How did you think people get to be successful, skillful, or bright?
Did they earn those qualities through hard work, perseverance, and continuous learning from failure?
Or does it seem like skill, intellect, and success are entirely genetic and that some people have naturally superior abilities in specific areas while others don’t?
If you think of intellectual and creative abilities as mainly innate, you have a “fixed mindset” of intelligence. If you think that success is due to personal qualities that can be developed through effort, then you have a “growth mindset” of intelligence.
The distinction between these two mindsets was first made by psychologist Carol Dweck in her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success (Ballantine Books, 2006).
She and other researchers have since found that having a fixed mindset is associated with lower levels of achievement.
People who interpret their abilities as fixed tend to be concerned about how well they will perform in any situation and about how others view them, so they avoid challenges where they might fail and they give up quickly when they do.
What is a growth mindset?
There are a number of mindsets that may assist or harm our well-being.
A growth mindset is simply the belief that our basic talents might be developed and enhanced through dedication and hard work. It isn’t as if this attitude has any special powers.
It’s just that without a growth mentality, we wouldn’t put in the required effort, so we wouldn’t learn or grow.
With a growth mindset, we can overcome our limitations and achieve our long-term objectives, whether at work, in our relationships, or in other portions of our lives (take this well-being quiz to get a sense of the areas of your life that might need improvement).
What are some signs I have a fixed mindset?
A fixed mindset is a belief that our character, intelligence, and creative ability are static givens that we can’t change in any meaningful way.
In other words, it’s the belief that success is reserved for a select few who were born with it all. We might have some room to improve what we were “given,” but not much.
There are some people who don’t really believe in innate talent, but if they aren’t able to do something very well (or at all), they quickly conclude that trying isn’t worth the effort.
They might get discouraged or think that others won’t like them because of their limited abilities.
What are some signs I have a growth mindset?
A growth mindset is a belief that our character and abilities can be developed through effort, practice, and input from others. In other words, we can learn to do things better if we apply ourselves and seek the right opportunities.
There are people who truly believe in their abilities (no matter what).
If they’re not as skilled as others (or as skilled as they would like to be), they know that this is a matter of effort and opportunity – not something inherent – so they will put in the necessary time and energy.
What are some issues with having a fixed mindset?
Having a fixed mindset often causes us to feel threatened by others who are more talented or able than we are. This leads to self-doubt and a tendency to give up or avoid many opportunities.
Sometimes, we might even become jealous of others who have what we lack.
If all our success depends on being born with the right qualities, it can be hard not to let this knowledge get in the way of our relationships with others.
We could easily fall prey to the negative assumption that they value us only to the extent that we can help them become more successful – or that they view us as a loser for not having been “born with it all.”
Why Is It Important to Develop a Growth Mindset?
If you have a growth mindset, you might be too quick to recognize your shortcomings and feel discouraged by them.
If you think your intelligence and abilities are fixed givens, however, you might shy away from many opportunities because you don’t want to look like a fool (you might even come to the conclusion that it’s impossible for you to learn).
Through years of research supporting its benefits, an easy way of thinking about a growth mindset is that it’s a belief that our most basic abilities can be developed over time, and the fact that we might not have started out with all of them is irrelevant.
A growth mindset allows us to see failure as an opportunity for us to learn something new. It also makes us less likely to feel threatened by others who are more talented or able than we are.
Before looking at some examples of how to develop a growth mindset, let’s first take a look at what you might be missing if you don’t have one.
How to develop a growth mindset?
There are many ways that people who want to develop a growth mindset can go about doing so. Here are some of the most common suggestions:
- Reframe your thoughts about difficult situations. Rather than thinking of them as permanent, try to imagine how you could navigate through them if you had more time, were in better physical condition, etc.
- Be aware of your common negative thoughts. It can be all too easy to fall into the same old mental grooves over time, so try to catch yourself whenever you find yourself reverting back to familiar thought patterns (e.g., “This means I’m not good enough”).
- Change your language when describing your abilities. Rather than saying, “I’m not a math person,” say, “I haven’t learned this yet.”
- Don’t compare yourself to others. Doing so is likely to lead you back into a fixed mindset because you’ll see people who are more talented or capable as threats rather than opportunities for growth.
- Try to adopt an incremental mindset. While some people are “naturals” at things, everyone has the potential to improve what they do over time with practice and openness to feedback (even if it’s hard to picture yourself doing so).
- Give yourself the chance to develop your abilities. This can often help you recognize that your performance doesn’t always depend on a fixed ability.
- Set challenging yet manageable goals for yourself, and don’t be afraid to adjust them as you learn more about what you’re capable of.
- Take advantage of opportunities to develop your abilities further – even if they make you feel nervous or insecure at first. By practicing new skills, you may realize that you’re capable of much more than you initially thought.
- Be open to constructive criticism and feedback that can help you learn and develop further. It’s easy to get caught up in the idea that we should already know everything, but this is rarely (if ever) the case!
- Don’t forget: that failure is a necessary part of the learning process. It can give us valuable information about what we need to work on and where we need to improve.
- Be mindful of your own talents and strengths, but don’t rely on them as a crutch for not tackling areas that are difficult for you (this is likely to lead you into a fixed mindset). Remember: you become talented in things through hard work and effort.
- Be patient with yourself when learning new things, and don’t beat yourself up if you make mistakes along the way (this is likely to lead you into a fixed mindset).
- Try not to feel discouraged when something doesn’t come easily or quickly (though it’s okay to be frustrated sometimes). Try to remember that there will always be someone out there who may have more natural talent, but your efforts and work ethic will help you compensate for that.
- Make a conscious effort to take advantage of opportunities that allow you to develop your abilities – even if it initially makes you uncomfortable or nervous (e.g., doing something you’ve never done before, speaking up in class).
- Try to look at failure as an opportunity to learn rather than as a handicap or shortcoming (this is likely to lead you into a growth mindset).
- Don’t wait for the perfect moment – it will never come! If you’re waiting for everything to be just right, you’ll likely never take advantage of any opportunities to develop your abilities.
- Remember that nothing in life comes easily. Learning new things is often difficult at the beginning, but in the end, it’s always worth it!
- Don’t wait for others to recognize your talents before you do (this is likely to lead you into a fixed mindset).
- Remember that your abilities are things that you develop over time – they don’t just happen overnight.
- Try not to compare yourself to anyone else – this can easily lead you down a path of self-defeatism and envy.
Make a conscious effort to take advantage of opportunities that allow you to develop your abilities – even if it initially makes you uncomfortable or nervous (e.g., doing something you’ve never done before, speaking up in class).
By practicing new skills, you may realize that you’re capable of much more than you initially thought. Don’t be afraid to adjust goals as you learn more about what you’re capable of.
It’s easy to get caught up in the idea that we should already know everything, but this is rarely (if ever) the case!