Carol Dweck


Mindset is the key to success


American psychologist Carol Dweck is primarily interested in the influence of mindset on motivation and self-regulation. She believes that the right mindset can be the key to our success. She specifically focuses on fixed and growth mindsets, which she believes are two ends of a spectrum of how people view their abilities. Those towards the fixed end believe their abilities are innate and unchangeable, whereas those who lie towards the growth end of the continuum believe that their abilities are malleable, and success can be achieved through hard work.

Dweck promotes a growth mindset as more adaptive than a fixed mindset and encourages parents and teachers to guide children in developing a growth mindset. Her ultimate goal is to reduce stress and encourage people to persevere when faced with challenges. Individuals with a fixed mindset tend to stay down when they fall. Dweck stresses the importance of getting back up and trying again, reminding us that, with dedication and hard work, we are all capable of achieving great things.

Test scores and measures of achievement tell you where a student is, but they don’t tell you where a student could end up.

– Carol Dweck in her 2006 book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success

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Mindset – How we think about our abilities matters

Many people believe that we are born with certain intellectual capabilities, which are predetermined and unchangeable. Our strengths and weaknesses seem like facts that we can do nothing to change. Dweck is of a different frame of mind. She argues in favor of a growth mindset, which suggests that we are capable of expanding our intelligence and that, through hard work and dedication. We can learn to overcome obstacles and improve on challenging tasks. Dweck’s interests in motivation and intelligence led her to explore the ways in which people think about their own talents and abilities and how this relates to their performance. She identifies a spectrum of thinking. People at one extreme have what she refers to as a “fixed mindset”, whereas people at the other extreme have a “growth mindset”. She argues that a growth mindset is adaptive because it encourages people to try new, challenging things and to take pleasure in the process of learning. With a growth mindset, people view failure as an opportunity to learn, whereas people with a fixed mindset take failure as a sign that they should throw in the towel.

“He didn’t ask for mistake-free games. He didn’t demand that his players never lose. He asked for full preparation and full effort from them. “Did I win? Did I lose? Those are the wrong questions. The correct question is: Did I make my best effort?” If so, he says, “You may be outscored but you will never lose.” 

– Carol Dweck in her 2006 book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success

According to Dweck, people with a growth mindset believe that they are able to expand their intellectual capabilities and that, with effort and dedication, they are able to continually improve. One of Dweck’s studies showed that junior high students’ math grades were predicted by their mindset. Those with growth mindsets had an upward trend in their performance over time, while their peers with fixed mindsets did worse over time. Along with her colleagues, Dweck developed an intervention to foster a growth mindset in students by teaching them study skills and exploring her theory of expandable intelligence. When this study was piloted, a control group of students was included. They were given the same study tips as the other students, but they did not learn about Dweck’s theory. After the eight-week intervention, the students who had learned about Dweck’s theory and how to apply it to themselves showed significantly greater improvement in academic performance than did those in the control condition. Dweck describes the brain as a muscle, something that gets stronger as it is worked. She is quick to point out that, while a growth mindset is a valuable tool, good teachers and an effective curriculum are also essential to academic success.1 

“Why waste time proving over and over how great you are, when you could be getting better? Why hide deficiencies instead of overcoming them? Why look for friends or partners who will just shore up your self-esteem instead of ones who will also challenge you to grow? And why seek out the tried and true, instead of experiences that will stretch you? The passion for stretching yourself and sticking to it, even (or especially) when it’s not going well, is the hallmark of the growth mindset. This is the mindset that allows people to thrive during some of the most challenging times in their lives.” 

– Carol Dweck in her 2006 book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success

Historical Biography

Born on October 17, 1948 in New York City, Dweck graduated from Barnard College in 1967 and received her PhD from Yale in 1972.2 Her research interests combine motivation, personality, and developmental psychology. With professorships at the University of Illinois, Harvard, and Columbia under her belt, she joined the faculty at Stanford University in 20043, where she teaches courses in Personality, Motivation, and Social Development4.

“True self-confidence is “the courage to be open—to welcome change and new ideas regardless of their source.” Real self-confidence is not reflected in a title, an expensive suit, a fancy car, or a series of acquisitions. It is reflected in your mindset: your readiness to grow.”

– Carol Dweck in her 2006 book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success

Dweck is best known for her research on mindsets and how a growth mindset allows us to obtain greater success than a fixed mindset. She was inspired to pursue this line of study after an experience in primary school that demonstrated how many people view intelligence as an innate, fixed trait. In sixth grade, students in her class at P.S. 153 in Brooklyn were made to sit in order of their IQ. Those with the lowest IQ scores were not permitted to carry the flag at assemblies or even to wash the blackboard. Dweck and her classmates’ worth were decided based on IQ scores, which led to significant stress about performing poorly on classwork and evaluations. Thus, Dweck’s interest in intelligence and her beliefs that it cannot accurately be assessed by one-time assessments like an IQ test.5 In psychology, there are two opposing theories of intelligence. The first is that it is a fixed, innate ability, which is the mindset adopted by Dweck’s primary school teachers. The second is that we are capable of growing and expanding our intelligence. The latter is the mindset Dweck prefers and promotes. In pursuing this research, Dweck developed programs to aid parents and teachers in encouraging children to adopt a growth mindset about their own abilities and intelligence.6 Dweck’s ultimate goal in promoting a growth mindset is to reduce stress and to encourage people to see failure as something they can learn from, not something that defines them.

“We like to think of our champions and idols as superheroes who were born different from us. We don’t like to think of them as relatively ordinary people who made themselves extraordinary.” 

– Carol Dweck in her 2006 book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success

Dweck claimed that if she could visit any other time period, she would choose the time surrounding and during the American Revolution. She admits that she would have loved to be a writer and thinker during this time and to empower America to strive for freedom and equality, two goals to which she hopes to motivate her 21st-century readers to aspire to as well.7

In 2007, Dweck launched a study on the growth mindset with Ross Bentley, an internationally recognized Seattle-based car racing coach. Bentley’s coaching strategy is to focus more on mental competitiveness than on technical skills, so Dweck’s research greatly appeals to him. Together, they investigated the effects of a growth mindset on speed times in forty race car drivers.8

“Picture your brain forming new connections as you meet the challenge and learn. Keep on going.” 

– Carol Dweck in her 2006 book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success

Published Works

“Once we know that abilities are capable of such growth, it becomes a basic human right for children, all children, to live in places that create that growth.”

– Carol Dweck in her 2014 TED Talk, “The power of believing that you can improve”

TED Talk

Dweck’s TED Talk, “The power of believing that you can improve”, is an inspiring presentation about our capacity to enhance our brain’s ability to learn and problem-solve. Dweck offers up advice about how to go about solving a problem that seems slightly too challenging to tackle.

“In the fixed mindset, everything is about the outcome. If you fail—or if you’re not the best—it’s all been wasted. The growth mindset allows people to value what they’re doing regardless of the outcome. They’re tackling problems, charting new courses, working on important issues.”

– Carol Dweck in her 2006 book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success

Mindset: The New Psychology of Success

In this 2006 release, Dweck explores the means through which our mindset influences every aspect of our lives. She explains how a growth mindset is more adaptive than a fixed mindset and how our mindset can influence the people around us. Furthermore, she takes a broad approach to the concept, exploring its applications to entire groups of people.


MindsetWorks, a website based off of the research conducted by Dweck and Lisa Blackwell, is a valuable resource for enabling continued growth and learning. Various programs are available for parents and teachers alike, which are designed to help children develop a growth mindset, as opposed to a fixed mindset. A growth mindset allows them to realize that, through sustained effort, they are capable of becoming smarter, thereby leading them to greater achievements.


  1. Trei, L. (2007). New study yield instructive results on how mindset affects learning. Stanford News
  2. McInerney, L. (2015). Carol Dweck floats like a butterfly but her intellect stings like a bee. Schools Week
  3. See 1
  4. Carol Dweck. Social Psychology Network
  5. See 1
  6. See 1
  7. See 2
  8. See 1

About the Authors

Dan Pilat's portrait

Dan Pilat

Dan is a Co-Founder and Managing Director at The Decision Lab. He is a bestselling author of Intention - a book he wrote with Wiley on the mindful application of behavioral science in organizations. Dan has a background in organizational decision making, with a BComm in Decision & Information Systems from McGill University. He has worked on enterprise-level behavioral architecture at TD Securities and BMO Capital Markets, where he advised management on the implementation of systems processing billions of dollars per week. Driven by an appetite for the latest in technology, Dan created a course on business intelligence and lectured at McGill University, and has applied behavioral science to topics such as augmented and virtual reality.

Sekoul Krastev's portrait

Dr. Sekoul Krastev

Sekoul is a Co-Founder and Managing Director at The Decision Lab. He is a bestselling author of Intention - a book he wrote with Wiley on the mindful application of behavioral science in organizations. A decision scientist with a PhD in Decision Neuroscience from McGill University, Sekoul's work has been featured in peer-reviewed journals and has been presented at conferences around the world. Sekoul previously advised management on innovation and engagement strategy at The Boston Consulting Group as well as on online media strategy at Google. He has a deep interest in the applications of behavioral science to new technology and has published on these topics in places such as the Huffington Post and Strategy & Business.

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