Mastery is a Mindset

This is an excellent piece of the book “Drive” By Dan Pink

The big a-ha! moment:

If you believe intelligence is a fixed quantity, then every educational and professional encounter becomes a measure of how much you have.

If you believe intelligence is something you can increase, then the same encounters become opportunities for growth.

In one view, intelligence is something you demonstrate; in the other, it’s something you develop.

Why this matters:

These two types of thinking trigger contrasting responses to adversity—one of helpless,” the other, “mastery-oriented.”

The full explanation cited directly from the book:

Mastery Is a Mindset

As with so many things in life, the pursuit of mastery is all in our head. At least that’s what Carol Dweck has discovered.

Dweck, a psychology professor at Stanford University, has been studying motivation and achievement in children and young adults for nearly forty years, amassing a body of rigorous empirical research that has made her a superstar in contemporary behavioral science. Dweck’s signature insight is that what people believe shapes what people achieve. Our beliefs about ourselves and the nature of our abilities—what she calls our “self-theories”—determine how we interpret our experiences and can set the boundaries on what we accomplish. Although her research looks mostly at notions of “intelligence,” her findings apply with equal force to most human capabilities. And they yield the first law of mastery: Mastery is a mindset.

According to Dweck, people can hold two different views of their own intelligence. Those who have an “entity theory” believe that intelligence is just that—an entity. It exists within us, in a finite supply that we cannot increase. Those who subscribe to an “incremental theory” take a different view. They believe that while intelligence may vary slightly from person to person, it is ultimately something that, with effort, we can increase. To analogize to physical qualities, incremental theorists consider intelligence as something like strength. (Want to get stronger and more muscular? Start pumping iron.) Entity theorists view it as something more like height. (Want to get taller? You’re out of luck.)

If you believe intelligence is a fixed quantity, then every educational and professional encounter becomes a measure of how much you have.

If you believe intelligence is something you can increase, then the same encounters become opportunities for growth.

In one view, intelligence is something you demonstrate; in the other, it’s something you develop.

The two self-theories lead down two very different paths—one that heads toward mastery and one that doesn’t. For instance, consider goals. Dweck says they come in two varieties—performance goals and learning goals. Getting an A in French class is a performance goal. Being able to speak French is a learning goal. “Both goals are entirely normal and pretty much universal,” Dweck says, “and both can fuel achievement.” But only one leads to mastery. In several studies, Dweck found that giving children a performance goal (say, getting a high mark on a test) was effective for relatively straightforward problems but often inhibited children’s ability to apply the concepts to new situations. For example, in one study, Dweck and a colleague asked junior high students to learn a set of scientific principles, giving half of the students a performance goal and half a learning goal. After both groups demonstrated they had grasped the material, researchers asked the students to apply their knowledge to a new set of problems, related but not identical to what they’d just studied. Students with learning goals scored significantly higher on these novel challenges. They also worked longer and tried more solutions. As Dweck writes, “With a learning goal, students don’t have to feel that they’re already good at something in order to hang in and keep trying. After all, their goal is to learn, not to prove they’re smart.”

Indeed, the two self-theories take very different views of effort. To incremental theorists, exertion is positive. Since incremental theorists believe that ability is malleable, they see working harder as a way to get better. By contrast, says Dweck, “the entity theory . . . is a system that requires a diet of easy successes.” In this schema, if you have to work hard, it means you’re not very good. People therefore choose easy targets that, when hit, affirm their existing abilities but do little to expand them. In a sense, entity theorists want to look like masters without expending the effort to attain mastery.

Finally, the two types of thinking trigger contrasting responses to adversity—one that Dweck calls “helpless,” the other, “mastery-oriented.” In a study of American fifth- and sixth-graders, Dweck gave students eight conceptual problems they could solve, followed by four they could not (because the questions were too advanced for children that age). Students who subscribed to the idea that brain-power is fixed gave up quickly on the tough problems and blamed their (lack of ) intelligence for their difficulties. Students with a more expansive mindset kept working in spite of the difficulty and deployed far more inventive strategies to find a solution. What did these students blame for their inability to conquer the toughest problems? “The answer, which surprised us, was that they didn’t blame anything,” Dweck says. The young people recognized that setbacks were inevitable on the road to mastery and that they could even be guideposts for the journey.

My Notes

Most of the “Drive” book is ok so far.

This idea, however, is different. This idea is huge. It has huge practical applications from the workplace to the family. I challenge you to go around your house or through your friends and dig up what their belief is regarding intelligence as a fixed attribute or a malleable skill.

Better yet – I went to my kids and checked their understanding of intelligence to make sure it aligned with mine – this is one concept I was keeping a close eye on already as it is tied to self-esteem – now I know exactly how it works its magic and what it must be shaped like to be beneficial.