This is a review and appreciation of Carol Dweck’s book on mindset. The topic of mindset is important to me because I’m a teacher and I often struggle with my own sense of melancholy and of having a static self.
The worst part about the book is that Dweck never properly defines what mindset is. There is never a sentence or paragraph in which she says, “the technical definition of mindset is…” She associates mindset with beliefs (1) and a way of seeing the world (244). From reading the book I did manage to come up with my own technical definition of mindset: the beliefs, attitudes, and processes a group or individual uses to respond to the world around them.
The other part of the book I didn’t like is that it gives too many examples. I’d give a long list of evidence to prove this, but I’d be doing the same to you in my review. In all seriousness, I prefer things to go this way: explanation, evidence (enough to be convincing), followed by how-to. In some cases, the evidence given by way of examples makes the book too clunky. But I’m not the one who wrote an excellent book on mindset, she did!
A final negative is that Dweck leaves out a lot of information about the importance of IQ. While I suppose that most of the people reading the book would have an above average IQ, any book on the relationship of mind and achievement ought to mention the importance of IQ. I do see why she left it out: 1) she wants people to succeed, so supplying them with self-limiting beliefs is the opposite of her goal 2) it’s bad marketing to psyche people out of the lessons you intend to teach them.
The key distinction Dweck makes is between a growth and a fixed mindset. The growth mindset is a set of beliefs, attitudes, etc, that tend toward personal growth and the growth and improvement of those around you. The fixed mindset is simply the opposite. Because these are beliefs, ultimately, about the self they have wide ranging implications. Dweck applies mindset principles to school, romance, friendship, business, coaching, sports, and parenting. If you read the book, the chapters that don’t directly apply to you can be safely skipped. The relationship chapter is particularly good. Recently my pastor told me that he was impressed by the ‘stoic culture’ my wife and I had developed for problem solving, fighting, and disagreement in general. While I hadn’t read Dweck’s book when we were trying to learn to approach life that way, the flawed mindsets she outlines in her book are roughly similar to the patterns we explicitly tried to avoid and the positive mindset she recommends is our own almost verbatim, “To me the whole point of marriage is to encourage your partner’s development and have them encourage yours” (160).
Another major positive for educators is that Dweck sees that education is not merely about information nor about social programming. Instead education is about training people to take ownership of their own learning while providing a nurturing atmosphere for the inevitable difficulties and failures they will experience (201-202). A good teacher provides extremely high standards and criticizes the students’ work with a view to improving it, not the students themselves.
I would suggest that the most powerful chapters in the book are “Parents, Teachers, and Coaches: Where do mindsets come from?” and “Changing Mindsets: a workshop.” These two chapters are really worth the price of the book.
I highly recommend this book to teachers, parents, managers, and ministers. The positives far outweigh the negatives, especially because most people like having books with several examples included.