There’s a name for believing in our ability to grow and change what some assume to be fixed or immutable characteristics: having a growth mindset.
A growth mindset is “the understanding that abilities and understanding can be developed” Those with a growth mindset believe that they can get smarter, more intelligent, and more talented through putting in time and effort.
Growth vs Fixed Mindset
The main difference between the two mindsets is the belief in the permanence of intelligence and ability; fixed mindset views it as very permanent, with little to no room for change in either direction, while growth mindset views it as more changeable, with opportunities for improvement
With a growth mindset, individuals may achieve more than others because they are worrying less about seeming smart or talented and putting more of their energy into learning (Dweck, 2016). Those with a growth mindset are apt to see challenges as a natural part of the learning process. They work harder and smarter, helping them to learn and achieve more than students with a fixed mindset.
Behaviours displayed by students with a growth mindset may look like this:
- Asking the teacher to demonstrate a new way to do a math problem
- Volunteering answers in class even when unsure
- Asking a question even if it might seem basic or “stupid”
- Seeking out problems that will push them instead of problems that keep them safely within their comfort zone
John Rhodes (2015) shares a few scenarios that typify a growth mindset in adults:
Running late and missing the bus or carpool
You’ve certainly been here before: your alarm doesn’t go off (or maybe you hit snooze a few too many times) and you oversleep. You jump out of bed and race into your clothes, skipping any part of your morning ritual that isn’t completely necessary before racing outside to catch the bus. As you run to the street, you see the bus pulling away and you know you’re going to be late.
For someone with a fixed mindset, this scenario might just ruin their whole day. They may feel angry with themselves or look for someone or something else to blame.
On the other hand, someone with a growth mindset is more likely to think about the root cause of the mess they’re in and consider how to avoid it next time. They may conclude that they need to go to bed earlier tonight or set their alarm a little bit louder. The point is, the person with a growth mindset will think about ways to fix the problem because they believe it is fixable.
Example 2: Poor feedback from the boss
Another scenario showcasing a growth mindset: you go in for an evaluation with your boss and you receive negative feedback. Your boss thinks you aren’t putting in enough effort, or you’re making too many mistakes, or that you’re simply not competent enough to handle your current project.
Someone with a fixed mindset may decide that their boss has no idea what she’s talking about and completely ignore the feedback. Alternatively, they might agree with their boss and think “I just can’t do anything right. I don’t have what it takes to be successful.”
A growth mindset response would be to seriously consider this feedback, evaluate it as objectively as possible, and seek out more information and/or another opinion to compare. If your boss has a point, you would come up with possible solutions to improve your performance and do your best to implement them.
A growth mindset will see new challenges as opportunities to grow thinking, “I can figure this out. What do I need to do to get my skills at the right level? Are there classes I can take? People I can ask for help? Any other resources that might help?”
In conclusion, a growth mindset will lead you to new skills, new knowledge, and new areas of expertise, while a fixed mindset will leave you about where you started—with little skill in the task at hand.
Learn more about how to change your mindset from fixed to growth in our blog:
Learn more about how to change to a growth mindset in our blog: Cultivating a Growth Mindset to Thrive
- Dweck, C. (2016). What having a “growth mindset” actually means. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2016/01/what-having-a-growth-mindset-actually-means
- Rhodes, J. (2015, August 24). Growth mindset examples: How everyday situations create opportunity for learning and progress. LinkedIn. Retrieved from https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/growth-mindset-examples-how-everyday-situations-create-john-rhodes/
Carol Dweck’s book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success
Carol Dweck’s 2007 book on her growth vs. fixed mindset theory is titled Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. In this book, Dweck describes the importance of having the right mindset to maximize our potential and capitalize on our strengths. This theory explains how the way we think about our intelligence, abilities, and talents can have a huge impact on our success in every area of life.
It focuses on both improving your own mindset and on building the right mindset in children, making it an excellent read for parents, teachers, coaches, and managers.