What Makes People Different

I have listed Mindset – The New Psychology of Success as one of my favorite books. That action may indeed be an understatement. Rarely has a single work given me the opportunity to think and expand my thoughts as much as this work by Carol S. Dweck. I must thank her someday. Today, I write my initial thoughts and reactions from reading Mindset. Reading this book stimulates many thoughts and ideas that I can use to improve my life. I sincerely hope this blog encourages you in your own life exploration.

So What Makes People Different

In a phrase, people legitimately differ by whether they have a growth or fixed mindset. Seemingly, forever, people have noted the difference between themselves: physical characteristics, environment, wealth, bloodlines, and many others. Man, in the search to answer complex questions has often turned to the distinguishing characteristics as an explanation. For many, the concept of success, however defined, presents one of these eternal questions: What makes success happen, and why do individuals differ in their success.

Carol Dweck, author of Mindset, has sought to answer some of these questions throughout her research career. However, unlike many people, her explanation is focused on a distinguishing characteristic that is not easily observed, but is strikingly simplistic, intuitive, and supported by the observations and study of others. In my opinion her writings are dead on in addressing human differences. It is in this sense I use the qualifier “legitimately” to describe the difference in mindset.

People who adopt a growth mindset as part of their core being believe that abilities are to be cultivated and developed without limit. The other people have adopted a fixed mindset as part of their core being. People with the fixed mindset believe that abilities are inherent to the person and limited.

Interestingly, there is no middle ground. You and I are one or the other. Both mindsets allow for the progress of talent by the young or inexperienced. However, the mindsets differ dramatically in how they interpret what is observed in the stage of progress.

For the people with growth mindsets, development or progress is the experience of learning, improving, and reacting to feedback. It is the process where you mark status at a point in time, only to improve from that point on should continued progress be of value. However, for the people with fixed mindsets, development or progress is the experience of demonstrating, illustrating, and gaining control. It is the process where you learn to use what you have been given at birth; stumbles along the way are either a limit in talent reached or a point in time where you have yet to harness the full control of your talent. For one group, there is no maximum, but there is value for effort expended. For the other, there is a maximum, there is a limit on what you can achieve with the talents given.

Where Do People Get Their Mindset

Our individual mindset results from the collection of messages we receive throughout life and how we interpret them. Once we adopt an initial mindset, future messages either reinforce the chosen belief systems or encourages us to consider that the other might be more appropriate. We are sensitive to these messages throughout our lives because we adopt and use our mindset to fulfill at least two core human needs:

  1. The need to define who we are – self esteem
  2. The need to define how we participate with others in who we are – our capacity to earn love and respect from others

Either mindset helps us address these two core needs. When we adopt a growth mindset, we begin a quest for improvement and define ourselves as work not yet complete. Growth mindset people derive self-esteem then, from learning to improve at a chosen skill. They perform for others in society as an exchange for the chosen medium (i.e. money, love, praise, etc.). Through this exchange, growth mindset people fulfill their core human need for earning love and respect by their ability to make an exchange. In most instances society increases the level of the exchange for those possessing a more desirable skill, thus the growth mindset person is continually improving and receiving potentially greater exchanges from society as they discover new ways to achieve the more desirable skill.

For the person who adopts a fixed mindset, the core needs are addressed differently. Society continues to make exchanges and to increase the level of the exchange for those possessing a more desirable skill, yet when a fixed mindset person reaches what they believe is a limit in their talent, they have no route to increased rewards from society. As society is not static in its definition of desirable, the fixed mindset person encounters a threat to self-esteem and their personal faith in their own ability to earn love and respect. In the fixed mindset, the exchange becomes the end all to confirm self-esteem, love and respect. Others performing differently become a threat to the fulfillment of core human needs, rather than a resource from which to learn and grow.

As human beings, we pass along our beliefs to others in the messages and actions we perform everyday. In this way, every interaction is a meeting of mindsets. The subject and context of the interaction can be any group of traits needed as a member of society (relationship, work, sports, household skills, etc.). The table below illustrates these interactions.

Characteristics of Mindset development and reinforcement Sending a Fixed Mindset Message Sending a Growth Mindset Message
Receiver has Fixed Mindset Subject Matter: Comparisons of Performance

Receiver: Confirms or Establishes belief that they too have a limit to ability that must/will be compared

Subject Matter: Progress Discussion, Leaning from Mistakes, Plan for Improvement

Receiver: Challenges fixed mindset, Creates frustration by acknowledging limits talents, or entitlement from acknowledging the current lack of control with inherent skills and where future control might take the receiver

Receiver has a Growth Mindset Subject Matter: Comparison of Performance

Receiver: Establishes a statement of fact for today, creates curiosity for how did the desirable performance occur, or curiosity for to help others for who undesirable performance continues to occur

Subject Matter: Progress Discussion, Leaning from Mistakes, Plan for Improvement

Receiver: Confirms learning is possible, stimulates ideas for new plans, and activities for improvement should they be valued

These interactions are predictable, and we should keep them in mind for their affects on others. Obviously only growth mindset people can lead fixed mindset people to the growth mindset.

What Does It Take To Change A Fixed Mindset?

Fundamentally, a fixed mindset person has to understand that the brain forms new connections and grows (connections) when new things are learned. This critical knowledge related to an activity of importance for the person (schoolwork, athletic performance, job performance, etc.) is the critical step because when people understand this concept it shatters the core premise of the fixed mindset belief.

However, as we all use the two mindsets to meet our core needs surrounding self-esteem, love and respect, the transition from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset can be unsettling. People in transition must figure out how to address their self-esteem and their capacity to earn love and or respect from others while in transition.

Key steps in a transition

The key step in a transition from the fixed to growth mindset follows the same path the growth mindset person uses to learn from a failure or challenge.

  1. Identify goals that support the trait’s value (i.e. answers the questions about self esteem, and earning love and respect from others)
  2. Identify plans, strategies and activities that keep you on track to achieving the goal (often the most difficult step)
  3. Separate plans and activities into things you can be done as an individual and things requiring support from others
  4. Take actions to gain the support from others who are more skilled (ask questions, make friends, make a reciprocal exchange of benefits, network, etc.)
  5. Take the identified individual actions for improvement
  6. Practice, grow and learn from activities

Key steps for a growth mindset adult/coach/parent/etc. to transition a child (i.e. someone not prepared to identify goals plans and activities on their own)

  1. Live the growth mindset around the person
  2. Plan and structure interactions to illustrate learning and growth and avoid the fixed mindset traps of comparison to others and judging outcomes
    1. Change questions for a focus on growth rather than comparisons. Celebrate progress.
      1. What did you learn today?
      2. What did you learn from a mistake made today?
      3. What are the examples of trying and effort made today?
    2. Talk about personal experiences that evidence growth and learning
      1. Skills you have today that you did not have yesterday
      2. Mistakes made in the past that held the key to future solutions
      3. Things you are struggling with today and the progress you are making to your goals
    3. Shift from fixed mindset comparisons of others to a focus on the learning, progress and individual efforts by others to grow
    4. Gather support from others around the subject. Ask others to shift their support from focus on outcomes and more toward progress and growth
    5. Support the subject as they search for plans strategies and activities to reach their goals, while staying careful address the two human needs
      1. Self-esteem
      2. Capacity to earn love an respect

Wrap Up Today

Several of these actions and suggestions could be blog topics of their own and to this consider me a willing student ready to help our joint learning.

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