Last week at a conference, I had the good fortune of hearing a lecture by Stanford University professor Carol Dweck, whose research on intelligence and mindsets has been revelatory for me in all aspects of my life.

Dweck’s broad argument is that what people believe shapes what they achieve — mostly irrespective of their innate talent. Some people, she says, have a fixed view of intelligence: They believe that intelligence is an entity, that we’re each endowed with a particular finite supply. Others have a growth view of intelligence: They believe that intelligence can expand through practice and effort.

Your starting assumption about intelligence — your mindset, as she calls it in a popular book — heavily determines what you’re able to accomplish. And people with growth mindsets generally accomplish more and learn more deeply.

In the lecture, Dweck set out three rules that nicely summarize the differences between the two mindsets along with quotations from students that demonstrate the rules.


Fixed mindset: Look clever at all costs. (“The main thing I want when I do my school work is to show how good I am at it.”)

Growth mindset: Learn, learn, learn. (“It is much more important for me to learn things in my classes than it is to get the best grades.”)


Fixed mindset: It should come naturally. (“To tell you the truth, when I work hard at my school work it makes me fee like I’m not very smart.”)

Growth mindset: Work hard, effort is key. (“The harder you work at something, the better you’ll be at it.”)


Fixed mindset: Hide your mistakes and conceal your deficiencies. (After a disappointing exam score, “I’d spend less time on this subject from now on. I’d try not to take this subject ever again, and I would try to cheat on the next test.”)

Growth mindset: Capitalize on your mistakes and confront your deficiencies. (After a disappointing exam score, “I’d work harder in this class and spend more time studying for the tests.”)

If you have children, manage others, or are at all interested in improving what you do and how you do it, you need to understand Dweck’s research and its implications. For more info, here is the transcript of a speech from last year in which Dweck covered ground somewhat similar to what I heard last week.  Stanford Magazine had a good profile of Dweck a few years ago that included an excellent infographic explaining the differences between the two mindsets. And be sure to check out her books — either Mindset or the more academic Self-theories.

21 Responses to “The 3 rules of mindsets”

  1. Jon Fisher says:

    Over the last decade, I’ve slowly slipped into a fixed mindset. The Creativity World Forum (where I enjoyed your talk) really kicked started my mind. I’ve made a conscious effort to have a growth mindset. Until now, I didn’t have names for these modes of thinking. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Andy Smith says:

    I grew up among the East Coast intelligentsia with what I thought was a healthy love for learning, but with the benefit of Dweck’s research, a classically fixed mindset. It’s been a struggle for me to get out of it, not least because, if I am typical, fixed mindset people tend to look down on people who put in effort without achieving top results and even those to whom something doesn’t just come naturally. I still recall my high school classmate who got top grades, but was never considered “smart” because she worked so hard to achieve them. I don’t want my kids to grow up with a fixed mindset. To this end, I have shared Gladwell’s observation from Outliers that mastery comes at 10,000 hours of focused practice. The culture of innate intelligence is a strong one, and the irony is that it hurts those who believe in it much more than those who do not.

  3. Steve says:

    This would be interesting to fuse together with Gallup’s strengths studies.

  4. A corollary of this is the drive to get kids into top colleges. For many, it’s a stubbornly fixed mindset, one focused more on an asset than the endless possibilities for growth and change.

  5. Carol was kind enough to give me a review copy of her “Mindsets” book to summarize on my blog. My work expands on Dan’s work here and, hopefully, give you even more reason to purchase the book.
    Douglas W. Green, EdD
    Here is the link to my summary.

  6. Thrilled when I learned a few years ago about Carol Dweck’s important research about Mindsets and its application on education, innovation and leadership. Very gratified, when my older son’s wonderful and wise middle school advisor asked him during a student-led parent-teacher conference, what kind of mindset he thought he had. His answer: Growth mindset, most of the time! Hope other young students are learning about Dr. Dweck’s research early in their academic career!

    KC Chan-Herur

  7. RG says:

    Leadership expert John Maxwell contrasts a growth mindset with a goal mindset (somewhat fixed I guess, though not always bad).

    I believe our tendency to label plays an important role in moulding our mindsets. Labeling is good for grasping new concepts and communicating them. Labeling people on their ability is bad because it is limiting, it downplays the fact that each of us can learn and grow.

    Thanks for sharing this, Dan.

  8. pw says:

    I wonder if there are more folks with fixed mind sets that end up having Alzheimer’s Disease.

    Thanks for sharing this, Dan. I have tended towards a fixed mindset, but hope to make a shift and begin the practice that will gain me the tendency toward a growth mindset.

  9. Lori Howard says:

    The research I’ve read on brain health indicates that the growth mindset is what keeps the brain active, healthy, and quite literally growing. There is some indication that active learning can prevent/delay Alzheimer’s, and improve recover from strokes, etc.

    When I was young, I was a good student and had a fixed mindset. As an adult, I have moved toward the growth mindset. It has become about maximizing my learning – deepening the learning. It’s harder 🙂 but more satisfying and better for me, it seems. Great post.

  10. This meshes well with the idea of innovation and creativity depending upon the ability to challenge one’s assumptions. It’s not just brain plasticity but the idea that being smart is something that can be cultivated and nurtured, and that it is not just onw way of thinking but that there are different ways to be smart.

  11. A.J. Pape says:

    I wonder if Dweck comletely rejects Geoffrey Miller’s case for the importance of what he calls General Intelligence. I’ve love to hear them discuss how they both view it, similarities and differences in their views.

  12. Andrew Meyer says:

    Wow, thank you very much for exposing me to a set of ideas I wouldn’t have come across otherwise.

  13. Trisha Valko says:

    Interesting that each of the “growth mindset” ideas have been given us for at least a century in the children’s book The Little Engine That Could. Maybe we should incorporate this into our staff development workshops. Readily available and cheap. “I think I can, I think I can…” Whooooooooo-ah-whoooooo!

  14. Yolonda Gray says:

    Everyone should read and re-read the book “The power of Positive Thinking” by Norman Vincent Peale. This article has a similar message. Believe in yourself. Have faith in your abilities. Fill your mind with thoughts of faith, confidence and security. This will force out all thoughts of doubt and insecurities.

  15. Dipak says:

    over the years i have grown to acquire this growth mind set mentioned here. It was not a deliberate effort, it just happened. And I am happier than ever before.

  16. James Vornov says:


    Yolanda mentions Norman Vincent Peale. I was just reading William James, psychologist and philosopher who similarly saw this power of a growth mindset. Interestingly, he tended to make the division between looking back at personal history vs looking forward toward becoming something different.

    So many ways that these ideas manifest over time. One of the lessons of your books, I’ve found.

  17. When I was a student everyone called me “smart”, but I never really considered myself so. I just was a very hard worker. I really never considered anything but a “growth mindset”. This summer, I tuned into webinar with Carol Dweck and Steve Hargardon on a Future of Education Elluminate Session – August 19, 2010. It was a fascinating interview, and her advice to teachers and parents was great. Instead of telling students how smart they are when praising their work, say, “You must have worked very hard on that.” Here is the link to the page which includes the link to the recording:
    I also listened to Malcolm Gladwell’s keynote from NECC a couple of years ago. In addition, my nana read and reread the Golden book, The Little Engine That Could.(ditto, Trisha)I am 63 and still working with middle school kids. I try to model the growth mindset for them everyday. Lifelong learning rules! I can’t even comprehend the “fixed” view of intelligence. Thanks for this post that has helped connect me to other learning experiences.

  18. Thanks for sharing it in such a delightful manner..!

  19. David Buchan says:

    I live rule 2 this way, work hard because failure is the key.

  20. Chad Stoloff says:

    Hi Dan,
    I love your books, podcast, blog, and articles! Here is an article I wrote about Carol Dweck’s research on mindset. I really enjoyed her book too!

    Let me know your thoughts on it.

  21. Zack says:

    I do envy the kids raised with the growth mindset. Mine was decidedly fixed and still is. I am dating someone who has a growth mindset now and hoping it rubs off on me as I disconnect from my family to spend more time with his. It is amazing the difference.

    I was raised to look for results. I was belittled and beaten for not achieving results. My grandfather worked his way up to manage a company and expected the best of his kids and me, by extension. Now I have to be careful because each serious failure permanently reduces my will to try again at a task. I am working on writing a novel but I have trouble taking it far because I know if it is received poorly or fails it will be the last thing I ever write in that way. I will give up on it because my world is ruled by evidence and if hard work in a field equals failure then it is a waste of my time and effort to even bother.

    I have tried to push the growth mindset stuff for my little cousins for whom change is not too late. I am too old to ever change (if change were possible then more people would be successful, ergo it can’t be possible or is likely a gamble that will probably fail) but maybe they can be spared a destiny of failure from birth to death as I have inherited. I hate my family for what they have done to me. For the life they have condemned me to.