My key takeaway is that parents’ praise molds their children’s mindsets. It’s a very slippery slope - focusing on outcomes vs efforts can result in quite different mindsets. Growth mindset has compound effects in life so the earlier someone has it, the better.
Here are my notes from Mindset:
- Patricia Miranda was a chubby, unathletic high school kid who wanted to wrestle. After a bad beating on the mat, she was told, “You’re a joke.” First she cried, then she felt: “That really set my resolve . . . I had to keep going and had to know if effort and focus and belief and training could somehow legitimize me as a wrestler.” Where did she get this resolve?
Miranda was raised in a life devoid of challenge. But when her mother died of an aneurysm at age forty, ten-year-old Miranda came up with a principle. “When you’re lying on your deathbed, one of the cool things to say is, ‘I really explored myself.’ This sense of urgency was instilled when my mom died. If you only go through life doing stuff that’s easy, shame on you.” So when wrestling presented a challenge, she was ready to take it on.
Her effort paid off. At twenty-four, Miranda was having the last laugh. She won the spot for her weight group on the U.S. Olympic team and came home from Athens with a bronze medal. And what was next? Yale Law School. People urged her to stay where she was already on top, but Miranda felt it was more exciting to start at the bottom again and see what she could grow into this time.
- Jim Marshall, former defensive player for the Minnesota Vikings, relates what could easily have made him into a failure. In a game against the San Francisco 49ers, Marshall spotted the football on the ground. He scooped it up and ran for a touchdown as the crowd cheered. But he ran the wrong way. He scored for the wrong team and on national television.
It was the most devastating moment of his life. The shame was overpowering. But during halftime, he thought, “If you make a mistake, you got to make it right. I realized I had a choice. I could sit in my misery or I could do something about it.” Pulling himself together for the second half, he played some of his best football ever and contributed to his team’s victory.
Nor did he stop there. He spoke to groups. He answered letters that poured in from people who finally had the courage to admit their own shameful experiences. He heightened his concentration during games. Instead of letting the experience define him, he took control of it. He used it to become a better player and, he believes, a better person.
- “Everything I was going through boiled down to fear. Fear of trying and failing. . . . If you go to an audition and don’t really try, if you’re not really prepared, if you didn’t work as hard as you could have and you don’t win, you have an excuse. . . . Nothing is harder than saying, ‘I gave it my all and it wasn’t good enough.’ ”
Why is effort so terrifying?
There are two reasons. One is that in the fixed mindset, great geniuses are not supposed to need it. So just needing it casts a shadow on your ability. The second is that, as Nadja suggests, it robs you of all your excuses. Without effort, you can always say, “I could have been [fill in the blank].” But once you try, you can’t say that anymore. Someone once said to me, “I could have been Yo-Yo Ma.” If she had really tried for it, she wouldn’t have been able to say that.
Fear of effort can happen in relationships, too, as it did with Amanda, a dynamic and attractive young woman.
I had a lot of crazy boyfriends. A lot. They ranged from unreliable to inconsiderate. “How about a nice guy for once?” my best friend Carla always said. It was like, “You deserve better.”
So then Carla fixed me up with Rob, a guy from her office. He was great, and not just on day one. I loved it. It was like, “Oh, my God, a guy who actually shows up on time.” Then it became serious and I freaked. I mean, this guy really liked me, but I couldn’t stop thinking about how, if he really knew me, he might get turned off. I mean, what if I really, really tried and it didn’t work? I guess I couldn’t take that risk.
- All of us have elements of both — we’re all a mixture of fixed and growth mindsets. I’m talking about it as a simple either–or right now for the sake of simplicity.
People can also have different mindsets in different areas. I might think that my artistic skills are fixed but that my intelligence can be developed. Or that my personality is fixed, but my creativity can be developed. We’ve found that whatever mindset people have in a particular area will guide them in that area.
- Try to picture Thomas Edison as vividly as you can. Think about where he is and what he’s doing. Is he alone? I asked people, and they always said things like this:
“He’s in his workshop surrounded by equipment. He’s working on the phonograph, trying things. He succeeds! [Is he alone?] Yes, he’s doing this stuff alone because he’s the only one who knows what he’s after.”
“He’s in New Jersey. He’s standing in a white coat in a lab-type room. He’s leaning over a lightbulb. Suddenly, it works! [Is he alone?] Yes. He’s kind of a reclusive guy who likes to tinker on his own.”
In truth, the record shows quite a different fellow, working in quite a different way.
Edison was not a loner. For the invention of the lightbulb, he had thirty assistants, including well-trained scientists, often working around the clock in a corporate-funded state-of-the-art laboratory!
It did not happen suddenly. The lightbulb has become the symbol of that single moment when the brilliant solution strikes, but there was no single moment of invention. In fact, the lightbulb was not one invention, but a whole network of time-consuming inventions each requiring one or more chemists, mathematicians, physicists, engineers, and glassblowers.
Edison was no naïve tinkerer or unworldly egghead. The “Wizard of Menlo Park” was a savvy entrepreneur, fully aware of the commercial potential of his inventions. He also knew how to cozy up to the press — sometimes beating others out as the inventor of something because he knew how to publicize himself.
Yes, he was a genius. But he was not always one. His biographer, Paul Israel, sifting through all the available information, thinks he was more or less a regular boy of his time and place. Young Tom was taken with experiments and mechanical things (perhaps more avidly than most), but machines and technology were part of the ordinary midwestern boy’s experience.
What eventually set him apart was his mindset and drive. He never stopped being the curious, tinkering boy looking for new challenges. Long after other young men had taken up their roles in society, he rode the rails from city to city learning everything he could about telegraphy, and working his way up the ladder of telegraphers through nonstop self-education and invention. And later, much to the disappointment of his wives, his consuming love remained self-improvement and invention, but only in his field.
There are many myths about ability and achievement, especially about the lone, brilliant person suddenly producing amazing things.
Yet Darwin’s masterwork, The Origin of Species, took years of teamwork in the field, hundreds of discussions with colleagues and mentors, several preliminary drafts, and half a lifetime of dedication before it reached fruition.
Mozart labored for more than ten years until he produced any work that we admire today. Before then, his compositions were not that original or interesting. Actually, they were often patched-together chunks taken from other composers.
- No parent thinks, “I wonder what I can do today to undermine my children, subvert their effort, turn them off learning, and limit their achievement.” Of course not. They think, “I would do anything, give anything, to make my children successful.” Yet many of the things they do boomerang. Their helpful judgments, their lessons, their motivating techniques often send the wrong message.
In fact, every word and action can send a message. It tells children — or students, or athletes — how to think about themselves. It can be a fixed-mindset message that says: You have permanent traits and I’m judging them. Or it can be a growth-mindset message that says: You are a developing person and I am committed to your development.
It’s remarkable how sensitive children are to these messages, and how concerned they are about them. Haim Ginott, the child-rearing sage of the 1950s through ’70s, tells this story. Bruce, age five, went with his mother to his new kindergarten. When they arrived, Bruce looked up at the paintings on the wall and said, “Who made those ugly pictures?” His mother rushed to correct him: “It’s not nice to call pictures ugly when they are so pretty.” But his teacher knew exactly what he meant. “In here,” she said, “you don’t have to paint pretty pictures. You can paint mean pictures if you feel like it.” Bruce gave her a big smile. She had answered his real question: What happens to a boy who doesn’t paint well?
Next, Bruce spotted a broken fire engine. He picked it up and asked in a self-righteous tone, “Who broke this fire engine?” Again his mother rushed in: “What difference does it make to you who broke it? You don’t know anyone here.” But the teacher understood. “Toys are for playing,” she told him. “Sometimes they get broken. It happens.” Again, his question was answered: What happens to boys who break toys?
Bruce waved to his mother and went off to start his first day of kindergarten. This was not a place where he would be judged and labeled.
You know, we never outgrow our sensitivity to these messages. Several years ago, my husband and I spent two weeks in Provence, in the south of France. Everyone was wonderful to us — very kind and very generous. But on the last day, we drove to Italy for lunch. When we got there and found a little family restaurant, tears started streaming down my face. I felt so nurtured. I said to David, “You know, in France, when they’re nice to you, you feel like you’ve passed a test. But in Italy, there is no test.”
Parents and teachers who send fixed-mindset messages are like France, and parents and teachers who send growth-mindset messages are like Italy.
Listen for the messages in the following examples:
“You learned that so quickly! You’re so smart!”
“Look at that drawing. Martha, is he the next Picasso or what?”
“You’re so brilliant, you got an A without even studying!”
If you’re like most parents, you hear these as supportive, esteem-boosting messages. But listen more closely. See if you can hear another message. It’s the one that children hear:
If I don’t learn something quickly, I’m not smart.
I shouldn’t try drawing anything hard or they’ll see I’m no Picasso.
I’d better quit studying or they won’t think I’m brilliant.
Parents think they can hand children permanent confidence — like a gift — by praising their brains and talent. It doesn’t work, and in fact has the opposite effect. It makes children doubt themselves as soon as anything is hard or anything goes wrong. If parents want to give their children a gift, the best thing they can do is to teach their children to love challenges, be intrigued by mistakes, enjoy effort, seek new strategies, and keep on learning. That way, their children don’t have to be slaves of praise. They will have a lifelong way to build and repair their own confidence.
If you liked the above content, I’d definitely recommend reading the whole book. 💯
Until We Meet Again…