The best book you’ve never heard of on … the beliefs that guide your life

The best book you’ve never heard of on … the beliefs that guide your life

This is the first new book in a long time in our ongoing Best Books You’ve Never Heard of series.

Nearly ten years ago I encountered a book that changed the way I think about myself. Odds are, you haven’t heard of it—though it’s certainly not unknown. It has 29,000 ratings on Goodreads (average rating: 4.1). 1900 reviews on Amazon (average rating: 4.4). The author gave a TED talk two years ago.

Since I first read it, I’ve seen the book and the research therein mentioned repeatedly in the books I’ve read, by authors diverse as Tim Ferriss, Jess Lively, Cal Newport, and John Gottman, on topics like business and parenting and weight loss and romantic relationships.

The book is Mindset: The Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck. “Mindset” simply means the way you see the world. It’s a simple core belief that guides a large part of your life.

When it comes to mindset, you have two options.

Some people believe their characteristics are carved in stone. (“I’m not good at math,” or “My reflexes aren’t fast enough to play soccer.”) These people believe everyone was born with a certain amount of skill, or quality, or intelligence, and these things can’t be changed. Dweck calls this a “fixed mindset.”

Others believe that whoever or whatever they are, right now, is just a starting point. They believe people can change over time, improving their natural skills, talents, and abilities through deliberate effort and purposeful engagement. Dweck calls this a “growth mindset.”

For many personality-type traits, there are no right or wrong answers. This isn’t one of them. You can probably see which you’d rather have, right? (Please say yes.)

The interesting thing is, our potential to change depends a great deal on whether we believe we can change. (In other words, if we want to grow and change as individuals, we have to be the kind of people who believe we can.) That means adopting a growth mindset, whether it comes naturally, or we have to talk ourselves into it.

If you have a fixed mindset, you see yourself as either smart, or not. You’re either funny, or you’re not. You don’t see yourself as the kind of person who can change. And when you encounter an obstacle, or a challenging work assignment, or meet someone and fall in love, those things are either good or they’re not. You believe that if something doesn’t come easy—a job, a skill, a friendship, romantic relationship—you should let it go.

But with a growth mindset, you’re not stuck in your circumstances. Instead, you’re empowered to change and grow.

That’s the basic explanation, but I highly recommend everyone read this book, because Dweck devotes 300+ pages to unpacking success and failure, ability and determination how mindset affects everything from sports to relationships to leadership and more.

I think of myself as a growth mindset kind of girl, but every once in a while I catch myself in the fixed position—and that’s after reading Dweck’s book a few times over a ten year period!

Take this silly example: I’d been telling myself I couldn’t possibly get organized until we put some more shelves up in the bedroom. We put up shelves, and they’re great, but guess what: somebody still needs to pick their stuff up and put it on said shelves, and that person is me, and I felt sooo busted when I realized, post-shelves, that my attitude—my mindset, actually—needed to change as much as our storage did if I was going to avoid the floordrobe situation.

You can’t change anything about yourself until you can see yourself clearly, and this is one eye-opening book. I don’t like to use the word “should” when it comes to reading, but just do yourself a favor and read it, okay? Buy it here (Indiebound) or buy it here (Amazon).

Have you read Mindset? I’d love to hear your thoughts in comments. And if you have a book you think should be featured as a “best book you’ve never heard of”, share that there, too?

P.S. The best book you’ve never heard of on fertility, and architecture, and the daily grind.

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26 comments

  1. This mindset conversation is a hot buzzword in education and has been for a couple of years. There is a children’s book that goes along with the growth mindset work of Dweck very well called The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires.

  2. Susan says:

    This book is assigned reading @ my kids’ high school for Freshman English students. They put the growth mindset into practice in all English classes. The faculty tell parents that they are focused on growth from experience and all allow students to revise their papers so they learn from and internalize the feedback.

  3. Bushra says:

    I just finished Grit, by Angela Duckworth, which discusses this same topic with tons of research & studies. We’re putting her “Hard Thing Rule” into practice with our kids immediately to get them (& us) on a growth mindset to develop grit. The author reads the audio version, and she is really engaging.

    • Sarah says:

      Bushra, thank you for the info about “Grit” – good to know about the audio version! I’ve been wanting to read that one for a while and have been trying to teach my daughter about doing hard things. Definitely using my next Audible credit on it!

  4. `Ashley Mink says:

    I’ve always thought Mindset would be one of my 3 if I ever got to be on WSIRN. I’m almost ALL fiction, but this book changed me as a person several years ago. Changed me dramatically as a homeschooling mom, as two of my 3 are full-on “fixed mindset.” DAILY STRUGGLE.

  5. Laura Fucci says:

    I must say that I was a bit disappointed my your selection. The build-up on your review was great, and then your listed Mindset. I read this book about three years ago. It was required reading where I work. I struggled through the book. I found premise obvious and not life-changing. I suppose that I was influenced by another book when I was in high school (many many years ago) that changed my life along the same way. It is Illusions by Richard Bach. I live by a quote found in that book: “Argue for your limitations and they’re yours.” Happy Reading!

  6. Laura says:

    Loved it. I teach Statistical Computing and have a PhD in Statistics and I love this book and I share it with my students. I think for learning hard technical things it is so crucial and fixed mindset holds females (and men, but women seem more sensitive to it) back in STEM fields(http://www.aauw.org/2011/05/26/growth-mindsets-and-stem/ has a bit of evidence for that). I so wish I had read this book when I was just starting out in my studies. I have worried WAY too much about “belonging” and being “smart” in my life. I listened on Audible and it was great. An excellent use of my commute time to my job.

  7. Kate says:

    I have heard a lot about this concept but not the book. Will definitely check it out, since I struggle with a fixed mindset in so many situations lately.

    One book that really shifted how I see the world is Approaching the Natural by Sid Garza Hillman, which focuses on taking small steps to create real and lasting change in your life. I read it about 3 years ago and it’s in my top 5 life changing books.

  8. Sarahsal says:

    Sounds like a great book. I am a retiree who does a lot of volunteering with stroke survivors and their caregivers…talk about changing your mindset…they have to change their minds to do daily things. Going to download the book and dive in…maybe it will have some good stuff to share.

  9. Phaedra says:

    This is something that the teaching staff and parents AND students have all been reading in grade school in our district (the kids are just getting recaps of the main points) the past 2-3 years. All the schools try to reinforce the growth mindset and it’s been fantastic for my daughter. Put this under ‘recommended reading’

  10. Jillian says:

    I actually just finished Mindset this morning though I read about 75% of it before the holidays. I teach college freshmen, and I was able to start applying the concepts immediately. I also learned a lot about myself and was able to identify areas where I have a growth mindset and areas where I have a fixed mindset. It also illuminated several key experiences in my life. I definitely recommend this book to my students and especially to other teachers. It should be required reading for all faculty and also for college freshmen.

  11. I stumbled across this book at the library last summer and thought it was amazing! It really shook up my fixed mindset. In the afterglow of reading it, I took on a couple of new ‘hard’ projects that, looking back, were bad ideas. Lol, but hey, failure is only failure if you don’t learn from it, right?

  12. Jamie says:

    I have Mindset on hold at the library as an audio download. I’m slowly creeping up towards the front of the list and am so looking forward to reading…er, listening to it. The growth mindset idea came up in a book about parenting I read lately. I can’t remember the exact title but it had to do with a study of students who were praised for working hard or being smart. Those who were told they worked hard spent longer on the following assignment, while those who were told they were smart gave up sooner.

  13. Heather says:

    I read Mindset and I enjoyed it. I felt like it made total sense and I still use her recommendations with my boys. This book is one of those “must read” books that is recommended to all parents with young kids these days as so many moms I knew were reading this book the same time I was (this was about three years ago).

  14. Julie R says:

    I just finished Mindset and will be discussing it for book club TONIGHT! What a timely post! 🙂 It’s truly a mind-changing book. I’ve realized I’m mainly a growth mindset person, but in some area of my life, I’m definitely fixed. Very eye-opening! I’m definitely going to implement some changes in my responses to my kids’ challenges. I was actually impressed and so glad to hear my 4th and 5th graders’ teachers have discussed it with their classes! My kids were like, “Oh yeah, we know all about that mom…” Ha!

  15. Lori East says:

    Thank you for this recommendation! I’m really excited to read this. I’m a recently “retired” homeschool mom (he graduated and is in college–yay!), and I’m finding it harder to grow into my new skin than I expected. I catch myself thinking “I’m not a ___ kind of person,” often and it drives me crazy, but I haven’t known what to do about it. Hoping the book enlightens me. Thanks again.

    • Laura says:

      I think completely debunked is an over exaggeration. I read Gelman’s blog and the replies from Dweck and her collaborators on open science and I think if you read to the end in the comments there is evidence many of the effects hold up. I do think in her book she can over sell at times but I still think it is a book worth reading.

  16. I enjoyed Mindset, and find that the concepts come out of my mouth all the time when I talk to my husband and kids. I remind myself to never say “I’m not good at…”. Instead, I say “I am getting better at…” or “I’m working on..” Because I could be a little better at anything, especially things I’ve barely tried! Everybody is bad at whatever it is (walking, doing math, etc) when they first begin.

  17. Pam says:

    I’ve been thinking a lot about this post. I’m the pianist for our church and I went to school with many talented musicians. I’ve been saying to myself that I won’t be as good as them. (Facebook has made this more of a problem for me) So I keep reminding myself of having a growth mindset (I can improve) as opposed to a fixed mindset (I will never be that good). Thanks so much for planting the seed.

  18. I love this book! In the teaching profession we actually use this book to guide our school philosophy. We teach it explicitly to the kids and return to it throughout this year to guide them in developing perseverance. I also pair it with the neuroscience behind it so that kids learn how their brain actually grows when they’re making mistakes and doesn’t grow when they can do everything perfectly!

  19. This book changed my life as well. A light bulb went off when I read it and sadly I was an adult when I finally realized that not everyone sees things the way I do. I wish I had read it before I raised my kids. My fixed mindset was not a good combination at times with a son who has a growth mindset. I try really hard to have a growth mindset now- it was good to learn that we can change!!

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