accepted or rejected? Will I feel like a winner or a loser? . . .
There’s another mindset in which these traits are not simply a hand
you’re dealt and have to live with, always trying to convince yourself
and others that you have a royal flush when you’re secretly worried
it’s a pair of tens. In this mindset, the hand you’re dealt is just
the starting point for development. This growth mindset is based on
the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate
through your efforts.
Read more about how to cultivate that fruitful growth mindset here.