Are fixed-mindset people successful? Yes, but are they happy?

I love stories about successful people – well, I guess that stands to reason as people typically don’t pay thousands of dollars to hear John_McEnroeabout someone who is a failure. However, what we often find out is that when we read or hear about successful people, they are successful because they overcame their failures. But what I really enjoy is hearing about their strategies for success but also their strategies for being happy and fulfilled.

John McEnroe is a good example of a successful, yet, for a period of time when he was at the peak of his game, unfulfilled and unhappy.

There is no question that McEnroe is one of the all time greats to play the game. According to author Carol Dweck, PhD., McEnroe had a fixed mindset. “He believed talent was all. He did not love to learn. He did not thrive on challenges; when the going got tough he often folded. As a result, by his own admission, he did not fulfill his potential.”  (Dweck, 31)

Dweck notes that fixed-mindset people respond to failure and adversity differently than growth-mindset people.

  • If they fail, fixed-mindset people will compare themselves to those who did even worse than they did to make themselves feel better
  • If they fail, grown-mindset people want to correct their deficiency  (Dweck 36).
  • If they fail, fixed-mindset people blame others – whenever McEnroe lost it wasn’t his fault – one time he had backache, another he was a victim of the tabloids, another he ate to close to the match, another time he was too fat, another time he was too thin, then it was because he undertrained, then he’d overtrained (Dweck 36)
  • Legendary UCLA basketball coach says you aren’t a failure until you start to blame

Fixed-mindset people believe that you essentially stop learning at some point in your life – you can’t control this fact, you’re only a specific level of smart and you cannot possibly grow from there. Growth-mindset people believe that the mind is flexible, that it continues to learn, that it can expand and become more. Think about if you or your children or friends adopted either one of these mindsets. Let’s take an example – your kid is bad at math. What does the fixed-mindset say about this? What does the growth mindset say about this?

And before you say, “well, yea, but even in a growth mindset, some people just aren’t good at math.” To this I say, I’m glad that Michael Jordan didn’t believe his basketball days were over when he didn’t make his high school team. He took in the failure, and practiced harder and longer then anyone else imaginable.  Imagine what we would have missed if “Air” Jordan had a fixed mindset.

Dweck, Carol S. Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. New York: Random House, 2006. Print.


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