Fixed vs growth mindset

According to researcher Carol Dweck, two types of mindset exist: a fixed mindset and a growth mindset.

Following a fixed mindset, you believe that abilities, talents and qualities are fixed and cannot change. They are immutable, forever carved in stone. From this perspective, you might believe that talent alone leads to success or that you are doomed to failure.  Phrases used you might use: "Oh I'll never be good at that", "I'm bound to fail", "It's hard for me to lose weight" or "I'm no good with numbers".

Approaching life from a growth mindset, you believe that talents, qualities, intelligence etcetera can improve with practice, time and experience. From this perspective, you believe they are malleable and can be honed and refined. 

It is from these two mindsets that our behaviour tends to spring, and they affect how we deal with failure and success. 

How do you develop a growth mindset?

1. Practice mindfulness

Start simply by noticing when you are approaching something from a fixed mindset. You will likely be thinking in very black and white terms and using stock phrases which will feel familiar yet uncomfortable due to their negative undertone. Then put mindfulness fully into practice by following the below steps:

a) Identify your fixed thinking each time it arises.
b) Recognise that you have a choice as to how you respond to that voice.
c) Thank the fixed thinking for making itself known, and respond from a growth mindset.
d)  Take the appropriate growth mindset action.

2. Embrace your weaknesses

There are some things that you will find more difficult than others but it doesn't have to mean that you will always be bad at them. Find ways to work with your weaknesses, and ways to adapt. Give yourself plenty of time to accomplish something and to plan.

3. View challenges as opportunities

When confronted with a challenge it can feel scary. From a fixed mindset, you will be focused on the potential for failure. From a growth mindset, you will see a challenge as something exciting, an opportunity to learn and grow, which leads on to number four.

4. Fail = First Attempt In Learning

Reframe failure. Rather than seeing it as something very negative, think of it as a First Attempt In Learning. Imagine a child learning how to walk, the first time they fall they might find it daunting to try again but rather than give up they keep trying, gradually getting used to how to manoeuvre their bodies and gaining confidence. 

5. Know your learning style

There are various different learning styles: abstract sequential, analytic, concrete random, concrete sequential, global, kinesthetic and visual. Identify which style or styles you learn best with and embrace that approach. It will reduce frustration and mean you are more likely to learn and grow. 

6. Remember that the brain has plasticity throughout life

When the brain is young and not fully formed there's a lot of flexibility and plasticity, hence why children learn very quickly. From a fixed mindset, you might repeat the adage "You can't teach an old dog new tricks". From a growth mindset, you will recognise that the brain has incredible plasticity throughout life. Neural pathways are formed in the brain and the more we use those pathways the more embedded they become in the brain, and the brain has the tendency to chose the most energy efficient path. The brain does, however, even in old age, have the ability to form new pathways. To keep it agile try to hone in on parts of the brain you use less frequently, you could learn a new language or a musical instrument for example. With deliberate repetition and practice you will be forming new neural pathways. 

7. Don't fear constructive criticism

Feedback is a gift. From a fixed mindset, you will approach criticism as unchangeable fact. From a growth mindset, you will mindfully deconstruct criticism and find ways of learning and growing from it.

8. Focus on the process and not the outcome

Enjoy the learning process and observe the ways in which you are developing rather than being solely fixated upon the end outcome. This way you will learn a lot of lessons along the way even if the end outcome is not what you had initially desired. 

9. Remember that a need for improvement does not equal failure

Just because a certain aspect is not as glittery and shiny as you had hoped does not mean that overall you have failed. Maybe in a speech you faltered a little or you made a slight typo on the Powerpoint presentation. Recognise the effort you put in, what you learnt and find ways that you can improve for next time.

10. Regularly reflect on your learning

In my journaling at the end of each day, I like to write down at least three things I have learnt from the day. This means that you can find positives from even the crappy day and you can look back at a later date to see the ways in which you have grown. 


  1. I love Carol Dweck and her philosophy of the power of "not yet". I find myself thinking sometimes thoughts like "I'll never be able to do this..." and when I catch those thoughts I make an intentional effort to reframe it as "I don't know how to do this YET, but I'll get there." It really shifts your perspective. And I totally agree that the brain is highly adaptable. There are so many cases where damaged brains rewired themselves to form new pathways and repaired functions that were thought to be lost forever. You're never too old to learn something new!


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