Mindset: The New Psychology of Success

"It’s not always the people who start out the smartest who end up the smartest."

- Mindset, page 5

The other night I was watching Oprah’s Next Chapter which featured actor turned humanitarian, Sean Penn. Through his non-profit J/P HRO, Sean Penn has joined the on-going Haitian Disaster Relief effort. His group has a camp that serves 20,000 displaced Haitian earthquake survivors. While taking a tour of Sean Penn’s School of Hope, Oprah met one of its star pupils. She introduced herself to the young girl and turns to the teacher and says, in front of entire class, “So, I hear this is the smartest girl in the class.”

The teacher confirms Oprah’s statement by replying, “Yes, she is one of the star pupils of the school.” And my heart went out to all the other children in the class who were not recognized as “smart” because of their current performance in class. This is where it all starts, the labeling of who is smart and who is not.  These labels are then often internalized and transformed into thoughts about how much success one can “realistically” attain. The thoughts you have about your intelligence, talent, and personality develop into your belief system.

Can people become smarter and more intelligent through experience, training, and personal effort? Carol Dweck tackles this question and many similar thoughts about success in her book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. She asserts that there are two basic mindsets: fixed and growth. The fixed mindset focuses on permanent traits and creates an urgency to prove one’s self over and over again while avoiding risk and effort that might reveal inadequacies. The growth mindset, on the other hand, focuses on development and the cultivation of one’s basic qualities through effort.

According to Dweck, instead of singling out this one child as being smart, Oprah probably should have said something like, “So, I hear you are the hardest working student in the class.” Focusing on effort rather than perceived intelligence allows for thoughts that encourage the cultivation of intelligence. This is opposed to something that is fixed and set in stone.

Fixed messages about intelligence and potential can have grave consequences and damaging effects on your self-image. Throughout her book, Dweck provides case studies that show how the fixed mindset has had a catastrophic effect on relationships, corporate culture, and athletic and personal achievement. These examples illuminate the fact that a person’s true potential is unknown (and unknowable). Dweck states that, “It’s impossible to foresee what can be accomplished with years of passion, toil, and training.”

The Big Idea

The Big Idea: The biggest takeaway from the book

Magic vs. Art

"The view you adopt for yourself profoundly affects the way you lead your life."
- Mindset, page 6

Is life about the “magic” or the “art”? The magic is effortless, endowed by the gods, flawless, and perfect, much like the fixed mindset. Magic is special, perfect, and its prowess must be validated in order for it to be real.  Magic is dismissed when it fails to hide the coin behind the ear or make the lovely assistant disappear. Magic is or it is not. Art on the other hand allows for imperfections. It is driven by passion and requires constant honing in order for it to be perceived as beautiful. Art is found in da Vinci’s Mona Lisa as well as the squiggly lines of Jackson Pollock. Much like the growth mindset, art is fearless in the face of imperfection. Art lusts for feedback and desires only to resonate with the soul.

The fixed mindset adheres to the magic of the comfort zone, which can prove to be very constricting. As the fixed mindset permeates one’s thoughts it allows for complacency in one’s actions and justifies shunning anything that challenges one’s current beliefs. The growth mindset thrives in the art of the possibilities that lay outside the box. It encourages risk taking and facing challenges with an open mind. It allows for the cultivation of one’s desired results.

The author says that most people view drawing as a magical ability that only a select few possess, and only a select few will ever possess. This view is widely held because people don’t understand the learnable components of drawing, such as the ability to perceive edges, spaces, relationships, lights and shadows, and the whole. Each component is a learnable skill that is combined into the process of drawing. The same is true for the view adopted for life. There are two choices: embrace the art of success and learn to master its components and the process involved (growth) or wait for something magical to happen (fixed).

Insight #1

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

The Deception of Amazing: Get Outside Your Comfort Zone!

"Everyone, of whatever age and circumstance, is capable of self-transformation."
- Mindset, page 141

You can change your intelligence, personality, thoughts, and behaviors. The real question is, will you? Dweck points out that “people often like the things that work against their growth…there is tremendous risk in leaving what one does well to attempt to master something new.” Everyone loves the magic that lies within them; their strengths and talents that effortlessly yield amazing results.

To combat this natural tendency to favor “the magic” over “the art” one must:

1. Believe in human development and constantly try to improve
2. Surround yourself with people that challenge you to grow
3. Look squarely at your mistakes and deficiencies
4. Proceed with confidence grounded in facts not fantasies about your talents

Success does not have an expiration date. Learn and practice the strategies that will help you succeed.

Insight #2

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

Beware of the words you use: Failure is not an adjective!

"Beware of success. It can knock you into a fixed mindset."
- Mindset, page 210

Days after losing 2011 NBA finals Lebron James said that “losing was the best thing that could have happened to us.” His loss was a very humbling experience that forced him to re-evaluate himself and train harder to create a cohesive union amongst his teammates; it was his reality check. Embracing failure as an action (I failed) that can be corrected, as opposed to an identity (I am a failure), is a crucial aspect of the growth mindset. Equally important, is recognizing that fixed beliefs such as “I won because I have talent. Therefore I will keep winning” are just as destructive as assigning failure as an identity. The defeat made the superstar human again. In his humanity he found humility and a new resiliency.


After reading, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, I became more aware of my thoughts and behaviors. Primarily I have a growth mindset (most people won’t admit to having a fixed mindset) but there are moments when I fall victim to “the magic”. This book has helped shaped my approach to parenting, relationships, and business. When my son favors doing things that don’t challenge his ego I am now better prepared to help him embrace “the art”. In business, I am better equipped to face my fears and accept the challenges. Your mindset is the greatest determining factor in your ability to achieve your true potential.

Do you believe in magic or the art? Are there areas in your life that you might be able to make a breakthrough if you changed your mindset?

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Aisha DaCosta

ABOUT Aisha DaCosta

Meet Aisha, a Jamaican born New Yorker with an intense passion for self-development and entrepreneurship. Aisha is the founder of a Baltimore non-profit, I am O'Kah! Inc which provides mentoring and financial aid to deserving high school graduates...
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