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Community Notebook: Stanford psychologist to speak on success

Dr. Carol Dweck to talk about her research on why people succeed, how to foster success

Stanford University professor and acclaimed author Dr. Carol Dweck will be at the Oshman Family JCC in Palo Alto this weekend to talk about her research on how "society can promote achievement in education and innovation in business."

The event, titled "Mindset: Helping Children (and Adults) Fulfill their Potential," will take place at the Schultz Cultural Arts Hall at the JCC, 3921 Fabian Way, on Sunday, Oct. 4, at 5 p.m.

During the discussion, Dweck will delve into her research on why people succeed and how to foster success. A leading researcher in the field of motivation, Dweck has discovered that praise for intelligence can undermine performance.

"No parent thinks 'I wonder what I can do today to undermine my children, subvert their effort, turn them off learning, and limit their achievement.' Of course not," said Dweck in a press release. "They think 'I would do anything, give anything, to make my children successful.' Yet many of the things they do boomerang. Their helpful judgments, their lessons, their motivating techniques often send the wrong message."

Dweck will share other common pitfalls to help people achieve a "growth mindset," a notion that intelligence and talent are not fixed traits, and that even the most basic abilities can be developed through hard work.

In a lecture at the Palo Alto school district office in 2008 that the Weekly covered, Dweck said praising effort with phrases like, "You worked really hard. Good job," teaches students that intelligence grows through dedication and hard work, leading them to excel despite challenges.

But praising talent can also cause students to think that intelligence is an ingrained quality, and as a result they fail to achieve their full potential, Dweck added.

If a child is a straight-A student with minimal effort, parents should hesitate to praise the child's innate intelligence, Dweck said at the 2008 lecture.

"Rather, parents should acknowledge the score but offer to help brainstorm work that would be more challenging for the child," she said.

And parents and students should not be afraid of failure, said Dweck, noting that "prestigious universities such as Stanford seek students with a couple of failures to demonstrate uniqueness and resilience."

In her most recent book, "Mindset: The New Psychology of Success," Dweck explores two ideologies that measure achievement: the aforementioned growth mindset and "fixed mindset," which assumes that a person's character, intelligence and creative abilities are static givens that cannot be changed and that success is the affirmation of inherent intelligence.

"Every word and action sends a message. It tells children — or students or athletes — how to think about themselves," Dweck said. "It can be a fixed mindset message that says: 'You have permanent traits and I'm judging them.' Or it can be a growth mindset message that says: 'You are a developing person and I am interested in your development.'"

Dweck is the Lewis and Virginia Eaton Professor of Psychology at Stanford. She has held professorships at Columbia and Harvard universities and has been elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Dweck's work has been featured in The Boston Globe, The New York Times, The New Yorker, Time Magazine and The Washington Post, and she has appeared on 20/20 and Today.

Tickets to the event cost $10-$17 and can be purchased at paloaltojcc.org or by calling 650-223-8649.

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