How to Be Someone Who Tries Harder Instead of Someone Who Gives Up

Tracy Cutchlow, author of Zero to Five, and editor of both Brain Rules and Brain Rules for Baby, writes many articles on parenting for HuffPo. Of all of the articles she’s written in the past year, her article on Mindset by Dr. Carol S. Dweck was shared more widely than any other on social media. In a new article, she explains why. And now I’ll hand it over to Tracy . . .

Why Some Kids Try Harder and Some Kids Give Up“: This post on how to give our kids a growth mindset is the most popular piece I’ve written in the past year. I’m guessing that’s not just because we all want to teach our kids how to persevere through challenges. I’m guessing it’s also because we wonder for ourselves: why do I try so hard; or why do I so easily give up?

And those of us in the second category, especially, wonder how we might scoot ourselves over to the first category.

Of course, researchers wondered that as well. They devised an intervention to see if they could move students from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset. And it worked.

First, mentors teach the students that the brain is like a muscle. They read an article describing how the brain becomes stronger when you exercise it; weaker when you don’t. How when you learn something new, you increase the number of connections between the neurons in your brain. How practice strengthens existing connections between neurons.

This change in density in various areas of the brain is something scientists can now see, using neuroimaging. It happens more quickly than once thought: within a matter of months. For example, take students who studied every day for three months before an intense medical exam. When researchers scanned the students’ brains, gray matter had “significantly increased” in various sections of the brain over those three months.

Knowing this—how incredibly malleable the brain is—helps pull you out of a belief that intelligence is fixed.

So does thinking about something that you’ve learned to do really well—specifically, the process of getting there. How you were much worse at this thing when you started. The mistakes you made, big and small, and how you survived them. How important the mistakes were to your progress. The role of practice, practice, practice to get so far. In the mindset-moving studies, after talking about the brain as a muscle, mentors lead students in this kind of discussion.

This helps you recognize that mistakes don’t define you as a person, as you fear. Rather, mistakes are simply the process by which we learn anything new.

There’s more you can do on a daily basis to practice a growth mindset.

  • When someone does better than you, and you start to think, “They’re so talented. I’m just not as good,” you can stop yourself and think, “Maybe they’ve practiced more than I have. I could do that, too.”
  • When someone slights you, and you start to think, “They don’t like me; I’m not good enough for them,” you can stop yourself and think, “Maybe something else is going on in their day that I don’t know about.”
  • When you make a mistake, and you start to beat yourself up over it, you can stop yourself and think, “OK, what can I learn from this?”
  • When you’re asked to do something you haven’t done before, and you start to think, “I can’t; I’ll mess up; I’m not ready,” you can stop yourself and think, “Of course I won’t do it perfectly yet; I’m just getting started. This will be good practice.”

That’s what Carol Dweck tells us in her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. Dweck is the Stanford psychologist who conducted most of the studies on fixed and growth mindsets. Mindset gets into how our mindsets affect pretty much every area of our lives: school and sports, our work, our relationships with our partners and kids.

So if you were intrigued by my post on why some kids try harder, and you wanted to know more for yourself, this is a good time to check out Dweck’s book. As Libro’s book of the month, it’s available for $9.95 for a few more days.

Not a bad deal for life-changing information.

Brain Rules and Brain Rules for Baby, the bestselling books Tracy edited, are available on for a steal, too. They’re read by the author, John Medina. (Zero to Five isn’t an audiobook yet. Is that something you want? Let us know in the comments).

Making the Choice: Mindset Works Director Gives Advice for a Growth-Minded Life

Dr. Carol Dweck didn’t limit sharing her research to Mindset.

With Dr. Lisa Sorich Blackwell, she founded Mindset Works, an organization that helps schools and teachers to implement growth-minded tools. We chatted with Emily Diehl, Director of Professional Learning and Curriculum Design at Mindset Works, about her best tips and tricks in adapting a growth Mindset. Emily is a former teacher and parent herself, who brought her years of experience as well as Dr. Dweck’s research to our conversation.

[Judy T. Oldfield] Can you tell me what Mindset Works is all about and what the goals of the organization are?

[Emily Diehl] We translate educational research into products and services for schools, for students, for teachers, and for districts. Specifically, the research that we apply has to do with motivation and learning, and what drives people to be motivated, and how you can teach people [what] we call “non-cognitive” skills, so how can you teach people and cultivate them to become motivated, deep learners, high achievers, and meet their potential.

[JO] What do you tell people who have read Mindset, seen Dr. Dweck’s TED talk, or attended one of your sessions and say, “I really feel that I want to make a change in my life?”

[ED] My friend Jen Maichin (she’s one of our educator consultants) and I . . . had this goofy thing that rhymed: “You’ve got to hear the voice and make the choice.” She still says this to her students all the time. We [say] this in talks a lot. It’s very, very normal at first when you meet a challenge to have this little voice in your head that’s wondering, “Can I do this? Do I want to? How hard is this going to be? Will people judge me?” There all these things in your head. You hear that fixed-mindset voice, questioning if you can do it, and then you don’t make a growth-mindset choice. So, we tell them to embrace this challenge. Say, “I’m going to look for strategies. I’m going to be inspired by other successful people, I’m going to say things to myself when I make normal mistakes like ‘look what you learned from that.’” We tell them to look to switch to a growth-mindset choice.

[JO] So then, it is all very cognitive?

You know, it really is. The ironic thing about how they’ve labelled it “non-cognitive” is that is a very cognitive thing and just for a lack of better term, “non-cognitive” is what we’ve landed on. But it’s all in your head. That’s why we sometimes use the word belief. Your beliefs affect your success. But the neuroscience is backing all of this up. It’s not just the psychology of your beliefs; your brain literally does grow. The dendrins grow. You remap your neural connections. You physically get smarter, in a real sense.

[ED] What about adults working with young people? Do you have any good tips for daily interactions? For coaches, teachers, parents, working with young people?

Initially we would say, if you want to do one thing tomorrow, try this idea out, and see if it has an effect on the children in front of you. The first thing you can change is your feedback to kids. You want to use the kind of feedback that helps people to learn from their mistakes. Don’t say “Oh no, try not to make a mistake again.” Say “Well, that’s great. These are really hard challenges. These are opportunities to learn; let’s talk about what you learned from this.” You want to use the kind of feedback that isn’t always concentrating on saying “Wow, good job, you’re so smart, you’re so fast, you’re so brilliant.”

It takes more effort to engage and to pay attention to whatever process the other person is going through and to give feedback that is specific to whatever they are doing. That’s our first foray into all of this: learning how you interact with the kids. Are you accidentally promoting a fixed mindset, that things should be easy, that we don’t do hard things so that way we don’t make any mistakes? Or are you encouraging a growth mindset, where you really push people to try the hard thing?

[JO] Would you give that same advice to someone who manages people at work? Adults working with adults?

[ED] Absolutely. Carol did an interview with Harvard Business Review. I really recommend it. It’s called “The Right Mindset for Success” and she talks about this scenario a lot. The reality of the work place is that you don’t want to make a lot of high-risk mistakes because it’s bad for business, but she talks about how we want employees who are willing to take responsible risks and learn.

[JO] Let’s go back to talking about kids. Do you think we overreward kids for participation by giving them trophies for showing up, giving an A for effort? We’re praising kids for participation but not for hard work.

[ED] Absolutely. I have that problem with my own children. I signed them up for a swim team, and starting out my children were a little older than other kids were when they started, who were far better swimmers than my children. I told my children “You aren’t going to win any races this whole year. You won’t win anything. Those kids have been swimming for five years, and this is your first year. You’re not going to win. But we’re doing this. We’re going to learn how to swim and it’ll be fun.” And everyone thought I was this mean mom, right? Well, we go to the first swim meet, and guess what they do? They give my kids ribbons even though they didn’t win anything! My kids started laughing. They were like, “Ha ha Mom, look! You said we wouldn’t get anything and we did.” I was really disappointed. I would have rather they wouldn’t have gotten the ribbon, because they didn’t earn one. Unless the ribbon had said “participant” or if they had been given a ribbon later for improving their time.

[JO] Or even a certificate of completion for going to every single practice.

[ED] Yeah, because, again, we were extremely diligent and they progressed a lot, but they didn’t deserve a ribbon like all the kids who had actually won a race that day.

[JO] Did your kids keep up swimming?

[ED] Yes. They’re still swimming and they’re doing better. They’re still being outswum by the kids who are five years ahead of them in experience but they really understand that. They know that if they had started swimming sooner, they’d be better and that if they keep swimming, eventually it’s all going to even out if they just work hard and practice.

[JO] My nephew is also a swimmer. I don’t live by my nieces and nephews, but ever since reading Mindset, every time I see their parents posting things about what they’re doing on Facebook, I’ve been really trying hard praise effort in my comments, like “It looks like those practices really paid off.” But I notice that in their comments, other people are praising what they perceive to be natural ability, intelligence, or creativity. Do you think that there is a societal condition where we praise natural ability, natural intelligence?

[ED] I think both messages are very strong in our society. It’s very mixed, and so we bring up children in a very confused way. In certain things people are taking those growth-minded messages—“You can do anything,” “pull yourself up by your bootstraps,” “keep practicing.”

[JW] It seems like we really encourage children, especially in areas like athletics or the arts up through college and then when people become an adult they say, “Now it’s time to put that away.”

[ED] Exactly. Or all of a sudden you are surrounded by other, high-achieving people.

During early stages it’s easier to learn something sometimes. When you’re young you grow a lot. When you get older, it gets harder and you’re going, “Oh, I’m not as good as I thought I was.” Because you never learned to work hard for it.

[JO] Do you find people who are resistant to the idea of this growth and fixed mindset or are resistant to the idea of changing their mindset?

[ED] We do, but it’s rarer. Their argument is usually not that they don’t buy into the growth mindset—most people are excited to hear about it. Sometimes when parents have older children who they desperately want to really succeed feel like “I can’t let my kid fail. They have to get all A’s.” So I can’t talk to them about just trying the hard thing and how we all make mistakes sometimes. They feel like they have to choose the thing they’ll get an A in because they have to go to Harvard. When you have children yourself and you’ve raised them in a fix-minded world then these messages are difficult to hear. But I wouldn’t say that people don’t want to hear it or that they’re against learning about it.

What’s your favorite tip from Mindset? Let us know in the comments. Haven’t read it yet? Get Mindset here.

Our Top 7 Pieces of Advice from Mindset

There are interesting insight, facts, and pieces of advice in every minute of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Dr. Carol Dweck. It was tough to narrow them down to my favorites, but the following quotes are some of the pieces of advice that stayed with me long after I finished listening to Mindset.

1. On challenging kids

So what should we say when children complete a task—say, math problems—quickly and perfectly? Should we deny them the praise they have earned? Yes. When this happens, I say, ‘Whoops. I guess that was too easy. I apologize for wasting your time. Let’s do something you can really learn from!’”

2. On our innate desire to learn

What on earth would make someone a nonlearner? Everyone is born with an intense drive to learn. Infants stretch their skills daily. Not just ordinary skills, but the most difficult tasks of a lifetime, like learning to walk and talk. They never decide it’s too hard or not worth the effort. Babies don’t worry about making mistakes or humiliating themselves. They walk, they fall, they get up.”

3. On confidence

Question: Are people with the fixed mindset simply lacking in confidence? No. People with the fixed mindset have just as much confidence as people with the growth mindset—before anything happens, that is. But as you can imagine, their confidence is more fragile since setbacks and even effort can undermine it.”

4. On sending messages to children or subordinates

Every word and action can send a message. It tells children—or students, or athletes—how to think about themselves. It can be a fixed-mindset message that says: You have permanent traits and I’m judging them. Or it can be a growth-mindset message that says: You are a developing person and I am interested in your development.

5. On idolization

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. Why not? To me that is so much more amazing.”

6. On praise

After seven experiments with hundreds of children, we had some of the clearest findings I’ve ever seen: Praising children’s intelligence harms their motivation and it harms their performance. How can that be? Don’t children love to be praised? Yes, children love praise. And they especially love to be praised for their intelligence and talent. It really does give them a boost, a special glow—but only for the moment. The minute they hit a snag, their confidence goes out the window and their motivation hits rock bottom. If success means they’re smart, then failure means they’re dumb. That’s the fixed mindset.”

7. On stretching yourself

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.”

 What’s your favorite piece of advice from Mindset? Leave it in the comments below. Haven’t read it yet? Check out our Mindset page.

Book of the Month: Mindset

At we believe in the power of online communities.

We’ve all seen people, separated by geography, come together to do amazing things on Twitter, blogs, and forums. With this in mind, we’re selecting a Book of the Month each month.

Every month, we’ll focus on a particular book and generate discussion on our blog and social media around it. Think of it like an online book club that lasts all month long. We’ll pick books from all walks of life and all genres, mixing up fiction with nonfiction, and all of the subcategories therein. 

First up, we’ve selected Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Dr. Carol Dweck, a book that I’m very excited to discuss. I’m also especially excited that we will offer Mindset at 60% off the retail price, throughout April.

Mindset is the sort of book that I’ve been hearing about for years, one that I’ve always meant to pick up. When my friend and colleague Tracy Cutchlow wrote about Mindset for The Huffington Post, the post went viral, racking up more than 212,000 likes on Facebook. As the publisher of John Medina’s Brain Rules for Baby, I received more feedback about Mindset than any other topic. Po Bronson, author of NurtureShock, wrote about it for New York Magazine. It’s the most read article in the history of the magazine. Clearly there is something to this book and Dr. Dweck’s research.

Dweck believes that people possess two types of mindsets: fixed or growth. Those with a fixed mindset believe that talent is innate, that people are either good or something or not, and if they are not, they have failed. People with a growth mindset, however, believe that steady dedication will see results. These people love a challenge because it is just that—challenging. They do not believe in inherent intelligence or skill. Not only are people with a growth mindset happier and more satisfied than those with a fixed mindset, but they are better at achieving their goals too.

And yet, Mindset hasn’t acquired that household name that some other psychology books have.

Going into Mindset, I had it in my head that this was a parenting book. After all, Dweck’s fabulous TED Talk is mostly geared towards parents and teachers. In it, she speaks about disadvantaged kids and whole schools who were able to shoot to the top of their studies when these same kids were encouraged and “praised wisely”—that is to say that they were praised for their work, not their intelligence.

I don’t have kids myself, but thought maybe there were some ideas in Mindset I could extract for my own purposes.

I quickly discovered that while, yes, this is a parenting book (there are several great ideas in here for parents), it is so much more than that. Dweck covers coaches, teachers, athletes, CEOs, musicians, artists, and, in the end, every ordinary person who reads her book. Take the following audio clip, for example. Dweck examines confidence and uses the real-life examples of athletes to demonstrate her points.

Over the course of Mindset Dweck illustrates how to respond to others in order to encourage a growth mindset, as well as how to think about things in one’s own life.

Even if you are already in a growth mindset, you can still learn something from Mindset. But if you are in a growth mindset, I don’t have to tell you that. You know that there is always something to be improved upon; there is always room to grow.


Visit our Mindset page for more great information about this book. Be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter, where we’ll be discussing this book all month long.