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Mindset by Carol Dweck - 3 Big Ideas

You probably think if you do bad on a test that you’re not smart - but the author of this book might say, “Hey stupid, there’s hope for you yet”


Carol Dweck is a name that all social psychologists recognize. She revolutionized the industry for Pete's sake. And with this book nonetheless.

There is a choice of mindset you didn’t know you had. There’s a good mindset and a bad mindset. This book helps you tell the difference and then how to use or instill the good mindset.

In this week's show:

  • Why telling your kids they are smart can be a bad idea

  • How the right mindset can multiply potential

  • How to use or instill the right mindset.

So, what are three things we can use from this book?

3 Things You Can Use

1. The sneaky implications of praising talent

You sneak a peek at your child doing their homework. They quickly finish and then blow the smoke off the tip of their pencil.

You jump from behind the corner and begin the shared celebration, "You're so smart! You learned that so quickly. Wow you're really talented!"

These are the things you heard as a kid and the things you tell your kids.

Bolstering self-esteem and giving them a great accomplished feeling...

All good… right?


If you tell someone they are smart after they learn something quickly, Carol Dweck, the author, says you're not really doing them good - what you’re really doing is associating learning quickly with being smart. So in the cases when they don't learn something quickly, to them it means they are not smart at this.

It turns the problem they are having a hard time with into a failure instead of a challenge to overcome.

But learning quickly is being smart, right!?

Yes but by explicitly associating the two in the child’s mind, you make not learning quickly a failure. You set up the conditions so that when the time comes and their pencil is stuck to the same spot on the paper, they think they are not smart at it.

This happens anytime you reward talent by telling them they are talented, directly associating their behavior with their talent.

In these cases, they see what happens as a direct measure of their competence and worth.

And it turns the world into a static place of people with talent versus non-talent: Smart versus dumb, champion versus loser, and pole-vaulter extraordinaire versus old-man-esque two-foot-tall person.

By telling them they are smart, you box them in and doom them to a world where there’s a good chance of failure when they try something new. This, you may agree, is not ideal.

"Oh I get it, I should tell my kids they are dumb."

No no.

2. Grit and Growth

The growth mindset is the alternative.

It is a cocktail of: a particular, useful attitude, Angela Duckworth’s grit equation and a dismissal of the notion of failure.

You close your eyes, throw back the cocktail and suddenly feel warm inside. You open your eyes and the world is a dynamic, colorful landscape teeming with wisps and clouds made of potential and you understand that potential can be materialized into almost whatever you want if you apply to it an appropriate amount of effort and persistence.

That’s right. Your world just went from the gray, boxy landscape of faceless humans walking around with name tags that had, smart or dumb, fast or slow, or mean or nice on them into the world of oh the places you’ll go with just one growth mindset cocktail.

The server behind the counter sees your expression change and asks you what just happened.

You, in communication with the ether of the growth landscape, rival the great speeches of humanity and say:

“Well Bob, it’s simple.

The world of achievement is not static and is not exclusive to the smarties or the fasties.

It is indeed based on merit. But merit is accomplished through the combination of both talent and effort, wherefore effort counts twice.

And through that effort you must persist with the passion of your desires. Where there is a desire, there will be passion and there will be you, at the fork between keeping your head down and your nametag on – or to ripping it off and pushing toward your desires in the growth landscape, free of capability labels or stasis.

And if you’d like to ride the clouds of potential to the end of the rainbow with me, I’d suggest you whip up another one of those cocktails.”

3. How to develop a growth mindset

But how do we cultivate a growth mindset?

How do we change the way we see our qualities. Having them go from being carved in stone to being more fluid traits, useful to us and under our control?

How do we have ourselves, instead of anxiously worrying about being perfect right now, see ourselves as working on it, learning, challenging and progressing. Pitting inherent ability against effort and improvement and putting our money on effort.

How do we change from the static mindset to the growth mindset? How do we respond to our kids in order to develop this mindset to rule all mindsets?

Praise effort.

Have them reflect on the process and their growth. When they succeed, say things like, “Wow you really worked hard on that!” and “I bet your brain is growing in there!”

Sal Khan of Khan academy once told a story of how he had used this method with his son. And while they were reading and his son was having trouble with a few words his son remarked “I think I can feel my brain growing.”

In the game of mindset, it’s fixed beliefs or growth beliefs. Being boxed in or having potential.

When people drop the talent label mindsets of good or bad, strong or weak, they’re better able to learn useful strategies and they remind themselves that they are unfinished human beings, capable of progress, knowing the more they work, the better they’ll become.


Don’t praise or accept praise based on talent or smarts because underneath this form of praise is the mindset of just two options: success or failure.

The growth mindset is all about recognizing the world as a place of potential and realizing that potential is accessed mainly through a combination of effort and persistence.

To cultivate a growth mindset, praise effort, process and progress.

This book is just what you’d expect when you get a distinguished developmental psychologist to write a book for the layperson – and understandable walkthrough of a great idea that impacts achievement, parenting, business, relationships and all the other places that involve your mind.

And - it was not just sunshine and flowers. It was realistic and therefor believable, pointing out that not everybody can do everything, accomplishment takes real effort, and talent and smarts do play a part in success.

Sorry this show was super late - I was working on a different show that I was going to do differently, it ended up taking a really long time because I'm a fledgling editor with hungry eyes, I only got halfway done and now it's on pause. This is something I've been calling a misstep.

But apart from that, this was a useful book and hopefully a useful show.

Subscribe so you don't miss next week's video and -- we'll see you next week!


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Punching Sounds by: Mike Koenig

Music from and Otis Macdonald

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