TBR: Mindset/Practically Perfect in Every Way

So, I finally read the book that was referenced in that discussion we had about better and worse ways to praise kids.  The book is Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, by Carol Dweck, and it’s vastly better than the magazine article that kicked off the discussion.

The basic argument in the book is that people approach things with either a "fixed" or "growth" mindset.  If you have a fixed mindset, you believe that intelligence, or athletic ability, or musical talent are inherent to the individual — you either have them or you don’t.  So you treat setbacks as a sign of failure, and avoid challenges whenever possible.  You believe that effort is a sign that you’re not naturally smart or talented.  By contrast, if you have a growth mindset, you believe in the power of learning and effort.  You treat setbacks as learning opportunities, and seek out challenges.  Dweck has lots and lots of examples, from sports, business, arts, and pretty much convinced me.

So, what’s wrong with praise?  The issue is that outcome-based praise generally reinforces the fixed mindset.  Dweck thus recommends praising kids for their effort rather than their good grades.

So, what bugged me about the articles?  First, they focused on the "right" way to praise.   But kids aren’t stupid — if you don’t mean it, they’ll see right through you. And if you praise their effort when they didn’t work hard, but got good grades anyway, they’ll know that you’re really praising the results, even if you use different words.  As Andrea argued, you need to actually believe in the growth mindset, or the change in how you praise will be totally superficial.

Second, the articles seemed to take a fixed approach to mindsets.  They seemed to suggest that if you praised your kids the wrong way, they’d never overcome the damage.  But Dweck argues that among the things that you can change is your mindset.  So even if you have a fixed mindset, you can work on developing a growth mindset.

Shortly before I read Mindset, I read Jennifer Niesslein’s book, Practically Perfect in Every Way: My Misadventures Through The World of Self-Help. It’s a funny exploration of what happens if you try to listen to ALL of the advice that’s out there, in short order.  Of course, it’s impossible.  For one thing, much of it is contradictory.  For another, there are still only 24 hours in a day and even if a plan only requires 15 minutes a day to follow, when you’re trying to follow 4 different plans at once, that adds up.  Of course, you could probably have figured that out without Niesslein’s book, but she’s enough fun to spend time with that it’s worth reading anyway.

The combination of books made me think about self-help books from the perspective of mindsets.  The good news is that self-help books are premised in the idea that improvement is possible.  The bad news is that almost all the books claim it’s going to be easy.  It’s obvious why — who wants to buy a book that promises them pain and frustration?  But when the going gets hard, it’s easy to fall back into a fixed mindset of: "See, I tried and I couldn’t do it, so obviously I’m just not the kind of person who loses 30 pounds/has an always clean house/has enough saved for retirement/quits smoking/whatever the goal is." Niesslein wanders into that territory occasionally, but she does ultimately conclude that she’s probably better off for the improvements that the books led her too, even if she doesn’t follow them religiously.

One Response to “TBR: Mindset/Practically Perfect in Every Way”

  1. Devra Renner Says:

    Jennifer is going to be at the Border’s in Rockville MD on June 5th at 7PM. I’m going, maybe I’ll see you there too!

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