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.P.S. I wrote a book about personality! In Reading People: How Seeing the World through the Lens of Personality Changes Everything, I walk you through 7 different frameworks, explaining the basics in a way you can actually understand, sharing personal stories about how what I learned made a difference in my life, and showing you how it could make a difference in yours, as well.