The critical insight for achieving mastery in anything

mindset-coverIn April 2015, Denter Mark Pearson’s audiobook startup launched their book club with a nonfiction title called Mindset, by Carol Dweck. I purchased a copy and listened to it on my commute to and from work, and it’s one of those books with a straightforward central insight that, if you don’t already run it natively, can massively change your approach to success.

Dweck separates people loosely into two mindsets, which she terms the “fixed” mindset, or the “growth” mindset:

  • The fixed mindset describes a belief that “your qualities are carved in stone,” that things like your IQ score are measured and, crucially, not possible to improve.
  • The growth mindset applies to people who believe that growth is possible in all aspects. That failures are not a referendum on your innate abilities, but a necessary step in learning.

Fortunately, modern research stands thoroughly behind the growth mindset:

Scientists are learning that people have more capacity for lifelong learning and brain development than they ever thought. Of course, each person has a unique genetic endowment. People may start with different temperaments and different aptitudes, But it is clear that experience, training, and personal effort take them the rest of the way.

Robert Sternberg, the present day guru of intelligence, writes that the major factor in whether people achieve expertise, is not some fixed prior ability, but purposeful engagements. Or as his forerunner [Alfred] Binet recognized: it’s not always the people who start out the smartest who end up the smartest.

For 20 years my research has shown that the view you adopt for yourself profoundly affects the way you lead your life. It can determine whether you become the person you want to be, and whether you accomplish the things you value.

One of the core beliefs behind what we do at Dent is that greatness is not prescribed at birth by a lottery — Marie Curie, Ronald Reagan, Gandhi, J.K. Rowling — there is nothing they’ve done which is not accessible to most other people with a sufficient amount of well-directed effort.

Charisma isn’t some magical aura, it’s a set of behaviors, social cues, and habits that some people learn earlier than others. Being seen as a visionary isn’t so much about being right as it is about successfully hiding your effort.

Dweck’s growth mindset is the perfect mental attitude for tackling this kind of learning.