The most important book to read if you want to learn Digital Humanities, Computer Science, Maths, Programming or LaTeX

Today I wanted to share a tiny book review of the book I claim to be the most important book you should read if you want to learn any technical topic but are unsure if you are up for it. The book I’m talking about is not Donald Knuth (although his books are highly recommended, especially if you’re a (La)TeX nerd!). It’s not even a computer book! I’m talking about: Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck (New York: Random House 2006).

The fixed mindset versus the growth mindset

This will be a short post because Dweck’s message is simple. There are two mindsets, the ‘fixed mindset’ and the ‘growth mindset’ and which one you have greatly impacts your success in learning and self-development. The ‘fixed mindset’ assumes your abilities and talents are fixed. Thus, you are proud of what you’re good at because you link it to your personality (“I’m a person who is good at…”). But you also get hesitant to try new things because not being good rightaway without practice would show that you’re just “not that good” at something. You think your abilities and skills are fixed like they are when you first try something. This mindset will totally paralyze you and stop you from learning new things. You think failure will say something about your worth as a person. This is scary!

The growth mindset, on the other hand, is the exact opposite. It means you assume that skills are learned and achieved by putting in the hard work. Yes, it might take longer for some than others to get good at a particular skills and maybe someone is “more talented” in that they learn a bit faster. But you know that ultimately, your skills are not fixed. You can learn anything and anyone who is any good at anything is good not because they were born like this – but because they worked (hard) for it.

These differences in mindset make a huge difference in not only how successful you are at learning new skills. They’re also the difference between happy, curious and fearless children and miserable adults plagued by debilitating fear of failure and not being enough. Children have growth mindsets. They don’t think failing once shows that you’re a loser (at least not before we suggest so). It’s an opportunity for growth and there is no growth without failure, like I have repeated many times in my learning to program posts. You need to get out of this fixed mindset.

Dweck says that in order to instill this good mindset in children, we should stop praising children for “being good” or getting good results. Instead we should praise them for working hard and giving their best trying. We should encourage failure as a desirable stepping stone to mastery. Barbara Oakley also states in her great book about learning that you should emphasize “process over product” – this will help you reduce time wasted by procrastinating.

So why do I think this is the most important book you’ll read if you’re doubting your ability to learn tech skills?

Because if you do, you are suffering from a fixed mindset. You need to develop a growth mindset and you can do anything!

Women especially have been proven to get discouraged more by stereotypes and opinions, so developing a growth mindset is all the more important for them.

Edit September 2021: By the way, did you know that rececnt brain science shows that we aren’t anxious about certain things because we’re actually “not talented” enough. When we’re anxious about not being good at something, the prospect of failure, etc this worrying actually significantly reduces our brain capacity – it blocks your working memory! It’s not that people do well in tech subjects and thus aren’t scared of them – you are less good than those fortunate people only because you are anxious! Of course, getting rid of such fears is not easy but I think adopting a growth mindset is a viable approach to being less scared!

I think you don’t actually need to read the whole book. It is very long and illustrates the concepts really well on a ton of examples and disciplines. But I think it’s enough to dive into part of it, maybe it would even be enough to familiarize yourself with Dweck’s work. This theory is not just another self-help book – it’s the result of years of academic research. There is a multitude of studies to back up Dweck’s claims. Given the huge impact of her work, there are many resources on the internet. There’s a summary of the “fixed versus growth mindset” (also this) and also a video where she mentions the most important aspects in a 10min talk on Youtube.

So that’s it for today.

I really recommend you look into this mindset thing!


the Ninja

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I like LaTeX, the Humanities and the Digital Humanities. Here I post tutorials and other adventures.

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