On Two Mindsets: Which Will You Feed?



By Sam Yang - Get similar updates here

Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck is a splendid book that lays out the duality of mindset in a way that is easy to comprehend. In synthesizing Dweck's main concepts into an article, I was reminded of the Native American legend on the Two Wolves. So I decided to use a similar narrative tradition to lay out the story of growth and fixed mindset.

On the Two Minds: A Short Story

There once was an old master. Every evening, students came to sit at the foot of the master to ask questions. One day one of the master's favorite pupils came to the master with eyes filled with sadness. "Sit, tell me what has happened," said the master.

The pupil sat but turned away the master. The pupil said, "I went to the library today, to learn from books and the ways of the world. I was eager to go because you had said a book is like my practice staff. It is a tool that can be used in many ways if the holder is skilled. Having never been there before, I was nervous to be with other children with more schooling than I. I looked through many books but wanted to find one that fit my level. It was short, but a good length for me, so the librarian helped me to borrow it."

The student fell silent. "Please continue," said the master.

The pupil did not look at his teacher and continued, “I hurried, excited to show you the book master. It had many wonderful pictures. Then some of the children from town saw me. They surrounded me and called me names. They said I looked stupid. They told me I was hopeless. One boy said the book was too easy. A girl said I had no need for books. That books were for smart children and not peasants from the mountains. I am ashamed master. I was so embarrassed I forgot my training. They knocked me down and took my book. They laughed at me and said I knew nothing. Not even how to defend myself properly. They said hopeless fools cannot learn."

The pupil was stricken with sorrow and fatality, “I am so sorry master. I know I am bad. I know I am stupid. You do not need to tell me.”

The master furrowed his white brow and rubbed his chin. He looked out to the faces of his students and recognized that they too have felt the same pain as this student. The master stood up and addressed his pupils, "We train because we know mastery needs to be developed. We are not born with it. I have seen students come with a natural ability to cause fights, but none have I met with a natural ability to restore peace. I have seen students with abilities who do not work, be surpassed by students who showed little initial promise, yet put in great effort. There is no permanence. All things are stages of transition. You may know little now while another may know more, but neither will remain the case. All things change."

The master sat down next to his favorite pupil. He lifted his student's chin. “Let me tell you a story," the master said.

"I too have felt great inadequacies by those who have made me feel lacking. That I was not born special or gifted. But that feeling only makes you suffer and does not hurt them. It convinces you that you are inferior. It is a feeling we must all endure throughout our lives. Even as your teacher, I have struggled with it. It is as if there are two minds inside me.

One believes they are born with greatness, it only needs to be awakened. These are the stories where the hero has no master, they suddenly awaken with gifts. These stories are loved in the West. Yet the other, like you my students, believe that greatness is taught. There is no tale of a hero without mention of the teacher and community that shaped the hero. Then in that way, there is no great man or woman. We are all equals and one and the same.

But one loves vanity and will not listen to my words. The other loves to learn and will gain from these words.

One will shrink when the other grows.

One avoids challenges while the other embraces challenge.

One gives up quickly while the other endures.

One is a fixed mind; like a flower that competes to remain a seed. The other is a growth mind; it competes against no one, not even itself. And like a flower, it simply blossoms.

One sees no path in effort when the other sees effort as the only path.

One gets hurt and angry when they make a mistake. The other learns when an error is shown.

One is jealous and fears the success of others. One learns and is inspired by the success of their friends.

One will never live up to its potential. The other will go beyond what any thought capable.

One sees the world as permanent. The other knows there is no permanence.

One believes they cannot. The other knows they can.

Sometimes it is hard to live with these two minds, for both are hungry for my attention.”

The pupil raised his head and asked with great interest, “Do I have two minds, master?”

The master met his disciple's gaze and nodded, “Yes. Which mind will you feed?”

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