Growth vs Fixed Mindsets

growth mindset tree

What is a growth or fixed mindset?

It’s fairly likely you’ve heard of growth and fixed mindsets before. It’s a framework which breaks out two different belief systems individuals have around challenges and traits. The topic has gained serious traction recently, however, for those who are still in the dark, I’ll give a brief overview.

A growth mindset is the belief that traits are malleable and effort produces improvement. Individuals with a growth mindset constantly look for challenges and work hard to produce favorable outcomes, because they believe such a thing is possible. Since these individuals are striving for more, this mindset leads to productivity and skill mastery. Those with a growth mindset also tend to be more fulfilled because they feel greater control over their environment and destiny.

To be clear, a growth mindset doesn’t ignores natural tendencies. It’s not a belief system which says anyone can accomplish anything. Individuals still have strengths and weaknesses. For each person some talents come more naturally than others. A growth mindset doesn’t discount that. More accurately, it refers to the belief that with dedicated, constant effort, improvement is an inevitable result.

A fixed mindset, on the other hand, is the belief that your traits, attributes, and skills are unchangeable and ingrained at birth. People in a growth mindset tend to evaluate what happens around them, instead of trying to influence it. If traits are fixed, no amount of effort will change them. Since they feel powerless to control outcomes, they are often frustrated or give up with little effort.

What do people with a growth or fixed mindset act like?

Let’s examine an example. An individual with a fixed mindset might say something like: I’d love to visit Europe, but I’m not the type of person that travels. Although this is a desire the person has, they believe an internal, unchangeable trait, prevents them from going. You can easily imagine how limiting this is.

In a growth mindset, the thought might look more like this: I haven’t traveled much, but I think it would be an exciting challenge to go to Europe. This person recognizes their make be a gap in their knowledge, however, it’s not a deterrent. In fact, the challenge is what makes attempting the trip exciting.

Let’s try a few shorter examples:

I’m not good at math vs. I haven’t studied math enough to be good at it

If I don’t know the answer I’m stupid vs. If I don’t know the answer, I’ll ask for help

I am a fat person vs. I can lose weight if I make the right adjustments

I’m not good at tennis vs. I need to practice my tennis skills so I can improve

Now that we know the difference between growth and fixed mindsets, what can we do?

The distinction is nice to know, but what can we actually do about it? The difficult part is that if you’re deeply entrenched in a fixed mindset you may not believe you’re able to change your mindset in the first place. Then again, I doubt you navigated here if that’s the case. With some effort, we can definitely shift your mindset toward growth.

To shift your mindset, you’ll need to create or reflect on opposing evidence in your own life until you’ve rewired these thoughts. Luckily, many of us see some traits through a fixed lens and others through a growth lens. We can use those growth mindsets to expand and replace fixed mindsets in other areas.

Imagine working on a new skill every day.

Take some time to identify instances where your direct effort made an impact on the outcome. Maybe it was practicing for a sport or when you picked up a new hobby. Then, identify something you think is fixed – we’ll say losing your temper easily, since many people think personality traits are completely fixed. Let’s compare and contrast the two skills.

How long did it take to learn your sport (or other talent)? Weeks, months, years? If you put the same amount of effort into learning to control your temper, do you think it would make a difference? Think about working on your temper for 5 years. Do you think if you spent time every day researching and focusing on that issue over that period of time, it would still be just as hard to control? It seems hard to imagine you wouldn’t gain new insight and control. How did it work for learning a sport? Putting two any skills side by side and adding an extended timeline makes it difficult to believe they can’t change with dedicated effort. 

Other strategies for developing a growth mindset.

On top of that, here’s a few other notable thoughts as you try to develop a growth mindset:

Recognize the brain is like a muscle. Your body might have a natural type, just as your brain has some preset conditions. With effort and time, however, you can craft your mind, much in the same way you can craft your body, regardless of your starting point. No one starts by being in amazing shape, we all work toward it one small piece at a time. 

Create goals, take action, and track your progress. By creating goals and working through them, you can see progress as it unfolds. You may not make monumental leaps in a day or even a week, but the longer you work at your goal, the more you’re able to recognize growth. Use this growth as a reminder that dedicated effort makes a big difference in outcomes.

Reflect on past accomplishments. Recall the most difficult things you’ve achieved. By definition, they couldn’t have happened by chance or talent, otherwise they wouldn’t have been difficult. Without effort, you would have never accomplished them. Use those moments to recognize your effort influenced the outcome.

Accept failure is part of the learning process. No one starts as an expert. No one is correct 100% of the time. If you think they are, it’s only because you’re seeing the end result of countless hours of practice to obtain mastery. You’re not seeing all the mistakes they made to get there. Once you accept failure is a step to learning, you can tackle new tasks with less fear. 

Start today.

Developing a growth mindset empowers you to accomplish more. If you’re currently in a fixed mindset about some attributes, take a few minutes to challenge those assumptions. Our beliefs dictate the opportunities we see and act on. It may take time, but every small step adds up to a happier future. Get to work and see what happens!

1. Identify one activity where you put in a lot of effort and saw your talents grow or a favorable outcome.
2. Identify an activity or trait you think cannot be changed.
3. Compare and contrast the two. Use a long timeline and think about how realistic it is that this trait or skill wouldn’t improve with constant and dedicated practice.

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