Part 2 of Aaron Swartz’s Raw Nerve series. Raw Nerve on read+reflect.
Carol Dweck, in a study, gave children puzzle after puzzle to solve, increasing in difficulty. The subjects fell in two categories: kids that weren’t successful in solving them, who said that they were too hard and gave up, and kids who were successful, who loved the failure they were experiencing, and kept going at it.
Dweck called the group that gave up fixed mindset individuals, and the group that persisted growth mindset individuals.
In the fixed mindset, success comes from proving how great you are. Effort is a bad thing — if you have to try hard and ask questions, you obviously can’t be very good. When you find something you can do well, you want to do it over and over, to show how good you are at it.
In the growth mindset, success comes from growing. Effort is what it’s all about — it’s what makes you grow. When you get good at something, you put it aside and look for something harder so that you can keep growing.
Fixed-mindset people feel smart when they don’t make mistakes, growth-mindset people feel smart when they struggle with something for a long time and then finally figure it out. Fixies try to blame the world when things go bad, growthers look to see what they can change about themselves. Fixies are afraid to try hard — because if they fail, it means they’re a failure. Growthers are afraid of not trying.
Growth mindset folks found the problem as an opportunity to learn, develop, and improve themselves. And Dweck found this in many different realms, like in love, business, and sports.
And Dweck found that we could change our mindset, by focusing on what we did rather than what we were: “Even small interventions — like telling students they were doing well because they tried hard, rather than because they were smart — had huge effects.”
Aaron, when he read this, already knew this. But he also realized that there are things that he is also has a fixed mindset about. His main one was the introversion/extroversion problem, where he identified himself as an introvert. But really, growth can be made there too.
But as I’ve grown, I’ve found that’s hardly the end of the story. I’ve started to get good at leading a conversation or cracking people up with a joke. I like telling stories at a party a story or buzzing about a room saying ‘hi’ to people. I get a rush from it! Sure, I’m still not the most party-oriented person I know, but I no longer think we fit into any neat introversion/extroversion buckets.
The dichotomy between the fixed minset and a growth mindset is a real one. I think we all subconsciously understand this: that we sometimes do want to go outside our comfort zone and develop, but we’re held back by the fixed mindset. Sometimes we know this is happening. Sometimes we don’t.
But it bears repeating that you’re neither only a fixed mindset or a growth mindset person. We have different mindsets for different things. Introversion, for me, is also something that I previously saw as a fixed thing, but throughout the past six months of traveling, I know that’s not the case. I changed that, and changed for the better. Relationships, for me, is something that I’m still stuck in a fixed mindset on, but it’s slowly changing.
What we need to do is know when we’re having a fixed mindset about something, and persuade ourselves, if it’s the right time, to adopt a growth mindset about it.
I think we can do that by changing our mental script1 when we give up. When we feel like we want to give up on something or just accept things the way they are, we should inject the idea of “well, maybe I’m having this fixed mindset about this, and I should be focusing on growing. Should I take this opportunity to grow instead?”
I wonder how well that mental re-scripting might work. I think I’ll try it.
(Fascinating thought: do we actually have these subconscious fixed mindsets? That we avoid doing things because we don’t think we can do them, but we don’t even consciously acknowledge our decision to avoid them? Can this method fix that?)
1 In true CBT form. Unfortunately, I have a feeling that CBT doesn’t change the underlying problem, but it’s somewhere to start. And perhaps adopting this script, in this situation, could lead to a change in the root cause, which is a tendency to have a fixed mindset.