Adopt the Right Mindset to Keep Your Motivation Up

On the recommendation of a client, I recently picked up a copy of Carol Dweck’s book [amazon_link id="0345472322" target="_blank" container="" container_class="" ]Mindset: The New Psychology of Success[/amazon_link].  I’m really enjoying this book, and will be adding it my recommended reading list.

Mindset is a book-length explication of Dweck's "achievement goal theory," which basically argues that when facing a challenging task or circumstance, we can choose to approach it with one of two basic mindsets:


The “Fixed” mindset assumes that our basic level of a given ability (such as intelligence, athletic skill, or musical talent) is fixed. Therefore, any given challenge will serve as a measure of that ability level. Since we can’t change our ability level, we will therefore be motivated to seek out tasks that will allow us to prove our abilities (to ourselves and others), and to avoid those that reveal our abilities to be inadequate.

The “Growth” mindset, in contrast, assumes that our abilities are mutable. Therefore, in this mindset, tasks that reveal our limitations are seen as opportunities to develop and grow these abilities.

According to Dweck, the growth mindset is associated with better psychological functioning. People who adopt a growth mindset are less likely to be depressed, and more likely to persist through difficult tasks.

I know this is not a CBT book per se, but it relates nicely to many of the core themes of CBT. There is an emphasis on the importance of interpretations, the idea that. In other words, it’s not just what you do, it’s what you make of what you do. And, there is the reminder that is often more accurate (and helpful) to view things--ourselves, our abilities, our situations--as constantly in flux.

On its face, the Fixed/Growth distinction doesn’t sound especially captivating. I mean, we all know that we “should” believe in our ability to grow and change. But Dweck manages to capture something that tends to escape many highly motivated people. It’s not that people who have a Fixed mindset don’t seek out challenges, or don’t work hard--they most certainly can. The distinction, however, is how they think about these challenges. It’s what they take these challenges to mean about themselves.

I frequently see the power of this distinction. I have had many clients who enjoy professional success, yet feel anxious and unhappy because they see each professional challenge as a measure of their intrinsic abilities--abilities that lie perilously close to their sense of basic self-worth  Psychologically, this is a recipe for disaster. Because no matter how gifted you are, life has a way of eventually revealing the limitations of your gifts.

For a book written by a researcher, Mindset is somewhat light on the evidence. There are lots of anecdotes, and many of the studies cited are from Dweck’s lab. Still, the book is more of a self-help/inspirational book than an academic treatise. And taken as such, it is well worth a read.