Carol Dweck’s revolutionary work was summarised in her book Mindset: The new psychology of success. According to the book, the mindset is the way we perceive ourselves. It is like a self-theory that we have, like “I’m smart” or “I’m not gifted”. She separated two types of mindset: a fixed mindset and a growth mindset. After she identified the differences between the two types, she realised that the growth mindset was common among successful people (ex. Judith Polgar or Michael Jordan) and fixed mindset was more common among underachievers. The goal of this article is to discuss the differences between the fixed and the growth mindset in detail.
Fixed vs Growth mindset: what are the differences?
There are numerous characteristics that separate the mindsets. Here we collected the most important ones. In each section, the first paragraph represents the fixed mindset and the second the growth mindset. While reading I’m sure you’ll find some relatable sentences. For the highest impact make sure you make a mental note or (even better) a written note when this happens.
People with fixed mindset believe that intelligence and talent are fixed traits. We born with a certain amount of intelligence and end up with the same amount in the end. Some are born talented some are not. During the school years, standardised tests and IQ tests reinforce this belief even further. We often get labelled by our teachers and parents according to our results. These labels strengthen the idea of some of us are better and some of us are not. Here are some examples of labels:
- You are so talented.
- You have such a great gift for music.
- You’ll never understand this.
- You are never going to be good at math.
People with growth mindset understand that intelligence is something we can improve. They don’t accept labels like smart or dumb but know that through effort they can get better intellectual skills. A kid who is labelled dumb or less talented will put less effort into studying if they don’t understand that they can improve. A kid who understands that improving the intellectual skills is a progress will do a better job at learning. They understand that test results are like photos that capture the current state, but they don’t predict the future.
With the fixed mindset it is more important to prove how good we are, than actually making progress and get better. Looking smart is what they want, and they avoid every situation that can prove otherwise. This is the reason they avoid risk, challenges and crack after failure. During my transformation from this mindset this quote helped a great deal:
Why waste your time on proving how good you are, when you could be spending the same amount of time on getting better?
With the growth mindset making progress and getting better is a top priority. These people often challenge themselves, try new things and learn new skills. Setting higher and higher goals to reach for and get better and smart while doing it is where they thrive. A simple example that shows the difference between the fixed- and growth mindset can be seen during classes or lectures. People who don’t ask questions even when they don’t understand the material because they are afraid they’ll look dumb has fixed mindset. People who seek knowledge by asking questions even in front of other, not caring about what they think about his or her intellectual skill have a growth mindset. Sounds familiar?
“If you have to make an effort you are weak” says the person with fixed mindset. Since he believes in fixed traits, he thinks if you have to make an effort, you must be not good at it. And since they just want to prove that they are smart, they won’t make an effort or give up easily. He thinks that natural talent is everything and the world belongs to the talented ones. He wants to look intelligent and talented, and talented people don’t have to make an effort. They do everything naturally.
“You need to make an effort to get good at something” says the person with the growth mindset. He understands that commitment and effort we are able to develop any skill we want. He knows that some people are born talented, but to them, talent is nothing more than a head start. A less talented person who makes an effort can catch up and outperform a talented one who doesn’t make an effort.
People with fixed mindset try to avoid challenges. To them, it is only another chance to fail and with failure, there’s a chance to look dumb. Not looking smart will make them feel insecure and maybe even shame. They try to avoid every situation where there’s a risk that they’ll end up failing. They perform the non-challenging tasks confidently as it is another opportunity to prove how smart they are.
People with growth mindset thrive during challenges. It is another opportunity to grow as a human being and get better. They often get bored with non-challenging tasks as they won’t make much progress while performing. Learning from failure is a great learning opportunity and this brings me to my next point.
“Failure equals shame” believes the person with fixed mindset. It will make them feel look dumb, incompetent and insecure so they try to avoid it at all costs. They make excuses why they failed, so they can feel secure about themselves and their abilities. This creates an illusion of security. Some people even fear failure so badly they won’t even try as it is the best method to keep them from failure.
“What do I need to do differently next time so I’ll succeed?” asks the person with the growth mindset. For him, failure can be just as frustrating as for anyone, but he knows it is also a learning opportunity. I still get frustrated from time to time, but not because of the failure. It happens when I have a hard time finding out what is the lesson there. People with the growth mindset know that failure is not the end of the journey, but a bump on the road.
If you learned from defeat you haven’t really lost.
For someone with fixed mindset, the only feedback they want to receive are the positive ones. It makes them feel secure about themselves and their abilities. Negative feedback and constructive criticism, on the other hand, makes them feel insecure. They only hear “You are not that good”. Excuses often show up and most of the time the core message of the feedback gets ignored.
For someone with growth mindset negative feedback and constructive criticism is a lesson. They want to improve and get better, so they take the feedback to heart and act on it.
Other people’s success
People with fixed mindset has trouble dealing with other’s success. Seeing someone else rising to the top will induce negative feelings in them. These feelings can be insecurity, envy, anger or frustration. They often blame the circumstances for others success, but when it comes to their we often hear excuses and slandering of others. “I was supposed to get that promotion but the boss hates me. She’s just got lucky and got promoted.” I hope this doesn’t sound familiar?
People with the growth mindset find the best in every success story: inspiration. They are willing to work hard and even follow the same path to get the same results. Seeing someone getting to the top is highly motivational for them instead of feeling envious. Reading success stories and revisiting the thing that motivated them in the first place is a great way to keep motivation high.
The active mindset
I like to think about people who are passionate about personal development and getting better, as they are one level higher that the growth mindset. They actively seek opportunities to learn and develop new skills. Enjoying self-help books over novels is a sign of this kind of mindset. In our vocabulary: a person who is passionate about personal development and actively looking for challenges and improving themselves have an active mindset.
The best way to induce a mindset change
If you want to change your mindset from fixed to growth you must know that it is a long process. It takes time and effort and I’m not even sure that a complete transformation is possible. I’ve been working on my thinking for years now and I still find some situations where it feels that the fixed mindset is still dominant. This happens often when I compete. I’m trying my best to overcome obstacles like this and it is a wonderful feeling when I succeed. When I know that my old self would react completely differently but now I acted according to the growth mindset is a success in itself.
Scanning your thoughts
First, you have to make the conscious decision that you want to work on yourself to get the growth mindset. It is even better if you write it down, but the best is when you write it down every day. This creates strong commitment which is essential to this change.
Second, scan your thoughts during the day. You probably already know some limiting beliefs you have, if not this is a must read. Whenever a thought like that pops into your head you have to be aware of it. If you are aware you’ll have a choice: act according to the old habit and mindset or step out of your comfort zone and act according to the growth mindset. The more committed you are to this change the easier this decision will be, not to mention it will get easier with time. You’ll have to act every time when you detect a fixed mindset thought. Only notice it and you won’t make progress.
A great way to practice scanning thoughts is to listen how others speak and what they say. I like to play this game when I’m talking to someone, I try to identify if they have a fixed or a growth mindset. Just try it, you’ll have fun, but make sure you don’t put those people into boxes.
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About the authorGabor Hosszu is the founder and head article writer of Goals Infinite. Being passionate about personal development and helping others were the main reasons he launched this site. By trade Gabor is a mechanical engineer. His hobbies include being a chilli farmer, a video game nerd and a wannabe beer expert.