After decades of research, Stanford psychologist Dr. Carol Dweck may have found one of the secrets to success.
She discovered that your beliefs have the ability to affect whether you reach become successful or not. She formed a theory around two core mindsets that categorize the successful from the unsuccessful: the fixed versus growth mindset.
Fixed Mindset Vs. Growth Mindset
What are the differences between a fixed and growth mindset? Let me explain:
What Is A Fixed Mindset?
Fixed mindset people believe that their skills (intelligence, ability, potential, etc.) are fixed from birth and unchangeable. As you’re going through section, if you realize many of these traits align with how you are, it’s agood test to confirm you have a fixed mindset.
Fixed mindset people have the following characteristics:
- They hide their deficiencies and will not admit they have them.
- They don’t enjoy the journey as much as the success at the end.
- They care more about feeling superior, special, and different from others.
- They believe their are finished products already rather than works-in-progress.
- Their self-worth and competence is based on their actions and perception by others.
- They are in school to get good grades — even if it means cheating to do so, not to learn.
- They put in as little effort as possible because they think smart people don’t need to try hard.
- After a negative event they caused, they label themselves as something negative. After a positive event they caused, they label themselves as something positive.
They have beliefs and statements like:
- “If you don’t succeed, never try again.”
- “Once tried, once failed, never try again.”
Fixed mindset people have thoughts like:
- “The world is out to get me.”
- “Nothing good ever happens to me.”
- “Life handed me a bad life and there’s nothing I can do about it.”
Because they believe their abilities are unchangeable, they evolve behaviors to protect themselves. For example:
- They will cheat or avoid challenges to hide their deficiencies in skill rather than be okay with it and grow.
- They avoid opportunities where they can learn and get better if it means exposing their deficiencies.
- They have a sense of urgency to succeed now because their results measure their worth forever.
- They will do whatever they can to appear special or different from others.
- They refuse to try if it means losing because they fear judgement.
After A Failure
Fixed mindset people often have tons of excuses for why they don’t succeed. They pick excuses that are outside of their control so they can cover up their weaknesses.
After a failure, they may make statements in their head or out loud like:
- “I’m worthless.”
- “I’m a loser.”
- “I suck.”
After a failure, they:
- Pick a fight.
- Pout and whine.
- Sit there and cry.
- Lock themselves in their room and cry.
They do this even if the failure is not even close to a devastating event. It could be a mid term instead of a final or someone brushing them off instead of an outright rejection.
Any event they cause, good or bad, are labels of themselves. For example, if they win an award, they think, “that means I’m smart.”
Fixed Mindset People Are Normal The Rest Of The Time
Fixed mindset people are not always negative. They can act just like positive growth mindset people most of their lives. But they reveal their differences after they fail.
What is a Growth Mindset?
Growth mindset people believe that their potential cannot be predicted or discovered by any test. A single measurement in a point in time means nothing since it doesn’t show your trend or progress. They believe they can stretch and grow to improve the abilities over time. They have patience and persistence. Growth mindset people have these characteristics:
- They love a challenge.
- They value self-improvement.
- They believe they are works-in-progress.
- They stay motivated when things get tough.
- They enjoy the progress and struggle towards a goal.
- They’re patient with how long it takes them to achieve a goal.
- They do what they do for the journey, not the success at the end.
- They don’t care if they lose, as long as they learn something and give their all.
- They admire the effort because even geniuses still have to work hard to succeed.
Growth mindset people have sayings like:
- “If you fail, no matter. Try again.”
- “Never give up.”
After A Failure
After a failure, they may make statements like:
- “At least I am still alive and healthy.”
- “Now, I’ve learned what I did wrong so I can improve.”
Many of The World’s Most Successful People Were Told They Weren’t Going Anywhere
The world’s top photographer failed her first photography class. Michael Jordan was cut from his Varsity basketball tryouts in high school as a freshman. Many top achievers, like Einstein and Edison, were told they were never going to amount to anything or that they were just average. But they didn’t buy into these beliefs and knew that it took time to improve, so they practiced and improved.
If you study the early works of history’s best artists, you’ll find that they sucked. It took time for them to master their craft because they had to practice for a long time before they got good.
Growth Mindsets for Kids
Studies show these mindsets are developing at even four years old. They gave kids a difficult puzzle to solve. Afterwards, they asked if they wanted a more challenging puzzle or the same puzzle.
The growth mindset children always asked for a harder puzzle because they always want to stretch and grow. The fixed mindset children asked for the same puzzle.
When I read this, I wanted more details. You could still stretch by trying to solve the same puzzle before you move onto something more difficult, and that may be why some of the kids weren’t ready to move up yet. I wondered whether they asked for a harder one after they completed the first puzzle.
Why A Growth Mindset Is Important
Experiments done on college students, including one by the University of California, found that fixed mindset students felt less confident as they learned, while growth mindset students felt more confident as they learned. Fixed mindset students also had more fragile confidence.
Studies also show:
- Fixed mindset people are more depressed, while growth mindset people work harder to improve when depressed.
- Fixed mindset people do worse with labels and stereotypes. They let them affect their performance.
- Growth mindset people do better in school. They may start off scoring worse, but they bounce back and improve.
Carol conducted an experiment where she taught growth mindset principles to one group of students and didn’t to another group.
For the group she taught, she showed them how their brains can grow and improve, like a muscle, when they work on them. Neural connections are multiplied in areas of the brain that you work on.
The results of the experiment showed that the growth mindset group of students perform better in school while the fixed mindset crew did not.
Carol created a scalable version of this workshop with brain experts. It is called Brainology and involves animated videos that any student can watch.
There’s Hope. Changing A Fixed Mindset Is Possible.
If you have fixed mindset, all is not lost. You have the ability to change mindsets.
Nature Versus Nurture: Which Matters More?
Although there was fierce debate in the past on if one mattered a lot more than the other, most scientists today agree that it isn’t either-or but a give-and-take. Your genes depend on feedback from your environment to grow and you also rely on good genetics.
There is a study of genetics called Epigenetics that researches certain genes that change completely depending on your environment and lifestyle. Also, scientists discovered the brain is very malleable. Your thoughts and behaviors can change the structure of different areas of your brain like you are working out a muscle (the brain is a muscle and should be exercised consistently).
I definitely agree that both matter. Though it’s worth noting that there are extreme cases where one can overpower the other. You could beat your child, avoid teaching him anything, and starve him. He probably won’t end up an accomplished physicist. On the flip side, you could have all the best education and cutting-edge training to become a pro basketball player, but if your genes make you 3 feet tall, you’re hard-pressed to make it.
Bill Gates and Warren Buffett wouldn’t be a fraction of as rich as they are if they weren’t highly talented at programming and stock trading age, and given the education and upbringing by their parents to nurture their gift. There are plenty of other world-class examples, like Mozart. But these are extreme case studies, where everything aligned.
Don’t let it get you down if you weren’t given a genetic god-like talent. The point is that you can unleash a lot more potential than you thought by casting aside false limiting beliefs, like the fixed mindset.
How to Develop A Growth Mindset
If you have a fixed mindset right now, here are some strategies you can use if you need help creating a growth mindset:
The next time you are feeling overwhelmed or frustrated because you can’t imagine how you can accomplish do all the stuff someone else has, do this.
Realize that it’s fine and that is why you are here: to learn. You are not supposed to be able to have the skills of someone with years of experience on you. You are not supposed to have all those achievements yet. You are here to learn to slowly get there.
Slowly try to stop blaming. Instead, consider if there was any way you were in control of the result that you could have change. Focus on improving what you can influence.
The next time a rejection causes you to think that you were being judged or labeled negatively, ask yourself if this is true. See if the person is actually judging you.
After a failure, ask yourself how you could have done better. Research and reach out to others for advice. Then, use that information next time.
Research shows vowing to do something doesn’t work. Instead, what works is a vivid, detailed plan. The next time you want to do something, have a specific plan. For instance, instead of vowing you will write a book, plan to wake up early and write a single page everyday after breakfast.
Examples of Fixed to Growth Mindset Switching in Action
- Working in a low-level job you’re overqualified for.
Let’s say you end up in a low-level job after college that you think is beneath you. A fixed mindset person would be outraged that his boss doesn’t just see his talent automatically and promote him. He wouldn’t do anything to fix his situation, but he’d get bitter and blame many things.
If you’re in this situation, you can switch into a growth mindset by actually learning about the business and how you can improve rather than sitting there feeling bad for yourself. You can think constructively on how you can deliver results and prove to your boss you can do better.
- Feeling the imposter syndrome after a promotion.
Let’s say you are an athlete. You just got accepted to play at the professional level from school. You were always calm under pressure, but that has changed now that you’re in the big leagues. You are caving under pressure and aren’t performing well.
A fixed mindset athlete would feel as if he’s been labeled. He would avoid press or attention because it would make him feel ashamed.
If you are in a similar situation, here’s how you can switch to a growth mindset. Realize that you deserve to be here. You worked hard to get the skills that got you hired. Reach out to your league, coaches, and teammates to get advice on how they dealt with the situation. Put in the same work effort to improve and get better.
Growth Mindset Activities For Adults
You can adopt specific exercises to improve your performance. Whenever you catch yourself thinking or saying a fixed mindset belief, correct it to a growth mindset belief. Instead of “I can’t afford that.”, think “How can I afford that?”
The book Rich Dad, Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki is a great foundational book on applying growth mindsets to personal finance and earning more money.
At the end of this article, I have a free PDF checklist you can print out and carry around (or hang on your wall), which will keep reminding you about how to act or think. It’s a gradual process that takes baby steps, so don’t beat yourself up if it’s taking a long time to change.
What else can you do to get a growth mindset?
Join a group with growth mindset people, like Toastmasters. Or hang around growth mindset people. You can use sites like Meetup.com to find like-minded people to push you up. There are also supportive Facebook groups, online communities, and online self-help influencers who can surround you with the right people to help you shift your mindset.
Mindsets for Shyness and Dating
Fixed mindset people who are shy let shyness stop them from succeeding and hold them back. Growth mindset people have been shown to you shyness and learn from it to improve upon their social interactions. For example, one man who was studied in the book initially ran away from the advances of a crush because of his shyness. But he learn from it, and eventually invited the girl out.
Mindsets for Dealing With A Broken Heart, Spouses, and Relationships
Scientists found that you will react differently when someone breaks your heart depending on your mindset. Fixed mindset people want revenge and hope to bring as much pain to the other party as possible. Growth mindset people look to see what they can learn so it won’t happen again.
They also differ on how they deal with relationships. Fixed mindset people believe you shouldn’t have to make any effort to improve a relationship. If you do, this means you aren’t meant for each other. However, every relationship expert and psychologist in the world disagrees.
In reality, every relationship naturally needs effort from both parties to maintain and improve the harmony. Growth mindset people believe this.
Fixed mindset people recognize flaws they didn’t notice before in their partners and can’t deal with it. It prevents them from finding a partner they’re satisfied with, and breaks up relationships. Growth mindset people work through problems and flaws they find.
Note: this doesn’t mean that you can change someone just because you want to. Whether you have a fixed or growth mindset, someone has to want to change.
Fixed mindset people want partners who put them on pedestals and praise them. Growth mindset people want partners who challenge them in a healthy way and push them to grow
Mindsets for Parenting Children
Children brought up with a fixed mindset have specific behaviors and beliefs. They view interactions with their parents as moments of judgement. It’s about whether you can prove you’re smart or not.
Fixed mindset parenting style is based on black-or-white labeling of the child. They label the child as “smart” or “successful” simply based on their identity, grades, or performance. No emphasis is placed on actual effort. Parents make sure the child knows they’re disappointed when they fail.
Fixed mindset children grow up believing that you either have it or you don’t. There is no emphasis placed on learning or effort.
Most importantly, they often feel like a complete failure or huge disappointments.
As you can tell, a teacher or parent can teach a child the wrong way by unconsciously encouraging a fixed mindset. Don’t praise a child for a specific identity or trait because they will do whatever they can to cling to the identity, even if it means cheating or preventing growth. Instead, praise them for their effort and progress and you will be on your way to promoting a growth mindset.
Growth Mindset in Education
A case study in the book examined a peculiar high school teacher who taught in the inner cities, filled with the lowest-tier students, most of which were Hispanic. These students were labeled as dumb, mentally challenged, and having no potential.
The interesting part is that he managed to get more of his students to pass the Advanced Placement tests than any other class in the nation, except for two privileged schools.
How? He adopted a growth mindset. Specifically, he viewed these children as having great potential. By treating them as smart individuals, he unleashed potential that was locked away by the negative labels others put on them.
Fixed mindset students don’t value effort and believe that their success, performance, and intelligence in school can’t be improved or changed. Their performance in school is often a label of their worth.
So how do you teach a growth mindset to students? You create a culture where you praise the right mindsets and behaviors whenever you can.
Mindsets When You Spot Bullying
Studies have discovered that fixed mindset people lash out and secret venge when they are bullied. Even most normal, healthy people who have a fixed mindset have a very violent thoughts
of revenge after being bullied. On the other hand, growth mindset people seek to remedy the situation by counseling the bully, finding out what is wrong, and empathizing
Mindsets for Women and Minorities
Studies found that even the smallest reminder to women and minorities of their label negatively affects their performance. A growth mindset is a great way to not let barriers or labels hold you back.
And found that fixed mindset people are more likely to stereotype females as worse than men. They also got a self-esteem boost after they stereotyped . Growth mindset People were less likely to stereotype females as worse and did not get a self-esteem boost after they stereotyped.
Mindsets for Adults in Business
A common error of CEOs is to sacrifice the long term success of the business by making short to mid-term decisions that look good to Wall Street.
Fixed Mindset Examples
Jeffrey Skilling of Enron claimed that it wasn’t his fault when his company’s massive accounting scandal was exposed even though he played a major part in it. He never admitting anything was his fault. He and other executives believed they were superior geniuses. They built the company team as if they were servants helping the few geniuses at the top.
In the second half of his time running Chrysler, Lee Iaccoca didn’t do anything new to innovate or improve the company. He surrounded himself with people who praised him and exiled the critics. He went on dozens of talk shows.
Lee wouldn’t let subordinates go through with an initiative if it meant that he wouldn’t get the credit. He put his ego before the company.
Even in the years when the companies weren’t doing well, Skilling and Enron had lavish parties and events for themselves, which they billed as business expenses.
Albert Dunlap of Sunbeam is another example. He catered to Wall Street’s approval and used short-term tactics to boost stock prices. These tactics lead to a massive accounting scandal and his ruin.
Growth Mindset Examples
Warren Buffett is an example of someone with the growth mindset and long term thinking. He has always been unaffected by Wall Street’s judgement and pressure to make quarterly projections. In many of his shareholder letters, he has said that they may make less than competitors in the short-term, but make more in the long-term because they’re not cutting corners.
Warren often praises many of his managers by name for their services and gives credit where it is due.
The CEO of IBM held true to long-term strategies to turn around his company. Wall Street sneered as he failed to meet short-term expected earnings. Years later, IBM had the last laugh because it returned as a dominant force in business.
In his time with General Electric (GE), Jack Welch turned the company from a worth of ten billion to almost 500 billion. He acquired a company that turned out to be involved in an accounting scandal. He called his top twelve managers together and told them it was his fault. He would often go on the floor himself and work with the workforce to see how he could improve.
Mindsets in Sports
“You are not a failure until you start blaming others for your mistakes.” -Coach Wooden, widely regarded as the best basketball coach of all time.
Fixed Mindset Athletic Examples
John McEnroe was the world’s best tennis player for four years. During his career, he would dry his sweat with sawdust. One time, he yelled at his agent for bringing him sawdust that was was ground too finely. He called it “garbage” and ordered him to get better sawdust immediately.
Whenever John lost, it was never his fault. He had a variety of excuses outside of his control, such as:
- He overtrained.
- He undertrained.
- It was too hot.
- It was too cold.
- The tabloids affected him.
- He was playing against a friend.
The problem with this is that he never had an attitude that allowed him to accept his own mistakes so he can learn from them and improve.
John also enjoyed being special. He threw up on a Japanese host once, and loved the fact that she bowed and gave him a gift afterwards.
Growth Mindset Athletic Examples
Many top athletes have progressed to a world-class level by constant stretching.
When Michael Jordan announced his return to basketball, he said that everyone talked about him as if he was a god. He replied that he was just a human being, like everyone else. Michael didn’t have the fixed mindset tendency to glorify himself or separate himself as special from everyone else.
Michael Jordan has been legendary among basketball players for decades. But most people think it was his natural genetic talent that got him there. While that helped, his coaches and teammates knew that it was his amazing work ethic that was the key.
“The mental toughness and the heart are a lot stronger than some of the physical advantages you might have. I’ve always said that and I’ve always believed that.” – Michael Jordan
Widely regarded as the best female soccer player of all time, Mia Hamm said she always played with people higher than her level. When she was a child, she played with her brothers. In school, she joined the boys soccer team. In college, she played with the top female college team.
Wilma Rudolph was considered the fastest sprinter alive. But when she was young, one of her legs was paralyzed from illness. Doctors told her to give up any hope she would be able to use the leg again. But she persisted through a lot of physical therapy, eventually regaining control. From there, she started running Track, only to lose out on every competition she entered. She never gave up. She said she wanted to be remembered as a “hard working woman.”
Growth Mindset and Grit: How They Go Together
Angela Lee Duckworth, a UPenn professor and psychologist, revealed a new factor for success in her research called “Grit.” This is defined as the optimistic perseverance to keep going despite ridiculous obstacles. Angela found that grit was the only factor out of the many she measured that correlated with which cadets made it through one of the most rigorous Army training programs in existence (a torturous program intended to test the limits of your mental and physical strength).
As hinted at, perseverance is a fundamental part of the growth mindset. Watch Angela’s TED talk below for more tips on Grit:
For more detailed tips, Angela wrote a book called Grit you should check out. You can find more about the book on Amazon by clicking here.
Note: if you purchase through these links, I will get a commission at no extra cost to you.
New Secrets from Dr. Dweck Not Revealed In Her Book
I reached out to Professor Dweck to see if she has learned anything since the book’s release that would be of great importance to share. She said this:
Yes! I’ve really come to understand how we’re all a mixture of fixed and growth mindsets–that we all have things that “trigger” us into a fixed mindset. It might be confronting challenge, struggle, or criticism. It might be confronting someone who’s better than we are at something we’re good at and really care about. It’s at these times that the fixed-mindset voice in our head can emerge and make us feel untalented and stuck there. Therefore, it’s at these times we need to recognize that our fixed mindset has been triggered and work to return ourselves to a place of learning and growth.
There is no perfect state we will get to where we will always be 100% growth mindset-oriented. Certain new or unique situations or skillsets may trigger the familiar fixed mindset response in hidden ways. It’s important to recognize and adjust.
“What you believe affects what you achieve.” -Bill Gates
Bill Gates recommended this book for a reason. It would be wise to listen to one of the most successful billionaires in history.
To put it simply, a growth mindset is critical to progress in life. It turns out we get in our own way more than we should. As Ramit Sethi, successful entrepreneur, says, life is hard enough without us shooting ourselves in the foot. We all have horrible beliefs and behaviors that self-sabotage us. These may have arisen from our upbringing, who we surrounded ourselves with, or dumb luck.
But the amazing part is that we have the opportunity to recognize these and change, just like how many of the world’s top achievers did.
The growth mindset is something I look to apply to every area of my life, especially areas where negative thoughts, resentment, and excuses sprout. I even apply it to lifting weights. It’s not about how much I can lift right now in comparison to others. It’s about if I’m improving.
My focus today was on form rather than weight because injury or prevention is key and form dictates how much you can lift in the long run I cannot lift a lot of weight in comparison to others but It is important to see that we all start somewhere even if it is not much weight to begin with Keep in mind that how many instagram photos someone posts is not indicative of how often they work out 🏋 I workout evrry day but dont post about it iften and others dont post at all but workout more than me #crossfit #fitness #🏋
“Don’t be mad at slow progress. Be frustrated at no progress.” -Matt Kido, a.k.a. Gokuflex, fitness trainer on how it took him over a decade of work every day for his body.
Mindset: The New Psychology of Success Book Review
I feel like people may be confused with her use of intelligence and Iq. Iq is rather fixed and unchangeable, which is different from the general definition of intelligence she use, which she says is changeable.
This book was quite helpful and brought up some great points I will definitely be using to improve my life. I love how she concluded by implying that a growth mindset is not a magic pill. It will not solve all your problems. This was important to hear because it did rather seem like it was presented as a magic pill for everything, and I don’t think it is.
The point about John McEnroe, mentioned earlier, in the book made me raise my eyebrows. Sure, his attitude and behavior clearly seemed inappropriate inside and outside of his profession. But I thought it was extreme to go so far as to assert that he is a failure or fixed mindset personality based on a couple anecdotes. After all, he is still regarded by many as one of the best tennis players of all time and still holds a couple big records. I thought it was a weak case study to back up the theory of growth versus fixed mindset.