I love a-ha moments. They are fantastic! In an instant you feel like a tiny piece of the meaning of life just falls into place and they make me high for weeks.
I had several of these moments when I recently read the bestseller book Mindset by Dr. Carol S. Dweck based on decades of scientific research of the human mind. In this book she talks about why our success in life is shaped by the state of our minds rather than our abilities and talents and about why we should focus on learning not proving we’re smart.
She describes two different types of mindsets:
- The fixed mindset
- The growth mindset
The fixed mindset: A need for constant validation
The fixed mindset is when you believe that your talents, wits and qualities are carved in stone. Your IQ is static and given to you by birth. This means that you will continuously feel the need to prove yourself over and over. Every situation becomes one where you feel the need for affirmation and to be perfect. People with a fixed mindset feel smart only when they appear flawless.
A fixed mindset is always trying to convince yourself and others that you have a royal flush when you’re secretly worried it’s a pair of tens – Dr. Carol Dweck
The growth mindset: Cultivation through effort
When you instead rest assured that your qualities and talents are cultivated through effort you have a growth mindset. Not to be misunderstood as anyone can become a math genius, but more in the way that no one knows where passion, toil and training can take you.
A few months ago I visited the house of Charles Darwin and his family in Downe and I stood in the very room where he wrote The Origin of Species. I saw handwritten excerpts from his research trips – and then I remember reading something that astounded me. Charles Darwin was an averagely intelligent and very ordinary child who didn’t do particularly well in school. It caught me completely by surprise as I suppose I had imagined him being a genius by birth. On the contrary he became a genius by effort and passion. A passion you could feel when walking in his experimental gardens and seeing his meticulous light studies of the small plants on the window till.
Which of the mindsets you choose will have a great influence on the outcome of your life. For me it has become quite clear that like many others I suffered greatly growing up from a fixed mindset. That’s how society shaped and still shapes us. I just didn’t know how to describe it until now.
You may have failed, but you’re not a failure
Another one of the points in Dr. Dwecks research I could relate to were the different feelings that occur in a fixed mindset when something has failed. It transforms from an action (I failed) to an identity (I am a failure). This will then trigger unpleasant feelings and an emotional state that we will wish to avoid in the future. Hence, it becomes the fear of making mistakes. An interesting correlation I had never been aware of.
In a growth mindset failure doesn’t define you. It’s a problem to be faced, dealt with, and learned from – Dr. Carol Dweck
All in all, I can highly recommend this book. It is based on solid scientific research, interesting experiments and it’s easy to understand. And trust me, if you are anything like me it will give you a number of epiphanies along the way – also if you have children.