Sometimes a book is mentioned so often that I assume I’ve already heard all of its content. I assumed this about Mindset, because various education-like resources sprinkle references to “fixed vs. growth mindset” as though the phrase were a magical salt that transforms any bland instruction into a life-changing experience.
Even though the frequency of reference annoys me, the mindset distinction is still a valuable concept. I found the book to be worthwhile because it made me aware of mindset beyond the context of learning something new. My notes aren’t an outline, rather some bits I found meaningful that hopefully motivate other people to consider reading the book.
Mindset can be situational
Sometimes the shallow “fixed vs. growth mindset” refrain reduces to “If you have a growth mindset, you can do ANYTHING! But if you have a fixed mindset, you’re screwed for life.” Some people probably read about these mindsets and decide that the glorious promises of growth mindset-edness must be closed to them because the fixed mindset resonates more. However, the simplistic descriptions of mindset skate over how they’re influenced by environment. To some extent people can be extremely “fixed” or “growth,” but the majority of people can waver depending on the situation.
I highly recommend reading this book while you’re unemployed or seeking work (as I did). Job seeking forces most people into a fixed mindset, because you’re interacting (maybe exclusively) with people who want to judge your worth as an employee. When you feel like your main task is to prove your own value, it’s natural to fall into a fixed mindset. Other examples of fixed-mindset-inducing environments include schools with unhelpful testing practices, or companies dominated by a sense of competition.
Effort and Mindset
A major reason to encourage a growth mindset is to encourage effort. In a fixed mindset (or a fixed mindset environment), people feel like exerting effort does nothing except prove them to be incompetent sometimes.
The book mentions that people often exert low effort to obscure their “ability” when they feel subject to external judgment. A prime example of this is graded participation, which remains one of my most abhorred school practices. Having someone evaluate what’s immediately on my mind felt like the most offensive, shallowest form of judgment, much worse than tests or homework where I could at least enjoy a process of arriving at answers. So I generally chose complete silence and an inaccurate grade over enduring judgment.
Mindsets in Relationships
Fixed mindsets are problematic for relationships, especially romantic ones. The book describes three potential ways to have fixed mindset thinking in a relationship – about your own qualities, your partner’s qualities, and the relationship’s qualities. People with a fixed mindset about their own qualities are likely to feel in competition with their friends or significant others, and therefore they’re often unable to feel truly happy for others. A fixed mindset about the relationship causes people to believe that having to work at a relationship means it’s not meant to be, that their partners should be able to read their minds, and that they should agree on everything.
I’ve historically had a fixed mindset about relationship qualities. I’d hear other people describe their relationships and judge them to be examples of “settling.” It also caused me to be skeptical about “attachment,” and the idea that you should be with someone simply because you like spending time with them (my therapist tells me is a little odd… I’m working on / thinking about it).
A Note about Self-Help Books
It’s hard to escape feeling like self-help books are silly, because they’re all marketed as revelatory. I think the key to using self-help books is to either read none or everything. If you read a few they can become unhealthy gospel, but reading many creates useful lenses with which to view your experience.