Growth or Fixed: What's Your Mindset? (And Why It Matters)

Consider the following scenarios:

  • When you fail at something, do you find yourself saying, “I’m no good at that” or “This is a learning opportunity”?
  • When you see someone else succeed, do you find yourself feeling threatened, or inspired?
  • When you have to put in a lot of hard work to accomplish something, do you think of it as a waste of time and effort, or a path toward mastery?

The way you approach these situations can give you an insight into two different mindsets: fixed and growth. Stanford professor Carol Dweck explains in her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success that a fixed mindset is the belief that your qualities are carved in stone, while a growth mindset is the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts, your strategies, and input from others.

What’s a growth mindset?

Essentially, having a growth mindset means having the passion for challenging yourself and sticking with it, especially when the going gets tough. People with a growth mindset therefore become concerned with improving, converting setbacks into future successes.

People with a fixed mindset are more concerned with how they’ll be seen by others. They expect ability to show up on it’s own, right away without any learning or effort. 

Not wanting to be challenged beyond their comfort zone, people with a fixed mindset lose interest when they don’t feel smart or talented.

Why does this matter?

How we face inevitable challenges and failures at work impacts our happiness, resilience, and future success.

In the fixed mindset, people transform a failure from an action (I failed) to an identity (I am a failure). There’s no real way to deal with failure from a fixed mindset, so people end up:

  • Trying less (if I don’t have the ability, why bother?)
  • Looking for people who are worse to repair self esteem
  • Assigning blame
  • Making excuses

In the growth mindset, failure is still painful, but it doesn’t define the person. Instead, it becomes a problem to be faced, dealt with, and learned from. People with a growth mindset will improve and therefore go on to establish a positive feedback loop that supports their continued learning.

How do I cultivate a growth mindset?

Most of us don’t have 100% fixed mindset or a 100% growth mindset. Sometimes we find ourselves falling into one mindset or another, as we all tend to have a mix of both.

We can; however, put ourselves into a growth mindset more often. According to Dweck, one way to do so is to identify and work with our fixed mindset triggers. When we hit an obstacle or get tough feedback, for example, we can become triggered and fall into defensiveness or insecurity.

Dweck suggests learning when your fixed mindset “persona” steps in and how to react to it. For example, let’s imagine you took a risk and failed at work. Your fixed mindset may be triggered and the “persona” may step in to tell you “You should just stick with what you know next time.” On alert for your fixed mindset triggers, you notice this reaction and can combat it with a growth mindset by instead saying, “I’m glad I took a risk because here’s what I learned from this experience...”

Another great strategy to cultivate a growth mindset? Establish a clear sense of purpose, so that you can celebrate the process of learning rather than simply the end result.

Let me know what strategies work for you as you aim to cultivate a growth mindset!