Book Reviewer Bites Hand That Feeds Him: A review of ‘Mindset’ by Carol Dweck

That's it! C'mon, little fella, you can do it!
That’s it! C’mon, little fella, you can do it!

Years ago, reading Malcolm Gladwell’s ‘Blink’, in which he argues the scientific basis of intuition, I remember thinking (in the early chapters) “Oh, that’s an interesting idea.” Then, gradually as I read the same point being rammed home with yet another anecdote, I began to suspect that ‘Blink’ may well have fitted comfortably into a magazine article, making the same good point in a far more digestible format.

After a couple of chapters of ‘Mindset’ by Carol Dweck, I got the same feeling. It seems uncharitable to say it, especially given that the good idea stretched across a whole book is a very, VERY good idea – and it is clear that a lot of serious research has gone into generating the findings that support the growth versus fixed mindset hypothesis. However, after the umpteenth example of how someone with a fixed mindset lived an unhappy, unfulfilled life, and how someone with a growth mindset found a renewed sense of purpose, self-worth, blah blah blah, I began to feel a little jaded. The basic principle of the Growth Mindset is very powerful and extremely interesting and useful (especially for a teacher like myself). In fact, if you accept the science behind it, you can quickly jump to an infographic at the end of the book which quite clearly summarises the benefits of a growth mindset versus the rigidity and inflexibility of a fixed mindset.

Put simply, a growth mindset is a fundamental belief in human development, that we can work to augment our intelligence. A fixed mindset, by contrast, is a belief that we are born with a given quotient of talents and aptitudes which we can exploit but never transcend. There it is, in two sentences.

In fairness, this is a very interesting book, once you get beyond the lengthy and repeated anecdotes (especially the ones about baseball and basketball, completely beyond me!). It has inspired me to enrol my daughters in a Brainology course online, which teaches the growth mindset to children. As a result of reading this book, I want my children to believe that with effort they can grow mentally as well as physically. As a result of reading this book, I am watchful for those times when my actions or decisions are informed by fixed mindset thinking. Whilst reading, I was reminded of my dad telling me about ‘natural buoyancy’ when he was teaching me how to swim (why the hell would he do that?).

Woah there! Did I just try to slip an anecdote into this book review?! In fact, if I count the Gladwell allusion, I think that makes two anecdotes. That’s it, Carol, I take it all back. Overdone on the baseball and basketball, yes, but overall, the ideas in this book are revelatory. I’ll be investigating how to incorporate the principles into my teaching and establishing how to develop growth mindsets in my classroom and my family.

Hang on, I’ve just googled ‘natural buoyancy’ and it offered up ‘neutral buoyancy‘, which is actually quite useful to know about when learning to swim. Perhaps that’s what my dad actually said. Jeez, I get bored reading an interesting book; I don’t listen properly to my swimming instructor when he’s giving me perfectly good advice. Why on earth should you take my advice on whether this book is any good? Still, with my newfound growth mindset, there is hope for me yet. Now where are those swimming trunks?


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