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Closed vs. Open Mind-Sets

Researcher Carol Dweck did a series of studies on how people handle adversity, particularly when they face limitations, obstacles, failure, and change. In one study, she took a group of ten-year-olds and gave them increasingly difficult math problems to see how they would handle failure. Most students got discouraged and depressed, but a few had a totally different response. One kid—in the face of failure—rubbed his hands together, smacked his lips, and said, "I love a challenge!" Another kid, failing one math problem after another, said, "You know, I was hoping this would be informative."

"What's wrong with them?" she wondered. "I always thought you coped with failure or you didn't cope with failure. I never thought anyone loved failure. Were these alien children or were they on to something?"

She realized that not only were these kids not discouraged by failure, they didn't think they were failing. They thought they were learning. She came to the conclusion that human beings have two different, almost opposite mind-sets about life. One of them I'm going to call a "closed mind-set." Those with a closed mind-set believe that life is full of a fixed amount of gifts and talents, and their worth depends on how talented they are. Therefore, their job is to convince others that they've got "it," whatever "it" is.

Dweck said there's another way to go through life—the open mind-set. These people believe that growth is always possible. A commitment to growth means that they embrace challenge. … Therefore, failure is indispensable and something to learn from.

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