If you’ve read any personal development blogs recently, you’ve probably come across the term “growth mindset.”
A mindset describes a specific type of thinking.
Stanford University psychologist, Carol Dweck has spent decades researching how mindset affects achievement.
One of her first breakthrough experiments was giving ten-year-olds problems to solve. She intentionally made the problems slightly too difficult for them. She was shocked when, instead of getting frustrated and giving up, most of the kids responded by saying, “I love a challenge!” and “I was hoping this would be informative.” Dweck discovered that the children understood that abilities grow by persisting through challenging work.
This is at the core of what it means to have a “growth mindset.”
There were, of course, a few children who reacted differently. They were devastated at not being able to solve the problems. They felt like failures and started questioning their intelligence.
These children had a “fixed mindset.”
A growth mindset thrives on challenge and sees failure not as evidence for a lack of intelligence, but as a springboard for growth.
A fixed mindset assumes that your character, intelligence and abilities are static—givens that can’t be changed in a meaningful way.
Dweck offers another way of understanding the difference:
Growth Mindset = Understanding the “power of yet.”
Fixed Mindset = Being gripped by the “tyranny of now.”
Research points to these mindset factors:
- A growth or fixed mindset usually manifests in early childhood and will remain unchanged unless certain actions are taken.
- Processing and behavior looks different in brain scans of people with a growth mindset versus a fixed mindset. (the capacity for the brain to ‘learn’ from mistakes is only present in people with a growth mindset.)
- Our mindset determines much of our choices and behavior.
- The type of mindset you develop will have lasting effects on both your personal and professional life.
- There is a correlation between your mindset and your capacity for happiness.
Growth Versus Fixed Mindset Qualities
The character differences between someone with a growth mindset versus a fixed mindset are easy to spot—once you know what to look for.
Someone with a growth mindset:
- Embraces challenges.
- Persists in the face of setbacks.
- Sees effort as a path to mastery.
- Learn from and embrace criticism.
- Find lessons and inspiration in the success of others.
Someone with a fixed mindset:
- Avoids challenges.
- Gives up easily.
- Sees effort as fruitless or worse.
- Ignores and avoids constructive criticism.
- Feels jealous and threatened by the success of others.
A growth mindset leads to a greater sense of free will.
A fixed mindset leads to a deterministic and ultimately negative view of the world.
People often reveal their mindset in how they speak. Someone with a growth mindset will say things like, “I enjoy learning new things” or “I like to try new things.”
Someone with a fixed mindset says things like, “I’m just not good at that” and “I can’t do it. I’m giving up.”
Expanded vs Limited Belief Systems
Belief determines actions; actions determine results.
What you believe is possible has a direct affect on what you can achieve.
A limited belief system sees a clear division between “possible actions” and “impossible actions.” Possibilities are limited by a person’s perceived intelligence and what they accomplished in the past. This is not a belief system that leads to happiness and fulfillment.
The ceiling of achievement is low for someone with limited beliefs because their concept of what’s possible never changes, so their actions remain stagnant as well. Limited beliefs are found in people with fixed mindsets.
An expanded belief system knows that actions that seem impossible to others may in fact be possible through determination and expanded possibility.
Having an expanded beliefs kicks off a productive cycle.
- Belief expands what is thought to be possible.
- New actions are taken, facilitated by expanded beliefs.
- Possibility becomes reality.
- The new results strengthen and further future beliefs.
Expanding your beliefs is a crucial component of having a growth mindset.
A person with expanded beliefs is able to scale the realm of what’s possible—enjoying bigger and bolder achievements every time.
The Dangers of a Fixed Mindset
Having a fixed mindset doesn’t just lower your potential.
People with fixed mindsets are more likely to:
- Cheat to achieve better results than they feel they are naturally capable of.
- Celebrate others' poor performance in order to feel better about themselves.
- Avoid failure at all costs—running from difficulty and always resorting to only what’s worked in the past.
- Become jealous of others whom they see as being inherently smarter or more skilled.
- Many fixed mindset workers cannot get through one day’s work without positive recognition or a reward.
- A fixed mindset person will plateau early in life and fail to reach their full potential.
Does that sound like the type of person you want to be? How about work with?
How to Develop a Growth Mindset
Dweck found a connection between the type of praise a child received and whether they developed a growth or fixed mindset.
Praising kids for their focus and perseverance led them to have a growth mindset.
Praising them for their talent or intelligence led to a fixed mindset.
Understanding the effects of different types of praise is also helpful when managing adults in a work environment.
Praising someone’s ability makes them vulnerable. Praising their embrace of challenge makes them resilient.
When you have a growth mindset, you enjoy the process more than the results.
Use the words “yet” and “not yet” instead of something with finality like “didn’t” or “can’t” when you haven’t achieved a desired result.
You can change your mindset by seeking new experiences that take you out of your comfort zone. When you experience a new challenge, you form new neurons in your brain that become stronger over time.
The ability to identify a growth or fixed mindset in others can be a valuable skill.
Dweck worked with a professional baseball team to develop questions they could ask potential draft choices. When asked “How did you get so good at baseball?” The scouts were trained to select the prospects who spoke of doing drills and working on specific aspects of their game from an early age—not the ones who spoke in vague terms about having a “natural talent.”
Similar questions are used during job interviews to determine what type of mindset a candidate has.
How would you answer a question like the one asked to the baseball draftees?
What would you say if someone asked, “What would you need to change to be more successful?” Your response provides valuable insights into what type of mindset you have.
If you have trouble thinking of specific ways you could level up in your career, and seem more focused on people recognizing the abilities you already have—you may be limiting yourself with a fixed mindset.
Growth and Fixed Mindsets Can Characterize A Company
In researching her book, Dweck visited two-types of organizations: those that put talented people on a pedestal and rewarded the ability of a chosen few. And organizations that had a culture where workers felt anyone could develop their abilities to achieve more.
Employees in growth mindset organizations felt more empowered by their workplace. They were more committed to their work as a result.
The workers in fixed mindset organizations often had one foot out the door.
Companies with a growth mindset value teamwork, creativity, innovation and invest in their workers who want to take risks—even if there’s a chance their ideas won’t work out.
Fixed mindset organizations might say that they value innovation and creativity, but in reality, they invest little in new ideas. When something doesn’t work out, they always look for someone to blame.
Managers in growth mindset organizations see every report as having tremendous potential. They often inspire their employees to move up within the company. This builds a strong corporate culture and increases employee engagement.
Managers in fixed mindset organizations worship the talent they have until that talent leaves or fails to impress them. They often complain about not having enough quality people in their organization.
Master Your Mindset for Greater Success
Learning to become the master of your own mindset is one of the most effective ways to influence success in school, work, sports, the arts—practically anything.
It starts with belief. Then, learning the ways to allow your growth mindset the freedom to help you flourish. One of the ways is to practice what Steven Kotler calls “The Passion Recipe.”
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