Carol Dweck: The Two Mindsets And The Power of Believing That You Can Improve

Carol Dweck studies human motivation. She spends her days diving into why people succeed (or don’t) and what’s within our control to foster success.

As she describes it: “My work bridges developmental psychology, social psychology, and personality psychology, and examines the self-conceptions (or mindsets) people use to structure the self and guide their behavior. My research looks at the origins of these mindsets, their role in motivation and self-regulation, and their impact on achievement and interpersonal processes.”

Her inquiry into our beliefs is synthesized in Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. The book takes us on a journey into how our conscious and unconscious thoughts affect us and how something as simple as wording can have a powerful impact on our ability to improve.

Dweck’s work shows the power of our most basic beliefs. Whether conscious or subconscious, they strongly “affect what we want and whether we succeed in getting it.” Much of what we think we understand of our personality comes from our “mindset.” This both propels us and prevents us from fulfilling our potential.

In Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Dweck writes:

What are the consequences of thinking that your intelligence or personality is something you can develop, as opposed to something that is a fixed, deep-seated trait?

The Two Mindsets

Carol Dweck Two Mindsets

Your view of yourself can determine everything. If you believe that your qualities are unchangeable — the fixed mindset — you will want to prove yourself over and over.

In Mindset, Dweck writes:

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?

These things are culturally desirable. We value intelligence, personality, and character. It’s normal to want this. But …

In Mindset, Dweck writes:

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.

Changing our beliefs can have a powerful impact. The growth mindset creates a powerful passion for learning. “Why waste time proving over and over how great you are,” Dweck writes, “when you could be getting better?”

Why hide deficiencies instead of overcoming them? Why look for friends or partners who will just shore up your self-esteem instead of ones who will also challenge you to grow? And why seek out the tried and true, instead of experiences that will stretch you? The passion for stretching yourself and sticking to it, even (or especially) when it’s not going well, is the hallmark of the growth mindset. This is the mindset that allows people to thrive during some of the most challenging times in their lives.

***

Our ideas about risk and effort come from our mindset. Some people realize the value of challenging themselves, they want to put in the effort to learn and grow, a great example of this is The Buffett Formula. Others, however, would rather avoid the effort feeling like it doesn’t matter.

In Mindset, Dweck writes:

We often see books with titles like The Ten Secrets of the World’s Most Successful People crowding the shelves of bookstores, and these books may give many useful tips. But they’re usually a list of unconnected pointers, like “Take more risks !” or “Believe in yourself!” While you’re left admiring people who can do that, it’s never clear how these things fit together or how you could ever become that way. So you’re inspired for a few days, but basically the world’s most successful people still have their secrets.

Instead, as you begin to understand the fixed and growth mindsets, you will see exactly how one thing leads to another— how a belief that your qualities are carved in stone leads to a host of thoughts and actions, and how a belief that your qualities can be cultivated leads to a host of different thoughts and actions, taking you down an entirely different road.

[…]

Sure, people with the fixed mindset have read the books that say: Success is about being your best self, not about being better than others; failure is an opportunity, not a condemnation ; effort is the key to success. But they can’t put this into practice because their basic mindset— their belief in fixed traits— is telling them something entirely different: that success is about being more gifted than others, that failure does measure you, and that effort is for those who can’t make it on talent.

***

The mindset affects creativity too.

In Mindset, Dweck writes:

The other thing exceptional people seem to have is a special talent for converting life’s setbacks into future successes. Creativity researchers concur. In a poll of 143 creativity researchers, there was wide agreement about the number one ingredient in creative achievement. And it was exactly the kind of perseverance and resilience produced by the growth mindset.

In fact Dweck takes this stoic approach, writing: “in the growth mindset, failure can be a painful experience. But it doesn’t define you. It’s a problem to be faced, dealt with, and learned from.”

We can still learn from our mistakes. The legendary basketball coach John Wooden says that you’re not a failure until you start to assign blame. That’s when you stop learning from your mistakes – you deny them.

***

In this TED talk, Dweck describes “two ways to think about a problem that’s slightly too hard for you to solve.” Operating in this space — just outside of your comfort zone — is the key to improving your performance. It’s also the critical element to deliberate practice. People approach these problems with the two mindsets …. “Are you not smart enough to solve it …. or have you just not solved it yet.”

Speaking to the cultural pressure to raise our kids for now instead of not yet, in the TED talk Dweck says:

The power of yet.

I heard about a high school in Chicago where students had to pass a certain number of courses to graduate, and if they didn’t pass a course, they got the grade “Not Yet.” And I thought that was fantastic, because if you get a failing grade, you think, I’m nothing, I’m nowhere. But if you get the grade “Not Yet” you understand that you’re on a learning curve. It gives you a path into the future.

“Not Yet” also gave me insight into a critical event early in my career, a real turning point. I wanted to see how children coped with challenge and difficulty, so I gave 10-year-olds problems that were slightly too hard for them. Some of them reacted in a shockingly positive way. They said things like, “I love a challenge,” or, “You know, I was hoping this would be informative.” They understood that their abilities could be developed. They had what I call a growth mindset. But other students felt it was tragic, catastrophic. From their more fixed mindset perspective, their intelligence had been up for judgment and they failed. Instead of luxuriating in the power of yet, they were gripped in the tyranny of now.

So what do they do next? I’ll tell you what they do next. In one study, they told us they would probably cheat the next time instead of studying more if they failed a test. In another study, after a failure, they looked for someone who did worse than they did so they could feel really good about themselves. And in study after study, they have run from difficulty. Scientists measured the electrical activity from the brain as students confronted an error. On the left, you see the fixed mindset students. There’s hardly any activity. They run from the error. They don’t engage with it. But on the right, you have the students with the growth mindset, the idea that abilities can be developed. They engage deeply. Their brain is on fire with yet. They engage deeply. They process the error. They learn from it and they correct it.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of now. Our kids become obsessed with getting A’s – they dream of the next test to prove themselves instead of dreaming big like Elon Musk. A by-product of this is that we’re making them dependent on the validation that we’re giving them — the gamification of children.

What can we do about this? Don’t praise intelligence or talent, praise the work ethic.

[W]e can praise wisely, not praising intelligence or talent. That has failed. Don’t do that anymore. But praising the process that kids engage in: their effort, their strategies, their focus, their perseverance, their improvement. This process praise creates kids who are hardy and resilient.

How we word things affects confidence, the words ‘yet’ or ‘not yet,’ “give kids greater confidence, give them a path into the future that creates greater persistence.” We can change mindsets.

In one study, we taught them that every time they push out of their comfort zone to learn something new and difficult, the neurons in their brain can form new, stronger connections, and over time they can get smarter. … students who were not taught this growth mindset continued to show declining grades over this difficult school transition, but those who were taught this lesson showed a sharp rebound in their grades. We have shown this now, this kind of improvement, with thousands and thousands of kids, especially struggling students.

Mindset: The New Psychology of Success is a must read for anyone looking to explore our mindset and how we can influence it to be a little better. Carol Dweck’s work is simply outstanding.

Andy Warhol on Beauty

AWARHOL

“I’ve never met a person I couldn’t call a beauty,” Andy Warhol writes in The Philosophy of Andy Warhol (From A to B and Back Again):

Every person has beauty at some point in their lifetime. Usually in different degrees. Sometimes they have the looks when they’re a baby and they don’t have it when they’re grown up, but then they could get it back again when they’re older. Or they might be fat but have a beautiful face. Or have bow-legs but a beautiful body. Or be the number one female beauty and have no tits. Or be the number one male beauty and have a small you-know-what.

Some people think it’s easier for beauties, but actually it can work out a lot of different ways. If you’re beautiful you might have a pea-brain. If you’re not beautiful you might not have a pea-brain, so it depends on the pea-brain and the beauty. The size of the beauty. And the pea-brain.

Never try to keep up with the times – a beauty is always a beauty.

When a person is the beauty of their day, and their looks are really in style, and then the times change and tastes change, and ten years go by, if they keep exactly their same look and don’t change anything and if they take care of themselves, they’ll still be a beauty.

Schrafft’s restaurants were the beauties of their day, and then they tried to keep up with the times and they modified and modified until they lost all their charm and were bought by a big company. But if they could just have kept their same look and style, and held on through the lean years when they weren’t in style, today they’d be the best thing around. You have to hang on in periods when your style isn’t popular, because if it’s good, it’ll come back, and you’ll be a recognized beauty once again.

On the difficulty of looking like your photoshopped self.

Beauties in photographs are different from beauties in person. It must be hard to be a model, because you’d want to be like the photograph of you, and you can’t ever look that way. And so you start to copy the photograph. Photographs usually bring in another half-dimension. (Movies bring in another whole dimension. That screen magnetism is something secret—if you could only figure out what it is and how to make it, you’d have a really good product to sell. But you can’t even tell if someone has it until you actually see them up there on the screen. You have to give screen tests to find out.)

….

Someone once asked me to state once and for all the most beautiful person I’d ever met. Well, the only people I can ever pick out as unequivocal beauties are from the movies, and then when you meet them, they’re not really beauties either, so your standards don’t even really exist. In life, the movie stars can’t even come up to the standards they set on film.

When you’re interested in somebody, Warhol argues that you should point out all of your beauty problems right away, “rather than take a chance they won’t notice them.”

Maybe, say, you have a permanent beauty problem you can’t change, such as too- short legs. Just say it. “My legs, as you’ve probably noticed, are much too short in proportion to the rest of my body.” Why give the other person the satisfaction of discovering it for themselves? Once it’s out in the open, at least you know it will never become an issue later on in the relationship, and if it does, you can always say, “Well I told you that in the beginning.”

On the other hand, say you have a purely temporary beauty problem—a new pimple, lackluster hair, no-sleep eyes, five extra pounds around the middle. Still, whatever it is, you should point it out. If you don’t point it out and say, “My hair is really dull this time of the month, I’m probably getting my friend,” or “I put on five pounds eating Russell Stover chocolates over Christmas, but I’m taking it off right away”—if you don’t point out these things they might think that your temporary beauty problem is a permanent beauty problem. Why should they think otherwise if you’ve just met them? Remember, they’ve never seen you before in their life. So it’s up to you to set them straight and get them to use their imagination about what your hair must look like when it’s shiny, and what your body must look like when it’s not overweight, and what your dress would look like without the grease spot on it. Even explain that you have much better clothes hanging in your closet than the ones you’re wearing. If they really do like you for yourself, they’ll be willing to use their imagination to think of what you must look like without your temporary beauty problem.

The Philosophy of Andy Warhol (From A to B and Back Again) is worth reading.

What A Rembrandt Can Teach you about Software and Programmers

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A thoughtful passage by David Gelernter in Mirror Worlds: or the Day Software Puts the Universe in a Shoebox…How It Will Happen and What It Will Mean on how looking at a Rembrandt can teach us to better understand not only software but the craft behind it.

Suppose you visit an art museum and walk up to a painting. I say “Ah ha! I see you’re admiring some powdered pigments, mixed with oil and smeared onto what appears to be a canvas panel.” You say “No, you moron. I’m admiring a Rembrandt.” Good. You’re three-quarters of the way towards a deep understanding of software.

How did this happen?

Well clearly we may, if we choose, regard a painting as a coming-together of two separate elements. The paints and canvas—the physical stuff; and the form-giving mind-plan. I’ll call these two elements the body and the disembodied painting respectively.

Both are necessary to the finished product. But they are unequally decisive to its character. If Rembrandt had (while trying to shake out a tablecloth) accidentally chucked his favorite paint set into a canal on the very morning he was destined to make our painting; if he’d accordingly been forced to go down to the basement and hunt up another set—the finished product would be the same. But if he’d altered his mind-plan—the disembodied painting—before setting to work, our finished painting would obviously have been different.

In fact, the disembodied painting is a painting in and of itself— albeit a painting of a special kind, namely an unbodied one. Rembrandt is perfectly entitled to tell his wife “I have a painting in mind” before setting to work. But plainly the mere body is no painting, not in and of itself. If the paints on Rembrandt’s table went around telling people “Hey look at us, we’re a painting,” no-one would believe them.

This distinction is the key to software and its special character. A running program is a machine of a certain kind, an information machine. The program text—the words and symbols that the programmer composes, that “tell the computer what to do” – is a disembodied information machine. Your computer provides a body.

Unlike Rembrandt’s mind plan, a disembodied information machine must be written down precisely and in full. It’s a bit like the engineering drawings for a new toaster in this regard; the machine designer leaves nothing to chance. Unlike Rembrandt’s mind plan or the toaster drawings, on the other hand, a disembodied information machine can be “embodied” automatically. No skill, judgement or human intervention is required. Merely hand your text to a computer (it’s probably stored inside the computer already); the computer itself performs the “embodying.”

So: A running program—an information machine or infomachine for short—is the embodiment of a disembodied machine. In saying
this, we have said a lot. A fairly simple point first, then a subtle and deeply important one—

Some people believe that, when they see a program running, the machine they are watching is a “computer.” True, but not true
enough. The computer, that impressive-looking box with the designer logo, is merely the paint, not the painting. When you say I’m watching this computer do its stuff, you are saying in effect I’m admiring not this Rembrandt but some paint smeared on canvas. Some people imagine the computer as a gifted actor (say) who is handed a program and declaims it feelingly. No: bad image. The computer itself is of the utmost triviality to the workings of the infomachine you are watching. It may decide how fast or slowly the thing runs, and may effect its behaviour just a little around the fringes, but essentially, it is of no logical significance whatever. It is a mere body, and bodies are a dime a dozen.

The second point is harder.

People often find it difficult to keep in mind that, when they see a program text, what they’re looking at is a machine. The fact that, for the time being, the machine they’re looking at has no body confuses them With good reason: This is a subtle, maybe a confusing point. They leap to the conclusion that what programmers do amounts to arranging symbols on paper (or in a computer file) in a certain way. They look at a program and see merely a highly specialized kind of document …

This mistake is fatal to any real understanding of what software is.

Understanding software doesn’t mean understanding how program texts are arranged, it means understanding what the working infomachine itself is like—what actually happens when you embody the thing and turn it on-what kind of structure you are creating when you organize those squiggles-the shape of the finished product, the way information hums through it, the way it grows, shrinks and changes as it runs, the look and feel of the actual computational landscape. This is where software creativity is exercised. This is where the field evolves, metamorphoses and explodes. Talented software designers work with some image of the actual running program uppermost in mind. Failing to see through the program text to the machine it represents is like trying to understand musical notation without grasping that those little sticks and ellipsoids represent sounds.

This kind of information is hard to convey. You can’t directly see a running program. You can sense its workings indirectly, but you can’t open the hood and look right at the mechanism. An ironic reversal of the Rembrandt experience: Here the mind-plan is tangible, but the embodied thing itself is not.

Finally concluding

[I]f you get carried away, and start asserting that “music is the mechanical manipulation of symbols on staff paper,” “programming is mathematics,” you have committed intellectual suicide. You’ve mistaken the means for the end. You’ve cut yourself off absolutely from all real inspiration, creativity and growth. And you have failed, profoundly, to understand the character of your field.

A dangerous mistake. Where software is concerned, an all-too-natural one.

Cognitive Exhaustion: Resting Your Mental Muscle

coge
In the go-go-go world of today we need to be sure we’re giving our mind ample opportunity to rest and relax — recognizing when we need a mental break.

I usually take a walk. Or go to a yoga class.

It turns out how we rest our minds has a big impact. Taking a walk isn’t enough, it depends on where you’re walking.

In Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence, Daniel Goleman elaborates:

Tightly focused attention gets fatigued—much like an overworked muscle—when we push to the point of cognitive exhaustion. The signs of mental fatigue, such as a drop in effectiveness and a rise in distractedness and irritability, signify that the mental effort needed to sustain focus has depleted the glucose that feeds neural energy.

The antidote to attention fatigue is the same as for the physical kind: take a rest. But what rests a mental muscle?

Try switching from the effort of top-down control to more passive bottom-up activities, taking a relaxing break in a restful setting. The most restful surroundings are in nature, argues Stephen Kaplan at the University of Michigan, who proposes what he calls “attention restoration theory.”

Such restoration occurs when we switch from effortful attention, where the mind needs to suppress distractions, to letting go and allowing our attention to be captured by whatever presents itself. But only certain kinds of bottom-up focus act to restore energy for focused attention. Surfing the Web, playing video games, or answering email does not.

We do well to unplug regularly; quiet time restores our focus and composure. But that disengagement is just the first step. What we do next matters, too. Taking a walk down a city street, Kaplan points out, still puts demands on attention— we’ve got to navigate through crowds, dodge cars, and ignore honking horns and the hum of street noise.

In contrast, a walk through a park or in the woods puts little such demand on attention. We can restore by spending time in nature— even a few minutes strolling in a park or any setting rich in fascinations like the muted reds of clouds at sunset or a butterfly’s flutter. This triggers bottom-up attention “modestly,” as Kaplan’s group put it, allowing circuits for top-down efforts to replenish their energy, restoring attentiveness and memory, and improving cognition.

A walk through an arboretum led to better focus on return to concentrated tasks than a stroll though downtown. Even sitting by a mural of a nature scene— particularly one with water in it— is better than the corner coffee shop.

Ben Horowitz: The Struggle

benhorowitz
“Life is a struggle.” — Karl Marx

In The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers, Ben Horowitz describes the struggle.

Every entrepreneur starts her company with a clear vision for success. You will create an amazing environment and hire the smartest people to join you. Together you will build a beautiful product that delights customers and makes the world just a little bit better. It’s going to be absolutely awesome.

Then, after working night and day to make your vision reality, you wake up to find that things did not go as planned. Your company did not unfold like the Jack Dorsey keynote that you listened to when you started. Your product has issues that will be very hard to fix. The market isn’t quite where it was supposed to be. Your employees are losing confidence and some of them have quit. Some of the ones that quit were quite smart and have the remaining ones wondering if staying makes sense. You are running low on cash and your venture capitalist tells you that it will be difficult to raise money given the impending European catastrophe. You lose a competitive battle. You lose a loyal customer. You lose a great employee. The walls start closing in. Where did you go wrong? Why didn’t your company perform as envisioned? Are you good enough to do this? As your dreams turn into nightmares, you find yourself in The Struggle.

It’s at this point that you start to question things. This is when things get dark. Depression sets in. Options look narrow. You just want to hit snooze over and over again and hide under the covers. The Struggle, however, is also where greatness is born.

The Struggle is when you wonder why you started the company in the first place.

The Struggle is when people ask you why you don’t quit and you don’t know the answer.

The Struggle is when your employees think you are lying and you think they may be right.

The Struggle is when food loses its taste.

The Struggle is when you don’t believe you should be CEO of your company. The Struggle is when you know that you are in over your head and you know that you cannot be replaced. The Struggle is when everybody thinks you are an idiot, but nobody will fire you. The Struggle is where self-doubt becomes self-hatred.

The Struggle is when you are having a conversation with someone and you can’t hear a word that they are saying because all you can hear is The Struggle.

The Struggle is when you want the pain to stop. The Struggle is unhappiness.

The Struggle is when you go on vacation to feel better and you feel worse.

The Struggle is when you are surrounded by people and you are all alone. The Struggle has no mercy.

The Struggle is the land of broken promises and crushed dreams. The Struggle is a cold sweat. The Struggle is where your guts boil so much that you feel like you are going to spit blood.

The Struggle is not failure, but it causes failure. Especially if you are weak. Always if you are weak.

Most people are not strong enough.

Every great entrepreneur from Steve Jobs to Mark Zuckerberg went through The Struggle and struggle they did, so you are not alone. But that does not mean that you will make it. You may not make it. That is why it is The Struggle.

The Struggle is where greatness comes from.

The Struggle is where we turn adversity into opportunity.

Ben offers some things that may help you through the struggle.

There is no answer to The Struggle, but here are some things that helped me:

  • Don’t put it all on your shoulders – It is easy to think that the things that bother you will upset your people more. That’s not true. The opposite is true. Nobody takes the losses harder than the person most responsible. Nobody feels it more than you. You won’t be able to share every burden, but share every burden that you can. Get the maximum number of brains on the problems even if the problems represent existential threats. When I ran Opsware and we were losing too many competitive deals, I called an all-hands and told the whole company that we were getting our asses kicked, and if we didn’t stop the bleeding, we were going to die. Nobody blinked. The team rallied, built a winning product and saved my sorry ass.
  • This is not checkers; this is mutherfuckin’ chess – Technology businesses tend to be extremely complex. The underlying technology moves, the competition moves, the market moves, the people move. As a result, like playing three-dimensional chess on Star Trek, there is always a move. You think you have no moves? How about taking your company public with $2M in trailing revenue and 340 employees, with a plan to do $75M in revenue the next year? I made that move. I made it in 2001, widely regarded as the worst time ever for a technology company to go public. I made it with six weeks of cash left. There is always a move.
  • Focus on the road – When they teach you how to drive a racecar, they tell you to focus on the road when you go around a turn. They tell you that because if you focus on the wall, then you will drive straight into the wall. If you focus on how you might fail, then you will fail. Even if you only have one bullet left in the gun and you have to hit the target, focus on the target. You might not hit it, but you definitely won’t hit if you focus on other things.
  • Play long enough and you might get lucky – In the technology game, tomorrow looks nothing like today. If you survive long enough to see tomorrow, it may bring you the answer that seems so impossible today.
  • Don’t take it personally – The predicament that you are in is probably all your fault. You hired the people. You made the decisions. But you knew the job was dangerous when you took it. Everybody makes mistakes. Every CEO makes thousands of mistakes. Evaluating yourself and giving yourself an “F” doesn’t help.
  • Remember that this is what separates the women from the girls. If you want to be great, this is the challenge. If you don’t want to be great, then you never should have started a company.

The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers offers a piercing look into the hard choices that leaders must make.

Vincent van Gogh on Why Never Learning How to Paint Helped Him

van Gogh View of the beach at Scheveningen

In a letter to his brother Theo, dated September 1882, found in Ever Yours: The Essential Letters, Vincent van Gogh describes the advantages of never learning to paint.

While making it I said to myself: let me not leave before there’s something of an autumn evening in it, something mysterious, something with seriousness in it.

However, because this effect doesn’t last, I had to paint quickly. The figures were done with a few vigorous strokes with a firm brush — in one go. I was struck by how firmly the slender trunks stood in the ground — I began them using a brush, but because of the ground, which was already impasted, one brushstroke simply disappeared. Then I squeezed roots and trunks into it from the tube, and modelled them a little with the brush. Yes, now they stand in it — shoot up out of it — stand firmly rooted in it. In a sense I’m glad that I’ve never learned how to paint. Probably then I would have LEARNED to ignore effects like this. Now I say, no, that’s exactly what I want — if it’s not possible then it’s not possible — I want to try it even though I don’t know how it’s supposed to be done. I don’t know myself how I paint. I sit with a white board before the spot that strikes me — I look at what’s before my eyes — I say to myself, this white board must become something — I come back, dissatisfied — I put it aside, and after I’ve rested a little, feeling a kind of fear, I take a look at it — then I’m still dissatisfied — because I have that marvellous nature too much in mind for me to be satisfied — but still, I see in my work an echo of what struck me, I see that nature has told me something, has spoken to me and that I’ve written it down in shorthand. In my shorthand there may be words that are indecipherable — errors or gaps — yet something remains of what the wood or the beach or the figure said — and it isn’t a tame or conventional language which doesn’t stem from nature itself but from a studied manner or a system.