Your mindset can determine direction of life

I love to read, so when someone suggests a book that interests me or will enrich my understanding of a subject I am interested in, chances are I will buy the book. The other day a friend recommended a book to me by Carol Dweck, professor of psychology at Stanford University, titled “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.” I found it to be very intriguing.

My friend talked briefly about the theory behind Dweck’s work: A mindset is the self-perception that people hold about themselves. People either hold a fixed mindset or a growth mindset.

She explained that the people who embrace the fixed mindset believe that things like intelligence and talent are fixed traits. A person is either intelligent or not intelligent, talented or not talented. These are the traits one is born with, and there is no way to improve these traits to any significant degree.

The growth mindset, on the other hand, sees intelligence and talent as something that can be developed. Through strong dedication and hard work one can develop those desirable qualities as students discover that intelligence and talent are developed over time.

As I began to read the book, I couldn’t help but reflect that what I was reading was empirically verified in my own experience. Growing up, I had many difficulties related to school. I struggled in elementary school, then middle school and finally graduated high school with a 1.28 grade-point average, which meant I was the third-lowest in my graduating class.

Four years later, I ventured off to college only to leave after 18 months as a result of not doing well. As I packed up the car after the semester ended, I remember thinking that I must not be cut out for this. I was plagued by the fixed mindset.

Three years later I mustered up the courage to return to school and took a study skills course that would prove to be the game changer that affected the trajectory of my future.

That semester a metamorphosis took place. I began it with a fixed mindset but ended it with a growth mindset. I learned study skills, time management strategies, how to read for comprehension and how to prepare for exams. My professor told me that if I would apply these skills, I could be a successful student. I discovered that success at the university was as much hard work as anything else.

Since taking the class, a whole new world opened up for me as I began to read profusely. I soon noticed that the more I worked my mind muscle, the smarter I became.

A few years after finishing the class, I earned that bachelor’s degree. Two years later I earned my first master’s degree, then a second one, then a third.

This May I expect to receive my doctoral degree as a result of taking a study skills course several years earlier that brought a mindset change from fixed to growth.

Dweck’s theory opens wide the possibilities for academic success to students who normally underperform.

It also lays the groundwork for future success in life as kids can set career goals that are much higher because when they understand that talent is something that can be developed and things like hard work and dedication are the tools that bring about success.

Tim Orr is an adjunct faculty member in religious studies at IUPUC and author of the recently published book “We Named Her Faith: How We Became a Gospel-Centered Family.” He can be reached at tmorr@iupui.edu