From “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success” by Carol S. Dweck, PhD
A View From The Two Mindsets
To give you a better sense of how the two mindsets work, imagine – as vividly as you can – that you are a young adult having a really bad day:
One day, you go to a class that is really important to you and that you like a lot. The professor returns the midterm papers to the class. You got a C+. You are very disappointed. That evening on the way back to your home, you find that you’ve gotten a parking ticket. Being really frustrated, you call your best friend to share your experience but are sort of brushed off.
What would you think? What would you feel? What would you do?
When I asked people with the fixed mindset, this is what they said: “I’d feel like a reject.” “I’m a total failure.” “I’m an idiot.” “I’m a loser.” “I’d feel worthless and dumb – everyone’s better than me.” “I’m slime.” In other words, they’d see what happened as a direct measure of their competence and worth.
This is what they’d think about their lives: “My life is pitiful.” “I have no life.” “Somebody is out to destroy me.” “Nobody loves me, everybody hates me.” “Life is unfair and all efforts are useless.” “Life stinks, I’m stupid. Nothing good ever happens to me.” “I’m the most unlucky person on this earth.”
Excuse me, was there death and destruction, or just a grade, a ticket, and a bad phone call?
Are these just people with low self-esteem? Or card-carrying pessimists? No. When they aren’t coping with failure, they feel just as worthy and optimistic – and bright and attractive – as people with the growth mindset.
So how would they cope? “I wouldn’t bother to put so much time and effort into doing well in anything.” (In other words, don’t let anyone measure you again.) “Do nothing.” “Stay in bed.” “Get drunk.” “Eat” “Yell at someone if I get a chance to.” “Eat chocolate.” “Listen to music and pout.” “Go into my closet and sit there.” “Pick a fight with somebody.” “ Cry.” “Break something.” What is there to do?”
What is there to do! You know, when I wrote the vignette, I intentionally made the grade a C+, not an F. It was a midterm rather than a final. It was a parking ticket, not a car wreck. They were “sort of brushed off,” not rejected outright. Nothing catastrophic or irreversible happened. Yet from this raw material the fixed mindset created the feeling of utter failure and paralysis.
When I gave people with the growth mindset the same vignette, here’s what they said. They’d think:
“I need to try harder in class, be more careful when parking the car and wonder if my friend had a bad day.”
“The C+ would tell me that I’d have to work a lot harder in the class, but I have the rest of the semester to pull up my grade.”
There were many, many more like this, but I think you get the idea. Now, how would they cope? Directly.
“I’d start thinking about studying harder (or studying in a different way) for my next test in that class, I’d pay the ticket, and I’d work things out with my best friend the next time we speak.”
“I’d look at what was wrong on my exam, resolve to do better, pay my parking ticket, and call my friend to tell her I was upset the day before.”
“Work hard on my next paper, speak to the teacher, be more careful where I park or contest the ticket, and find out what’s wrong with my friend.”