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What You Believe Affects What You Achieve (gatesnotes.com)
428 points by pykello on Dec 17, 2015 | hide | past | web | favorite | 148 comments

I have the book, started reading it about a year ago and stopped halfway, because my bullshit cup got full.

The reason I think this book is nicely packaged bullshit is because it presents exceptions as rules and then tries to build a theory out of it.

I wish it were as easy as Dr. Dweck describes it, but there are gotchas.

I can agree with the distinction of 'fixed' versus 'growth' mindsets (although... .. how do you measure that?), but that success is guaranteed if you believe and try... Not necessarily. Ask 9 startup founders out of 10.

Not achieving "success" (failing) is rarely free: it leaves emotional and physical scars.. Repeat it a couple of times and you're either dead or on your way there.

No, success is not guaranteed even if you try many many times times, even if you train a lot and believe a lot.

In fact, the rule is this: No matter how hard you try, you might still lose. Sorry about that.

And the reason for this is not mindset - the reason is your definition of success. If you try to win at the wrong game, you will probably lose at it. So pick your game wisely.

Of course, a fixed mindset will only land you some semi-boring job, a family, a couple of kids and a lot of mainstream entertainment.. I guess that's the definition of "failure" these days... But is it ?


By the way, if you want useful advice about how to be successful in life, Bill Gates is a very bad choice. It might be counterintuitive at first, but think about it ... As a bird, is it smart to fly around with your mouth wide open in order to catch food... because that's what the whale does ?

This is such an unhealthy way to view the world, so full of cynicism and an easy path to self-loathing.

> Not achieving "success" (failing) is rarely free: it leaves emotional and physical scars.. Repeat it a couple of times and you're either dead or on your way there.

This is where the mindset change matters so importantly. If you view every point of lack of success as failure, of course it will defeat you- but if you instead view it as a learning experience, and you try your best to understand why the failure came, you can build something out of it.

This is a common strategy to gaining skill in- well, anything- but especially in games. Often the difference between someone with innate talent and someone with experience, is that the person with innate talent can keep up in terms of general mechanics- they can think ahead, guess their enemy out, and go faster, just stressing their enemy out.

But they'll still be beaten incredibly quickly by someone with experience, because they don't recognize the patterns that lead to loss. In fact, one can climb the ladder of skill to the highest echelons of Chess, Formula 1, or Starcraft off of simply exploiting other people's lack of knowledge in a specific pattern.

> In fact, the rule is this: No matter how hard you try, you might still lose. Sorry about that.

For sure. But then again, to always lose no matter what, is about as likely as being Bill Gates. And none of us- truly, none of us- know what the future holds for us. Some of this decade's most successful people didn't see it until their late 40s.

Life is a lot more interesting than "settle for average". We haven't even begun to figure it out, that's why you can even still have such crazy outliers as Gates.

> But then again, to always lose no matter what, is about as likely as being Bill Gates

I'd like for you to be right, but there are a lot of poor and oppressed people out there. There are a lot of children that die young. There's only one Bill Gates.

And how many heroes does the world revere for rising up and doing something about similar situations, even if it was in the past? There are a lot of people dealt very shitty cards. What this is trying to say is that, even in the most horrible of situations, people have found a way. You can too.

> This is a common strategy to gaining skill in- well, anything- but especially in games.

Great analogy, because in games this seems obvious. Good judgement comes from experience, and experience comes (predominantly) from bad judgement.

> But then again, to always lose no matter what, is about as likely as being Bill Gates.

This sounds very inspiring, but assessing whether that's really true is also difficult. You are assuming that skewness and kurtosis in the marginal distribution of success (with respect to innate ability, effort, and all other factors except "luck") are minimal.

> No matter how hard you try, you might still lose.

This is true and inspires tremendous fear. It prevents many would-be successes. I suspect far more than enough to offset the would-be failures. We could recapture this lost value with a universal basic income. We're just too busy chasing down all the "lazy" people while simultaneously declaring their uselessness. It would be funny if it weren't so sad. Why are they useless anyway?

>We could recapture this lost value with a universal basic income

In absolute agreement. UBI may unlock extreme growth of efficiency by enabling risk taking without risk of total defeat.

"Bill Gates: No. I think after the first three or four years, it's pretty cast in concrete whether you're a good programmer or not. After a few more years, you may know more about managing large projects and personalities, but after three or four years, it's clear what you're going to be. There's no one at Microsoft who was just kind of mediocre for a couple of years, and then just out of the blue started optimizing everything in sight. I can talk to somebody about a program that he's written and know right away whether he's really a good programmer." http://blog.codinghorror.com/how-to-become-a-better-programm....

This is in the context of programmers-who-have-already-been-hired-at-microsoft. And possibly speaks to a lack of training/mentoring. Edit: and something Gates said 20 years ago.

Learning new things makes you a better programmer, always. My first four years, I was a copy/paste programmer. Then I turned 11 and learned algebra. Huge leap forward. Another huge leap forward with trigonometry and calculus. Again when I had access to a library with books that weren't older than me. Another when I finally met other programmers, studied FP and learned half a dozen real languages. Another with statistics, differential equations and linear algebra. And so forth.

The ascent only ever stops if you are employed at a company that has a culture of overwork and no mentoring. But if Gates believed people can't grow, then (true to the headline) he probably made it a self-fulfilling prophesy.

Some people can never be good singers, because they're tone deaf. Or mute. Blind people, with perhaps a few exceptional, uh, exceptions, can never be good basketball players. People with exceptionally low can never be programmers.

On the other side are the virtuoso's. People who not just through training, but innate ability are at the top of their field.

The rest of us are somewhere in between.

It strikes me as downright ridiculous that there's an infinite ascent to becoming a better programmer, considering that it's trivial to think of examples of people who cannot even master the basics.

I think anecdata in this case doesn't quite cut it.

That said, I very much applaud the sentiment of your message, as I think a lot of people err on the side of thinking that they are innately incapable while diligent practice and learning might get them quite far.

But that doesn't change the, in my opinion, completely sensible observation that some people are just not cut out to be great programmers. Programming is difficult!

I think Bill Gates is not saying people can't improve their programming chops, but instead that innate talent cannot be taught or learned.

From a different perspective - all pro-level athletes got to where they are today with a lot of training. But only a tiny fraction of the global population, if put through the same training regimen, could achieve that pro status.

That's what you call a fixed mindset :) .

"There's no one at Microsoft who was just kind of mediocre for a couple of years, and then just out of the blue started optimizing everything in sight."

That's a fixed mindset if there ever was one. He's saying its extremely improbable for someone to go from mediocre to super skilled.

This mentality is what causes tech companies to all adopt the myopic "We only hire 'A' players" hiring policy. I totally disagree with this. With the right coaching, feedback, and practice, B players can definitely become A players. I've seen it happen over and over throughout my career. Gates is usually right about this kind of stuff but I can't agree with this one.

It also completely ignores that programmers may appear to be mediocre because of environmental factors beyond their control. Casting this to the general case, people do not have absolute control over the conditions in which they need to succeed, and may fail despite taking every optimal action for their situation.

> Gates is usually right about this kind of stuff but I can't agree with this one.

Context: He said this in 1986.

What super interesting about this is that it could be that you'll spot the people with a growth mindset over a few years, while those with a fixed mindset will be the ones not growing. So what Gates may have been doing all along is weeding out the fixed mindset people.

That can't be true, unless you also want to claim people are born with ability to program or not.

What you are saying is that people can't learn period. Which is not true. 3-4 years is not enough time to master anything, but 10 years might be:


Dude it's not my opinion :P.

Lord, the grandiosity here is breathtaking.

You've set it up as: I achieve SUCCESS and am a winner, or I fail again and again and again at everything I do and I'm a failed startup founder and on my way to death.

I understand that voice, I really do, and it's the voice of perfectionism coming through grandiosity. It's an incredible barrier to success, because your choices are, "I'm going to write THE BEST math paper!! ! !" or "I'm a failure." This keeps you from writing the ones in between that might be crappy and might not be (ask me how I know).

It's much more functional to break tasks down into concrete items without a value judgement. I'm going to learn three chords on the guitar. I am going to accomplish the following tasks with the goal of increasing conversions x%. I will see how these efforts work and adjust accordingly.

These habits don't guarantee success, but they give you the perspective to react proportionately.

Kill the voice of grandiosity & perfectionism, which is disguised as "reasonable thinking" because you & I are so smart and really can do some things faster & more easily than others.

> I can agree with the distinction of 'fixed' versus 'growth' mindsets (although... .. how do you measure that?), but that success is guaranteed if you believe and try... Not necessarily.

where does Dr. Dweck make that implication anywhere? in fact, her research is more about how the growth mindset gets more exposure to failure, while the fixed mindset tends to avoid failure in the first place, which is just a different type of failure. so in that sense, her work is all about failure, not about "success being guaranteed if you believe and try".

You might just lose indeed. But there are so many interesting things you can lose at, you'd be crazy not to take that chance. I've "lost" at skydiving, stage improv, novel writing, screen writing, foreign language acquisition, and so many other things. There's a whole lot of fun to be had embarrassing yourself and setting yourself up to get yourself killed.


On the flip side of that, fixed mindsets in the context of a "semi-boring job" can lead to a LOT of psychological trauma. I won't go into the details but I will say this. Given the choice, you're better off jumping out of the airplane. Trust me on this.

What does "losing at skydiving" look like?

Losing in that context is this. You concede with the skydiving instructor and drop zone safety officer that you aren't cut out for the sport. You walk away from it with body physically in tact and take up something else. At least that's what losing is in skydiving if you're smart about it.

Reading your post...lots of misconceptions about Dr. Dweck's work. You might want to finish that book.

This comment is both black and white, negative, and reductive.

How do you measure a growth mindset? Well, we could look at Dweck's research with school children, where kids exposed to the concept that the brain is a muscle score markedly better than the control groups. [1]

Your views on failure suggest you have either forgotten childhood, or have a warped perspective on it: all kids do is fail, over and over, until they get the hang of things. We scrape our knees, our towers of blocks fall down, we can't get the puzzle pieces into the holes and constantly misidentify letters and numbers. To say that you repeat failure a couple of times and 'you're either dead or on your way there' is bleak and also wrong.

What Dweck's research shows is that children who are praised for their efforts fare better than those who are praised on being innately smart. You seem fixated on success being a zero-sum game. Like, whether a startup succeeds or fails. Dweck isn't guaranteeing that with positive thinking, you can achieve anything. It's not so black and white. The idea is that with the proper mindset, people can achieve a whole lot more than society might otherwise make them believe – and for so many people (children especially), that can be a life-changing realization.

1: http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/oct0...

> No, success is not guaranteed even if you try many many times times, even if you train a lot and believe a lot. In fact, the rule is this: No matter how hard you try, you might still lose. Sorry about that.

I agree. As soon as you stop trying, you've lost.

I think this is an inversion of cause and effect. The reality is much less inspiring; It's "What you achieve affects what you believe" not so much the other way around.

I know this for a fact because as I become more sceptical/pessimistic over time, my achievements increase. If I was a blind optimist, I would probably fail as soon as reality reared its ugly head.

If someone is really lucky throughout their lives, they will have an optimistic view about the world and the people around them.

Unfortunate people might find a statement like this offensive because they know for a fact (based on their own experiences) that this isn't true - It's almost like saying "It's your fault for being poor; it's all in your head!".

I don't think this means an inversion

What comes first? - belief or achievement or self-confidence?

You won't achieve something if you don't believe in it. You just won't persevere and will give up or find workarounds.

But if you believe in it and keep failing consistently, your self-confidence will go down and so will your trust in self. It gets to that miserable "I'm no good" belief until one breaks out of that.

Once you achieve something, it will boost your self-confidence and trust in self will rise and your belief is validated. Then your belief will make you try more and achieve more. Sometimes it leads to overconfidence and bouts of overconfidence will break that trust within oneself - and we just need avoid getting into that downward spiral.

Many times "starters" define limits that are just self-imposed limits. People fall into the ugly 'I can't do that' loop without trying. And they have to be forcibly, inconveniently and painfully pushed out of that. This quote from Star Trek sounds so true "stallion has to be broken to reach it's potential"

I'm a pessimist but I don't believe that pessimism motivated achievements can make one happy unless it is a side-effect. Such achievements root from a negative inner rebellion behaviour. And if we aren't truly happy with those achievements, that makes us doubt and kill our own inner beliefs that led to those achievements. I'm not saying we should be a blind-optimist but stay close to reality.

My brother used to tell me that I need to hit rock bottom first before I will decide to activate the inner strength which is required to get up. I wasn't very successfull after receiving my "Higher School Certificate" because I started studying computer science but quit it after a year. I had no job, no money and I felt miserable. That's the point where I hit bottom and step by step I started to improve my situation.

I still don't see myself as successfull but I'm definitely grateful considering I picked up my first job as a frontend developer at the beginning of 2011 and after 3 companies, I'm working for a subsidiary of eBay in Germany since August 2014.

I apologize if telling a bit about myself is off topic but I think being successfull isn't just about the mindset but there are so many other factors. One of the most important ones is the willingness to take risks. I had a very comfortable job (before I joined eBay) but I realized that I won't be able to grow there at some point. A lot of people thought I was stupid because I quit my job. These are the same type of people who refuse to step out of their comfort zones.

I've read some interesting articles that suggest consciousness may actually be a parallel construction of the brain; the allusion of free will being constantly back-filled. If so, it would be the case that what you achieve effects what you believe quite literally.


Here's a famous paper on the subject. It's not a new paper, it's from 1977.


In short, people often have no idea why they chose to do what they did. However, when asked, "why did you choose to do that?" they will rarely say, "I don't know" but will instead concoct stories that explain their choices -- explanations that are often wrong.

"but will instead concoct stories that explain their choices"

Piggybacking on SCHiM's comment, and changing "choices" to "beliefs", this is also something you will learn from looking at tribal societies (creation myths, etc).

Now I'm reminded of this clip from the Star Trek TNG episode Who Watches the Watchers (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uii5WrmChbE)

This is something you will hear from disinterested teens too when their teachers try to make them vocalize their opinions on some school subject:

Teacher: What did you think about <subject>

Teen: I think it's fun

Teacher: Why do you think it's 'fun', just saying it's 'fun' is not a valid opinion.

Teen: Because it engages my curiosity and I want to learn more about <subject>

Teacher: That's good, you shou...

Later you'll hear the pupil complaining, that such exercises are pointless, because the second clarification of the pupil's opinion is just as circular and empty as the initial declaration of 'fun'. You can play this game to infinity, and you will never get to the point that any words have any real intrinsic value.

If you find this subject interesting I'd like to suggest Sam Harris' "Free Will."

I'd rather suggest "Four Views on Free Will"[1], much more in touch with the state of the art and not difficult to read.

[1]: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1405134860

For those who don't want to drop $30 on a kindle book (don't feel bad, it's not really your choice) the Sam Harris YouTube video is pretty good and has nothing to do with his views on Islam(ism).

I don't think it's anyone's fault for starting out poor, or becoming poor from outside factors (war, medical condition, etc.)

But barring all those factors, if you don't make a deliberate choice to change something, the world around you will keep you down.

> if you don't make a deliberate choice to change something, the world around you will keep you down.

One of the problems is that usually poor people is a lot less educated. They don't event know the actual value of the knowledge that they lack. So it's quite easy that when they try to "improve" their situation they take ineffective or even harmful steps.

That's why education is so important for a well working society. It will give a more fair start to every one even if the resources that that people have are not fairly distributed. We tend to underestimate the value of our knowledge of the world that offers our cultural background.

In some places I know of, a lot of the poor are hostile towards education because they see it as a cultural affront to their values and self-sufficiency and as a form of counter-culture of sorts. This is something that Bill Gates may not have observed much in his travels because this is something I think may be perversely unique to the United States, but I have seen it for myself and it's one of the things that makes me wonder whether encouraging people to do anything beneficial is of value nor even a morally correct choice when they don't want help and would literally rather die than go to college or leave their impoverished communities in search of self improvement. These are areas where even public education is considered "brainwashing" and while maybe somewhat approaching cult-like societal tendencies they're still aware to a degree of what their situation is.

Yes, but you might try very hard and still not move up. It's debatable whether it's better to "Fail never having tried at all" versus "Fail having tried as hard as you could".

Trying hard does not guarantee success. But not trying at all does guarantee not-success.

Probably in developed countries, trying hard might be an option where in poverty means you most likely have cell phone, laptop and roof over your head. But in developing countries like India, where abject poverty its ugly head, the people even are not aware that there are opportunities which could enable them to move up. All they have time and energy to think about is how to get the next piece of meal for their family. This also partly due to social structure which is deliberately designed to keep them that way for the benefit of upper class people.

So what you're saying is that not trying hard will leave them starving, posdibly dead? Sounds like pretty strong incentive to try hard ...

Trying hard to get the next meal... If getting a meal is s being successful then I think we have very different definition of success.

Yes, we do. That's the whole point. You define what success means for you.

That's also why "what you believe shapes what you achieve".

> But not trying at all does guarantee not-success.

It might guarantee less pain.

Some kinds of success are achieved through not doing things. And then we get into the question of "to do" vs. "not to do".

Think of it as a function. Privilege ia the y-intercept, trying hard is the multiplier, doing are all the factors with an x, and success is your desired Y.

Solve the equation and voila. Doing can be negative if your desired Y goes in that direction from your y-intercept. Remember, you can also control which way axes point.

This can be a multivariate function/equation. It can also have multiple dimensions. The important part is that all of it is definable by you.

Your question is basically "should you bet or not?"

Said like that the answer becomes obvious: It varies from situation to situation. Some bets are good and some are bad.

You reminded me of this article[1] by Scott Adams, whereby, one should have a system rather than relying on passion.

Heck, there is even a slide[2] for this.

[1] http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB100014240527023046261045791218...

[2] http://www.slideshare.net/Scottadams925/goals-are-for-losers...

One rule I really try to follow is "Always remember how stupid you are".

Yup, mine is similar, "Always remember your roots."

Success, of course, begets success. And vice versa.

That's kind of what this article was all about. That you can break through that barrier if you can understand what is shaping your thinking about how the world works.

Do you think it's possible you're conflating scepticism and pessimism with an increased understanding of how the world works? That is, with more experience?

I know I was very optimistic of life what I was in my 20s. Then, in my 30s, that optimism faded. Now, in my 40s, I've come to realize that I'm optimistic again, and I was just naive in my 20s. Perhaps this cycle will repeat or take a new form as I grow older. I'm kind of excited to see what happens.

Same here! I didn't start achieving until I started becoming skeptical, mostly about other things or people.

I am super optimistic about things that I control however.

There's an important idea I feel is being missed. Something can be true "in distribution" but not true in a "pathwise" sense. That means, over the long run, for most people, on average x is true. But for specific individual and/or specific time frame it can be very untrue.

Point being I can say to you "adopt a growth mindset", you do it, but it doesn't work and life throws you 'a curve ball' again and again. Doesn't mean my hypothesis was wrong, and doesn't mean you didn't follow through properly. We can both be right in this case.

All it means is, we should act as if our actions/thoughts count, but accept it as a fundamental property of the universe that they may not 'bear fruit'.

All we can do is embrace the chaos^

^ as in chaotic systems

I think that most people would be a lot happier if they saw life as a series of low probability events rather than trying to create a story of accumulation.

Life does not accumulate things (luck, good fortune, bad fortune, karma, any other crap that feeds the story of continuity).

Life is about maximizing your exposure to positive low probability events, or the probability of them, and minimizing your exposure to negative low probability events, or the probability of them.

You're not working hard in work to get a reward, you're working hard to be exposed to more chances of possible rewards.

You're not exercise to avoid bad health, you're doing it to lower the chances of a series of low probability diseases.

I think this is the same thing you were saying. I think realising that life is a series of low probability discreet events, not a continuum that accumulates based on past events is a real life changer.

All you can work on is the process of finding the right events to be exposed to - having feelings about the outcome of those events is irrational and leads to unhappiness.

hi lord krishna i am a fan

> To action alone hast thou a right and never at all to its fruits; let not the fruits of action be thy motive; neither let there be in thee any attachment to inaction

This is a bit late but this should be noted :

"Bill Gates: No. I think after the first three or four years, it's pretty cast in concrete whether you're a good programmer or not. After a few more years, you may know more about managing large projects and personalities, but after three or four years, it's clear what you're going to be. There's no one at Microsoft who was just kind of mediocre for a couple of years, and then just out of the blue started optimizing everything in sight. I can talk to somebody about a program that he's written and know right away whether he's really a good programmer."


So Does Bill still believe this or is he a hypocrite in hiding ?

The interview you quote is from 1986, nearly 30 years ago. People change their viewpoints over 3 decades - it would be stupid if Gates always thought the same things even after learning from others or having new experiences.

So he's not being a "hypocrite," he's just learning. Just because he is famous and has a lot of interviews doesn't mean he isn't allowed to change his mind.

1986 was 29 years ago dude. Almost three decades.

Nice catch - fixed. Too early for arithmetic.


The greatest virtue of the book is that you can’t help but ask yourself things like, “Which areas have I always looked at through a fixed-mindset lens?” and “In what ways am I sending the wrong message to my children about mindset and effort?” Thanks to Dweck’s skillful coaching, you’re almost guaranteed to approach these tough questions with a growth mindset.

God he used to be such an ass. Sometimes I forget he's even the same person.

> he used to be such an ass

Gates became successful back then, not now when he became mellow.

Perhaps that's the growth mindset in action.

This is interesting in the context of American History. Basically, a majority of settlers were Calvinists. A big part of Calvinist belief was "predestination" which basically holds that a person's destiny (heaven or hell) is determined by God before they are born. This would seem to me to reinforce a "fixed mindset". Paradoxically, out of that same belief system came the "Protestant work ethic" which depending on who you ask made America the greatest country on Earth. I think that one could argue that the "fixed mindset" enabled a sort of wishful thinking attitude: believers though they were predestined so they focused on growth and self improvement over the usual Catholic traditions (which focused on a growth mindset in religious observance while having a more fixed mindset in practical work ethics).

I think your basically right, but the paradox actually makes more sense when you understand a few nuances of Protestantism:

0) Reformed (i.e. Calvinist) theologians made significant efforts to argue their understanding of predestination was not deterministic because humans are moral agents and responsible for their actions. They were aware and quite comfortable that God predestining morally responsible people is a paradox (technically referred to as an antinomy).

1) Reformed theologians also taught the predestined are 'born-again', meaning they are given a new spiritual life that changes that person's perspective and attitudes towards everything. The predestined evidence their salvation by good works.

Here's where the growth mindset would apply. Reformed theologians taught predestination as a motivating belief, rather than a fatalistic one. Grace, or salvation, in Reformed theology doesn't comes through religious observance but comes from faith, which demonstrates itself in how a person lives.

I think it's a combination of work ethic and also relative freedom to do something different . As Americans we seem to want to innovate or do something different.

I believe everyone should have a growth mindset, but the paper from Dweck is popularized and interpreted a little too loosely. The stricter interpretation is less compelling:

In the Bloody Obvious Position, someone can believe success is 90% innate ability and 10% effort. They might also be an Olympian who realizes that at her level, pretty much everyone is at a innate ability ceiling, and a 10% difference is the difference between a gold medal and a last-place finish. So she practices very hard and does just as well as anyone else.

According to the Controversial Position, this athlete will still do worse than someone who believes success is 80% ability and 20% effort, who will in turn do worse than someone who believes success is 70% ability and 30% effort, all the way down to the person who believes success is 0% ability and 100% effort, who will do best of all and take the gold medal.

It might seem pedantic, but I worry that propagating this loose interpretation will lead to many people believing their positive "growth" attitude, and not years of concentrated practice, is enough to grow.

From: http://slatestarcodex.com/2015/04/10/i-will-never-have-the-a...

Gates speaking about the "fixed mindset" vs. "growth mindset" reminds me of this [1] article by Aaron Swartz.

[1]: http://www.aaronsw.com/weblog/dweck

Carol Dweck (the first name mentioned in that article) is the author of the book: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B000FCKPHG/ref=dp-kindle-re...

This is a much better article than the one from Gates. Thanks.

The "Growth mindset!" safe word part at the end was quite apt.

However, it's possible to get a LOT done when you're not growing. For example in basketball, if you know how to do a play which beats other teams all the time, then running that play can be a great idea. Of course, perhaps another team finally figures out your plays and they become useless. Then you might wish you'd spent some of that time growing and developing more plays.

Like how Gates is successful, and is able to spend more of his time growing and trying different things. Because he doesn't need to spend a lot of his time executing successful plays so he can pay rent.

Thanks for the link. As someone who's never heard of Dweck, I learned a lot from Aaron's point of view on the topic. Also Gates is totally right when he says that this isn't black and white. I'm growth mindset about some parts of my life and embarrassingly fixed mindset about others.

Is this maybe a western cultural bias, that somehow God blesses you with talent and that's it? Some residue from aristocracy?

When you look at things like Japanese martial arts, it's all about learning from someone more experienced and lots of hard work. The limiting factor is your endurance, and the general sentiment is that "if someone learned before me, I can too".

I'm not sure about that specific instance of Japanese culture, but for East Asia I'd say fixed mindset was much more relevant. I grew up being told that I will never do anything great with my life (not in a mean you-are-stupid way, but just a seemingly "rational"/"realistic" world view that only a few very smart people can do great thing, and I'm not one of them).

Love this idea, but I do not recommend the book. It's clearly a science article that has been stretched into 250 pages. Same idea, repeated repeated repeated.

I highly recommend a summary, unless you think you'll benefit from reading twenty examples of the same concept. It's one of the few books that I started but didn't finish this year.

Absolutely agree. I'm reading the book now, and it feels like hundreds of examples to reinforce the same idea over and over again. Granted, she varies the topics (business, parenting, sports, academics, etc..) - but the takeaways are exactly the same, and in each case the data draws the same conclusions repeatedly. Still, an interesting topic and not bad for light commute reading.

"Energy flows where attention goes"

Above is another line, like the one in the title. On one hand, it's obvious because if you focus your attention, for example, on building a computer, of course your energy goes in that direction. On the other hand, if you don't realize your attention (ie, thoughts) is on certain matters, you may be expending energy on that unknowingly. Of course, if you're a generalist and your attention goes everywhere, your energy is following suit.

I think the same about the language we use.

Or rather, I think... "What we hear affects us, and we hear ourselves.".

This is an extension of the "surround yourself with positive people" thing, in that I believe it's important to be positive, kind, generous, as the language and tone that we use to express we hear constantly and those words, that tone, shapes our thoughts, mood, aspirations.

It's important to be mindful and to be the person you want to be. By doing so, we frequently are that person.

>When I was visiting with community college students in Arizona, one young man said to me, “I’m one of the people who’s not good at math.” It kills me when I hear that kind of thing. I think about how different things might have been if he had been told consistently “you’re very capable of learning this stuff.”

Couldn't agree more with this specific example. But you shouldn't ignore reality either. A man with no legs is not going to win the 100 meters at the Olympics. Understanding where your potential lies is important for deciding where to invest your effort. That doesn't mean he can't improve at all though.

Especially in things like math, there is a popular belief that you need some kind of 'math gene' to be decent at it. There is little evidence that there are math specific genes beyond general learning ability.

[Same genes 'drive maths and reading ability'] http://www.bbc.com/news/health-28211676

Sadly, in a lot of cases this will lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy where you will stop trying to improve your math skills because you weren't "made for it".

But that's really more a problem of a false belief that these things are set from birth. A blind belief in 'I can do anything i want despite the situation or environment i am in!' isn't going to help anyone. I would advise the runner with no legs to invest his precious time and resources in something other than trying to win the 100 meters at the Olympics.

Interesting, the "reality" described are examples of fixed beliefs - who decides what someone's potential is? Who decides what someone's precious time and resources are? In other words "the reality" is singular, fixed, immovable. Examples: "Face facts, you cannot win the 100 meters" "Don't ignore reality, you have no ability to win races". The article seems to imply that people with low fixed beliefs have been told by others what their potential is, and what is precious. Having more flexible beliefs would mean that one does not limit the scope of ones potential. I imagine that one should therefore encourage others in having more fluid beliefs and one should guard against others when they say reality is fixed.

For example: a man with no legs can win the 100 meters race in the Paralympics.

A man with no legs can even reach 8th place in the semifinals of the 400m race in the actual Olympics: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oscar_Pistorius#2012_Summer_Ol....

> Sadly, in a lot of cases this will lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy where you will stop trying to improve your math skills because you weren't "made for it".

But isn't this just semantics? That is, if neither you nor anyone else can convince you that you're capable then, in fact, you are not capable.

You know what's worse than thinking you're not capable? Others telling you you're capable and despite your best efforts you fail to meet these expectations whether those reasons are within your control or not. This is putting a carrot on a stick in front of a lot of kids potentially and saying "you just need to believe you can do this and try real hard, gosh anyone can do it!"

Expecting a person with severe learning disabilities that they can go work at a top HFT shop or a paraplegic that they'll be able to beat the world record for a 100 meter dash is the kind of goalpost that is being set for many children that are born disadvantaged. Bill Gates may have been studying what keeps the world's poor the way they are for a long time but there are a lot more factors that keep people down than just simply motivation.

Part of why I haven't started a company yet is out of fear of kind of literally destroying my life and others around me. The sheer amount of work that you put into a company is one thing, and not having the closest people you know be supportive of the work you do puts you into a position where you must either be so secure that failure is not a problem or that you must succeed on a first try.

Reid Hoffman's tips on when you DON'T want to start a company come to mind. Some of those criteria include "if you cannot get another job" or "you will put yourself in harm's way by doing so" (paraphrased, can't find the slides he had). So for the poor, despite having not much to lose in theory, they do have everything to lose in that their lives are all they can give up in the absence of capital or remarkable domain knowledge / skill advantages. Risk tolerance for the poor is actually very low thusly.

The central idea seems so important, with so much benefit to education if it were true, that it would justify a large scale rigorous experiment [ just as a new kind of promising medicine would be trialed over a wide sample ]

Maybe schooling is stuck in a local maximum, because we don't do things like this, because its not socially acceptable to 'experiment with our childrens education' ?

>Maybe schooling is stuck in a local maximum

If only! We're camped out on the slopes. A hill climbing algorithm would be a great start.

There is no intrinsic motivation. http://researchnews.osu.edu/archive/inmotiv.htm

Another way to view it is that the biggest limits in your life are the ones you set.

I'm perfectly aware that some people start with huge disadvantages in life, but whatever your starting point, you can end up much higher. Never let anyone tell you otherwise.

What about that guy who clearly can't sing yet applies for every casting show there is? Maybe by the day he will die he's got performing Rihanna's Umbrella down to a fine art. But what's the point?

You must discover what you are good at. It requires brutal honesty with oneself.

Also, why should there be a point? Life is a journey.

> You must discover what you are good at. It requires brutal honesty with oneself.

But isn't that circular reasoning? "I am not a math person" -> [discover growth mindeset] -> "Math is fun" -> [weeks/months/years later] "Shit I am still not significantly better at math" -> "I am not a math person"

That's the hard part being able to see yourself with some objectivity. The other trap is : "I sing so well I am talented" (and in fact you are at best average).

For any activity there is always better than you, what matters, I think, is where you want to go.

But starting with "I'm not a math person" will close many doors for you.

If you don't fail 90% of the time, you're not aiming high enough Alan Kay

Ya, but... are some people more genetically predisposed to have growth mindset? :)

The inescapable question of free choice always seems to come back into these things. It's easy to say "just think like this" when you already do think like that. It's much more difficult when (for whatever reason) you don't. How much control do we really have over our feelings, our attitudes and our emotions? How much is the result of environment, genetics and circumstance? My personal opinion is a bit of both. But it's really hard to say in what proportion.

Do we really choose when we choose or are we just acting a predetermined role? I have noticed people who do well tend to believe the former. But I'm not convinced this belief is necessarily what caused them to do well and somewhat suspicious that it is partially an attempt to frame their achievements in their own mind as the result of "their" free will and goes back to their need to "prove" themselves superior which may well be the cause of much of their success in the first place. I've met more than a few people who have this need very intently and it seems pretty mechanical and not generally the result of meditative conscious choice.

Not to bash the concept. Sometimes the faulty, but useful belief holds more value than a more truthful belief which leaves one powerless. At least in the short term. Long term and on a societal level the side effects of faulty beliefs become much more prominent. For you and I however, here and now, we are almost certainly better off thinking we can do it (imhop). But the question is very deep and certainly a lot more complex than just clicking a switch and deciding to "think" a certain way which to be frank, is a bit of juvenile and superficial way to think about the topic.

I see free will as an illusion. Things may be predetermined or there may be true randomness, either way our conscious decisions can be reduced to the laws of physics.

But it is an illusion that I am still subject to, and it is useful to believe that I can choose, insofar that anything is useful. If we can't choose then there's really nothing to be said about anything. Isn't it somewhat ironic to comment on someone's behavior while calling free will into question?

Do you mean ironic to comment on people's beliefs while calling free will into question? Absolutely.

Consciousness might just be an illusion as well. But as you point out, these are the conceptual tools we have to work with.

I prefer to think of it like this. People like to think they are making conscious decisions most of the time while in reality most of the time they aren't. Most of the time people are responding to conditioning/stimuli/response like a trained dancing bear or an insect following a pheromone trail.

Still... people have the possibility of having free will. Sometimes it glimmers through a little.. sometimes more, but in order to really have free will people have to step outside of conditioning/stimuli/response and conceive of themselves differently which is a psychological place most people don't enter for long or very often if ever. But the possibility still exist. Again... just a conceptual model that works for me. Not sure there are hard and fast answers in this realm.

If it's an illusion why is it set up like an illusion at all? If you don't have free will, it's not like you'd be sad or would do something about it. You have no free will. You can't even think negative philosophical questions about it, as a consequence. We could just as well have been born as an awareness trapped inside a meat suit intimately aware that we are just observing what is happening in and around that meat suit. The meat suit would grow up, get in fights, backpack across Asia, get married, get cancer, die. To the outside world, it would be indistinguishable to a person with actual free will.

> How much control do we really have over our feelings, our attitudes and our emotions?

How much do people try? Most people don't even try. At all.

I did not read the book, but I think the book is not about becomming succesful but about getting to know your potential. Success and potential are related/connected but there is a huge difference.

Being able to help out your neighbor isn't connected to success in our society. I think a lot of posters in this thread don't realize the destinction between potential and success.

Also, take this to the second derivative. You can learn to learn faster and more efficiently. You can set yourself up for success. You can start small, and gain momentum from there. You can learn to hack your motivation.

Will this guarantee success and a happy life? Of course not. But it will greatly increase your chances.

I think it is easy to praise growth mindset if you are the one who wants to learn and wants to get better through failing. But what about the other side of the coin?

Just imagine you are a teamlead and one guy in your team tells you "hey, I have found 2 new ways how not to impelent Feature X. May I work on feature Y and use the knowledge I gained fucking up feature X?"

Or you have a project team and the profect manager tells you "Hey, I found one new way how not to manage a project, how not to deliver on time and how not to motivate people. May I manage your next project and maybe waste an other million dollars?"

In my experience situations like these end badly...

I don't think these are cases against a growth mindset but rather cases against overconfidence and biting off more than you can chew.

I don't think the point is to say "wow I can get better at anything so I'll take on this big project that's way out of my league". It's more about thinking "wow I can get better at this so I'll ask my manager for tips and maybe a small project in which to grow my skills".

I've read the book twice and its helped me tremendously. I used to say to myself I'm not a maths person but now I say that I can get better if I work on it. I've made more progress than I ever did believing that people are simply born with or without a mind for maths.

There was a good episode on the podcast "Invisibilia" discussing this topic of expectations influencing/shaping reality: http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/544/b.... Some pretty fascinating stories in this one; well worth a listen! I believe Dweck is referenced/interviewed early on in the episode.

I only know that if you have strong Will you can achieve many things. Personally, the difference between Wish and Will is when you decide to achieve what you wish.

The same thing [Derek Sivers] explains with amusement:


Fortunately, yesterday night I was listening it.

[Derek Sivers](https://sivers.org/)

Interesting contrast, stories like this compared to the stories about how everyone who is successful feels like they are a fraud.

Maybe my study will be of note: If you believe headlines, you should read more.

Mindset is everything (at-least extremely important for any level of success in entrepreneurship and most other things)

Most entrepreneurs solving ambitious problems look crazy to outsiders. Hence the famous Steve Jobs quote

"The people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do."

Look at what the Gates, Jobs and Musks of this world have achieved with their 'anything-is-possible' mindsets..

Btw, for those who are interested in this stuff I've created an app to help people develop a growth/positive mindset at http://positivethinking.net

Well, if you read title, then you can safely skip the rest of it.

It's a good summary of an essence :)

Takeaway from this: I'm imagining Bill Gates practicing his fadeaway jumpers.

Can someone explain to me what claim Dr. Dweck has demonstrated that is both novel and true? I have read a bunch of articles about her work, but it all seems to me like she has framed "growth mindset" against a strawman.

It seems blindingly obvious to me that ability in most fields is a function of both genes and effort. Genes shape how fast you improve with effort, and where you plateau. Genes shape the curve of the achievement-to-effort graph. Effort determines where you are on that curve. Effort determines how much of your potential you actualize. This dynamic is true in basketball, math, golf, painting, speech-making, guitar playing and virtually every other complicated human endeavor.

Some people need to be told, "You have are naturally gifted in this field, stop being so hard on people who are not as good as you, they are doing the best they can."

Some people need to be told, "You are naturally gifted in this area. You have a responsibility to work extra hard in order to maximize your gifts. If you work your butt off, you have the potential to be truly special."

Some people need to be told, "This stuff might not come as naturally to you. You're going to have to work extra hard to keep up."

Some people need to be told, "Look you have been practicing harder than anyone, and honestly, I just don't think you have the raw talent to be a professional in this field. You can do it for fun, but be realistic about your career choices."

Some people need to be told, "Look you can't say you are bad at painting/writing/music/math/etc. You haven't even tried to learn it. This stuff is not natural for most people, there are books and youtube videos that can show you how to do it. You need to build step-by-step. Practice one technique until it is in mental memory and then add more complexity. Unless you're mozart, you don't just start from day one being able to produce great stuff."

It seems that as a culture, there are mistakes in messaging going both ways. For example, the premise of the "No Child Left Behind" education law was silly. There is in fact a bell curve with regards to natural academic aptitude. For instance, if you are in the bottom ~20% of that curve, it is nearly impossible to learn algebra. ( for some articles from a real teacher who is trying to teach algebra in the field, read: https://educationrealist.wordpress.com/2012/08/19/algebra-an... and https://educationrealist.wordpress.com/2013/10/31/noahpinion... ). Someone in the middle of the bell curve can learn algebra, but if they try to go into a career that involves advanced quantitative or logical skills, they will be competing against those who both have a natural aptitude and an economic incentive to try hard. The person with normal aptitude will likely lose that competition. So it might not be good advice to tell that person to double-down on math, even if they could make themselves better.

On the other hand, I hear a lot of smart friends say stuff like, "I'm just bad at math" or "I'm just bad at painting." In many cases, they never had good teaching, or they never tackled the problem aggressively. They never tried to learn incrementally, by building muscle memory on a simple technique and then adding more complications. They started with the hard stuff, and when it did not work, they just assumed they were bad at it. For people like that, a "growth mindset" can be helpful.

All of this should be pretty darn obvious. I don't really gather what new, credible information Dweck is adding to our understanding of how learning, motivation, and achievement works.


Growth mindset does not imply you can achieve anything, just "you definitely can get better". Perhaps overconfidence can become a risk, but it seems a much lesser evil versus the cost of believing the opposite: "Here is your definitive level, for ever (don't bother)".

> Perhaps overconfidence can become a risk, but it seems a much lesser evil versus the cost of believing the opposite: "Here is your definitive level, for ever (don't bother)".

I think it depends on the individual (situation) which mindset causes higher costs.

Well the problem with the growth mindset is that ultimately you die, so your growth does a nosedive eventually.

If something excites or intrigues you, then do it. But don't delude yourself that your personal growth really matters.

That's sorta the ultimate in fixed mindsets, right? That eventually we'll all be dead, and so none of it matters.

It's true, but also irrelevant. Focus on what you can do & experience while you're alive, because who cares what happens once we're dead? The scale of granularity that you use to look at life is as arbitrary as the emotional tenor of it, so why not focus in on a timescale that'll actually be interesting?

Well what makes growing more interesting than not growing?

Surely the opportunity to experience more is more interesting than the one which has you firmly planted where you are?

to experience more is more interesting

It depends. In some ways by choosing what NOT to do, you are choosing what to do and have more time, effort and money to invest in them as a result of being conservative with your resources.

Perhaps the Exclusionist Mindset?

Sure, you'll have to exclude things by necessity, but what I was getting at was rather the not doing things because one believes it is actually impossible, while still actually wanting to do that thing for some reason (desire).

The alternative is the pursuit of pleasure, because why not enjoy it rather than suffer if you're just going to die?

I guess so but as a human you will naturally seek new experiences. I don't see why you need to adopt a growth mindset to try to expedite what already happens.

Even if a growth mindset leads you to double the amount of experiences, on a logarithmic scale that is inconsequential.

I agree, a "grow mindset" cannot be coerced. You can't believe you can grow when you really believe you are fixed. Perhaps all you can do is add "at this point in time" at the end of all your sentences, and hope for the best.

I’m one of the people who’s not good at math at this point in time.

It replaces suffering with relief.

> experience while you're alive, because who cares what happens once we're dead?

> so why not focus in on a timescale that'll actually be interesting?

By that logic, it would follow that you should spend all of your money on hookers and blow tonight and shoot yourself come morning. Then the rest of your life will be 100% interesting and enjoyable and the part afterwards is irrelevant.

Edit: I mean the general 'you' not the personal 'you'. Just pointing out that happy growth-minded people don't really believe those quotes or they would live very differently.

"Happy" in this context means satisfied over time, not instantaneously ecstatic. Think of it as the integral of happiness over lifespan. Few people care about how happy they'll be when they're dead; that seems like optimizing for something pointless. Similarly, few people want to be really happy and then be dead the next instant.

Think of Jeff Bezos's regret minimization framework. You want to be able look back on your life from some point many years in the future and say "I lived it the best way that I could". You don't want to look back on your life on your deathbed and think "Man, my whole life, I knew that this day would come and render it all pointless, and now I've proved myself right!" Nor do you want to look back on your life tomorrow and think "Oh shit, this is it!"

> You want to be able look back on your life from some point many years in the future and say "I lived it the best way that I could". You don't want to look back on your life on your deathbed and think "Man, my whole life, I knew that this day would come and render it all pointless, and now I've proved myself right!"

I don't see how these statements are mutually exclusive.

> Few people care about how happy they'll be when they're dead; that seems like optimizing for something pointless.

> You don't want to look back on your life on your deathbed and think...

These statements are rather contradictory. On one hand you acknowledge that my happiness upon death is irrelevant, on the other I'm supposed to care about my life retrospective moments before death.

No, you demonstrated that you would have a very visceral set of goals. You proved nothing about minds which you do not occupy.

Unless you die a meaningful death, like the heroes of yore. Use your life and death to inspire others, and your "honor" will live on.

But if you live only for yourself, then of course, you won't matter after you die.

Nobody inspires for ever. There might have been other Kings half as good as Alexander but nobody remembers them. People remember Mohammad Ali most people don't know who Joe foremon was. You great grand parents were probably very good people but they are likely forgotten as well.

Of course, but does it really matter?

Are we all driven by a desire to be remembered and having left our mark on a cosmic scale?

I'd say do your best to leave the place better than you came into it, and don't sweat too much :)

Of course people know who George Foreman was. He's the man behind those wonderful indoor grills. Who's Mohammad Ali?

But on a long enough timeline, everything you do is pointless. Eventually the universe will be destroyed by entropy.

Damn, did you forget to eat your cornflakes this morning?

Yes, everything is pointless and we'll eventually burn in the sun. But on the other hand, maybe that's not true. If we live as if there is a point, life will be more fun and more interesting, and that's good enough for me.

> If we live as if there is a point, life will be more fun and more interesting, and that's good enough for me.

How do you trick yourself into believing there is a point to life when you believe there is none and all the evidence, to you, appears to support it?

Reframe the question: how do you trick yourself into believing anything when you realize that "belief" is just the random firing of neurons?

I went through a similar existential crisis in high school when I became aware of the laws of physics, of thermodynamics, and of cosmology. After all, if we are all just random interactions of sub-atomic particles fated to intertwine in a certain way and then eventually disappear in the heat-death of the universe, what's the point of anything?

And then I turned that logic back on my own thought patterns, which are after all just random firings of neurons that happen to form patterns which the random firings of other neurons interpret as "me". Certain patterns lead to ennui, hopelessness, and the eventual suicide of the organism through chronic depression. Other patterns gratify the other circuits in the brain, leading to a life that would subjectively be described as happy and fulfilling.

I might not actually have a choice in the matter - after all, it's possible that the paths we follow through life were all pre-ordained at the birth of the universe. But I also know that the question is meaningless, because as we established before, there is no actual "I", only random firings of neurons with electrical impulses that happen to make up a pattern that I perceive as "my thoughts". So given the inherent contradiction in my existence - why not choose the belief system that continues to ensure I have a happy existence?

tl;dr: Prove that you don't exist. Then you can do anything and believe anything you want.

I don't trick myself into believing anything. I can use logic to convince myself that there is a point, or that there is no point, either one just as easily. Without more evidence I can't prove either one. Maybe you can, but I can't.

So try this: assume there is no point and we are going to burn in the sun. Everything is a waste of time. Now what do you do? Kill yourself? Well, I don't want to, so why should I?

Sit still in one spot and wait for death? I tried that, but I got bored after about 10 minutes so I went and made a sandwich. Then I continued doing what I wanted to do with my time. Which was the same stuff I had been doing before I decided that it was all pointless.

It doesn't bother me at all. Philosophy is great for Saturday nights and the third beer. The rest of the time it's boring and distracting.

I find actually find the pointlessness liberating - it's easier to not get stressed out or worked up when nothing actually matters. It's all just a ride.

Which is a fixed mindset again, no?

You can definitely fall into that because yes, the ride always ends up in the same place.

But if you think you can steer it, then you can still have the growth mindset. I don't think you need to convince yourself that there's a point in order to have that.

I think if it as, well, I'm on this ride, I'm not hopping off prematurely, which means I'm stuck here for a while, so why not see the interesting places the ride can take me?

Whenever I find myself starting to stress out, it's because I think I _need_ to be somewhere when I'm not, which is a result of being attached to the outcome of some part of the ride. But there's really no point in being attached to an outcome because even that part will be over soon anyways.

You don't know that we won't escape the solar system and go on to colonize other planets outside of it. We've been nuclear for less than 100 years.

Do you think you would be better off not knowing that everything is futile according to physics?

I'm pretty sure human beings won't make it anywhere close to that far. But either way is irrelevant to our lives now. All we have to worry about is living and making a good impact on the people in our lives - and hopefully leaving humanity slightly better off for having lived.

Who's to say we won't innovate our way out of heat death? Disrupt entropy!

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