Is Success All In Your Mind?

mindsetIn Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Dr. Carol Dweck makes a powerful argument that the views we adopt for ourselves profoundly affect how we live our lives. In particular, her research demonstrates a positive and substantial advantage to those who live with a growth mindset versus a fixed mindset.

Here’s how she characterizes the two:



Core Belief Intelligence and competencies as innate endowments that are set at birth. Intelligence and competencies as qualities to be developed with passion, toil, and training.
Work Ethic Seeks to minimize effort and get by with natural talent; considers hard work fruitless. Views effort as a means of continuous improvement and the path to mastery.
Challenges Avoids trials; thrives when things are safely within their grasp. Seeks out challenges as a means to stretch themselves and learn new skills.
Failures Experienced as a haunting trauma for which they’ll either assign blame or make excuses. Recognized as a problem to be faced, processed, and learned from.
Self-Assessment Tends to be either overinflated to stroke their egos, or deflated in response to setbacks. Assesses their own abilities accurately – neither inflated or deflated.
Criticism Ignores constructive feedback and denigrates the source. Evaluates feedback and its source and learns from it.
Success of Others Feels threatened; wants to take them down. Finds lessons and inspiration; wants to emulate.

Dr. Dweck develops these concepts in the context of achievement in school, sports, business, and relationships. For example:

  • Great teachers believe in the growth of intellect and talent. They set high standards and teach a love of learning all the while nurturing achievement through purposeful effort.
  • Great athletes with a growth mindset: (i) find success in doing their best while learning and improving; (ii) use set-backs as “wake up” calls to redouble their efforts; and, (iii) take charge of the process that brings – and sustains – success.
  • Business leaders with a growth mindset constantly ask questions and confront the hard truths. They can look failure in the face while still maintaining faith in their organization’s ability to succeed.
  • People with a growth mindset can understand, forgive, and move on when confronted by disappointment in relationship. Their fixed mindset counterparts feel the sting of rejection/judgment and may seek revenge to even the score.

At the end of the day, mindsets are just beliefs. Just because some people can do things better than others with relatively little effort does not mean that others cannot acquire those skills. Even artistic skills can be cultivated, as amply demonstrated by self-portraits drawn by inexperienced artists before and after a mere 5 days of training. We simply need to develop practices that open our minds and give ourselves the requisite time for our potential to flower… with effort and coaching, of course.

One final note: While we may have a growth mindset in one area of our lives, we may fall into the trap of a fixed mindset in others! We need to recognize the qualities that help us success in one area and apply them elsewhere.