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Life of a Law Student, University of Houston Law Center

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Do you have a fixed or growth mindset?

By: Luke Gilman | Other Posts by
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Stanford Psychology Professor Carol Dweck’s recent book Mindset splits people into two groups – fixed and growth mindsets – and explores the ramifications on their choices and performance. Assess the following statement – Your intelligence is something very basic about you that you can’t really change. You can learn new things but you can’t change how smart you are. Agree or disagree? If you agree, Dweck says you have a fixed mindset, you see intelligence and personality as fixed traits and your most basic motivators are proving yourself, not making mistakes, avoiding the appearance of failure. If you disagree, you have a growth mindset, view intelligence and personality as things you can cultivate and develop. You enjoy even challenges at which you’re likely to fail because you see that failure as an opportunity to stretch and grow.

Moira Gunn interviewed Dweck on the subject of her book on TechNation, syndicated through the ITConversations Podcast.

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Moira Gunn’s Tech Nation ~ Conversation with Carol Dweck (.mp3)

I think most law students will recognize both mindsets at work in their section. At the end of CivPro, Ragazzo told us about the radical shift professors notice after grades have been posted and warned us against falling into that trap. Overnight confidence evaporates in some and burgeons in others. Students who couldn’t shut up in the fall suddenly have nothing to say in the spring. In many respects it’s inevitable. It’s the most intelligent and motivated group most of us have ever been a part of. Being graded along a strict curve guarantees that most of us will be getting worse grades than we’re used to.

According to Dweck, those with growth mindsets thrive in this kind of environment, embracing the challenge and using specific failures as signals to guide them to successful behavior. The fixed mindset perceives any individual failure as a direct threat to their sense of self. The fixed mindset doesn’t believe he or she can get any smarter that he or she is already; growth isn’t a possibility. The fixed mindset focuses on avoiding or rationalizing away failure, losing sight of themselves for the sake of their egos. Dweck doesn’t just condemn fixed mindsets to a life of navel-gazing mediocrity, of course, the book is geared towards recognizing that mindset, the costs associated with it and then combating it.

Consider the kind of choice my section will soon be facing. Do we take a tough course and learn a lot or take an easier course we think we’d do better in? Or for the same course, do we take the tough, smart professor and get ‘hammered’ (sorry) or take an easier grader?

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