“Our life is what our thoughts make it.” -Marcus Aurelius
The philosopher-king Marcus Aurelius understood that a “good” life is merely a perception derived from one’s thoughts about his or her life. These thoughts lead to action reinforcing one’s perception of life.
Our mindset frames our thoughts. Our thoughts influence our actions. Therefore a good mindset will produce good thoughts and create a good life.
Good Mindset = Good Thoughts = Good Life
But what is a good mindset? Enter Stanford psychologist, Carol Dweck, and her research on mindsets and their effects on achievement and success.
The Power of Mindsets
“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.” — Carol Dweck
In her groundbreaking book Mindset, Dweck posits that two fundamental mindsets dominate our thoughts and consequently our actions: the growth and the fixed mindsets. The growth mindset is based on the belief that your basic qualities are malleable and able to be cultivated through effort. The fixed mindset is based on the belief that your abilities are permanent.
Dweck further analyzes these mindsets and their effects on various domains such as sports, business, relationships, ability, and parenting. She concludes that the growth mindset leads to higher achievement whereas the fixed mindset often leads to early plateaus and lower levels of success.
The Fixed Mindset
Through Dweck’s research, the fixed mindset hampers success and must be avoided in domains where one seeks to find achievement. If we believe that our abilities such as creativity and intelligence cannot be changed, any successes become confirmations of our ingrained skill set and an affirmation of our worthiness. This leads us to avoid failure at all costs in fear of exposing our true selves.
Let’s use a fixed mindset to interpret intelligence. In this system of thought, we believe our intelligence is static, leading us to want to appear intrinsically smart. This can result in: avoiding challenges, giving up easily when faced with obstacles, not giving 100% effort, ignoring criticism, and feeling threatened by the success of others.
If we see life through a fixed mindset:
We become trapped in a black-and-white world of success and failure.
We take easier classes in school to maintain our identity as a “straight-A” student.
We fear effort because it means we’re not good enough.
We become kings of remedial jobs.
We surround ourselves with yes-men.
We avoid social interactions.
We blame others and dodge confrontation.
We reject change.
We embrace ideologies without questioning them.
We believe in an idealized “true love” where our partner is instantaneously and perfectly compatible.
We avoid responsibility.
We play it safe.
The Growth Mindset
Believing that our qualities can be cultivated leads to different fundamental thoughts and actions. This mindset changes the implication of failure from unworthy to opportunity. Failure becomes a minor setback and a chance to learn. This growth-oriented worldview places deep meaning in effort, learning, and reaching one’s potential.
Using a growth mindset, let’s approach intelligence again. Unlike the fixed mindset, we believe intelligence can be developed, leading us to want to learn. A desire for learning often results in: embracing challenges, working through obstacles, valuing effort, learning from criticism, and finding inspiration in the success of others.
If we have a growth mindset:
We live in a world of potentials, where focused learning and effort will lead to a “good” life.
We embrace challenges.
We value effort’s role in achievement.
We listen to opposing viewpoints.
We aren’t afraid to let go of false presuppositions.
We face our fears.
We compromise when necessary.
We take responsibility.
We embrace change.
Praise and its Effect on Mindset Shaping
While reading Mindset, I was most interested in the effects of praise from parents, teachers, and coaches on children. We tend to adopt a balance of fixed and growth mindsets in childhood/adolescence, often directly from how we are praised by those we look up to the most. Through Dweck’s research working with children, she concludes, “praising children’s intelligence harms their motivation and it harms their performance.”
The following are examples of praise from a parent and the resulting mindset we might expect a child to develop:
“You learned that so quickly! You’re so smart!” = If I don’t learn something quickly I’m not smart.
“Look at that drawing. Martha, is she the next Picasso or what?” = I shouldn’t try drawing anything hard or they’ll see I’m no Picasso.
“Jimmy, you’ve had straight A’s since the first grade. We’re so proud of you.” = I better not take any hard classes next year. If I don’t get an A, my parents won’t be proud of me.
Parents who praise their children strictly on intelligence or talent inadvertently contribute to the development a fixed mindset in their child. Dweck advocates focusing praise on the processes they used, such as strategies, choices, and efforts, which resulted in the achievement.
Let’s take a look at the last example and frame it in a process-oriented way.
“Jimmy, you’ve put so much effort into studying and learning, which is helping you to excel in school. We’re proud of you.” = I should continue to work hard at studying and learning, and my parents will continue to be proud of me.
The Mindset Shift Domino Effect
Looking back at my own life, I realize that when I was younger I was dominated by a fixed mindset. After discovering mixed martial arts (MMA), I shifted towards a growth mindset, which trickled into many different areas of my life.
In school, I placed a heavy emphasis on getting good grades. I took easier classes. I often failed to raise my hand in class for fear of answering incorrectly and looking “stupid” in front of my peers. I was (and still am) afraid of looking dumb. But this is something I’m working on.
I didn’t try out for my university soccer team for fear of being rejected. I was an all-state high school player and placed such a high value on my achievements in soccer to define my own self-worth. My inner dialogue told me if I didn’t make the university team, it would be a failure.
Interestingly enough, I experienced major mindset shifts after college once I began training in MMA. Starting out as a complete novice in combat sports is extremely humbling — not to mention painful. Getting smashed day in and day out sucks, but if you stay committed, you begin to see the results of your effort.
The beautiful thing about combat sports is that everything you learn has an immediate feedback mechanism. There’s no bullshit. What you do either works or it doesn’t. As each week went by, I began to learn new techniques, develop a deeper understanding of the arts, and could see the direct correlation between progress and effort.
I fell in love with learning. I realized the importance of effort. And I began to treasure the process.
Once these things happened, my newfound growth mindset began to spread to other areas of my life. I was inspired to pick up a camera out of curiosity and self-taught my way to obtaining jobs in videography and photography, filming some of my heroes like MMA legends Anderson Silva and Lyoto Machida. I created Mana Sport, a clothing company, and failed — but it’s all a part of the learning process. I created the Mana Kids Foundation, to help underprivileged kids train in martial arts. I began fighting and became an amateur MMA champion, with my first professional fight coming up in less than a month. I’ve developed a stronger relationship with my girlfriend of 7 years.
From my own experience, I believe that once you understand and value the importance of effort, learning, and the process, it will help you develop a growth mindset in many areas of life. Although I still have so much work to do escaping many of my fixed mindset traps, I look forward to the process.
Which Mindset Do You Have?
Carol Dweck’s Mindset will shift your worldview. When possible, don’t be a fixed mindset approval junkie. Validation is just an ephemeral dopamine boost. Growth is the key to reaching your potential.
Every single day for the rest of your life, Morpheus will present you with the option of choosing the blue pill or the red pill. The blue pill, the fixed mindset, will leave you trapped in a limited state of dependence on validation and a fear of failure. The red pill, which is growth mindset, will help you break through boundaries to the limitless unknown.
The choice is yours. Blue or red? Fixed or growth?
Mindset by Carol Dweck is book #1 of 25 of Tom Bilyeu’s reading list. Impact Theory has inspired me to read and write about all 25 books. Please follow my journey at vincetheanomaly.com. Thank you for reading.