In her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Carol Dweck describes two mindsets: Fixed and Growth. People with a Fixed Mindset believe that each of us is born with a finite amount of intelligence, talent, and skill. Those with a growth mindset believe that we can work to improve our intelligence, talent, and skill.
As a society, we tend to embrace the idea of Fixed Mindset. We praise those gifted with natural athletic ability; teachers tend to label children as smart or dumb; and people talk about relationships as if they were destined to be together. But the reality is that it takes work to improve one's athletic prowess, education, and relationships. A Fixed Mindset discourages this work as pointless, which inhibits growth in these areas.
The most significant difference between the two mindsets is in their approach to failure. Fixed Mindset people see failure as an indictment of their abilities. They tend to stop trying when they encounter failure, and they avoid those activities that do not have a high chance of success. In contrast, Growth Mindset people are challenged by failure. They view it as an opportunity to learn and are motivated to develop themselves further. They choose challenging activities that will push them to stretch their limits.
Those with a growth mindset tend to be happier and more successful.
While the book favors anecdotes over clinical research, Dweck's theories make intuitive sense to me. I look back on my own life and realize that I was trapped in a Fixed Mindset during my early years. I was labeled early on as a "smart kid" and so I tended to coast through school without pushing my boundaries. In Elementary School, I perceived myself as a poor athlete with low strength, so I did not attempt to excel at sports. Later in life, I shifted my outlook and sought to improve myself in areas where I was weak, and this made a huge difference in my life. Dr. Dweck's ideas are not revolutionary, but she articulates them well.