Pop quiz. Which of these do you agree with?
- Intelligence is fixed at birth.
- Some people are creative, others aren’t.
- You can become a world-class expert through enough practice, whatever your starting point.
- You can change your personality.
If you agreed with the first two statements, you’re coming from a fixed mindset. If you agreed with the second two, you’ve got a growth mindset.
Just knowing that probably isn’t very useful. What does it mean for you?
The Fixed Mindset
Having a fixed mindset means that you believe that your personality, skills and traits are pretty much set. They’re in your genes. You might think back to the way parents or teachers labeled you as a kid – perhaps “bright” or “lazy” or “clumsy” or “sporty”.
If you’re stuck in the fixed mindset, you want to keep proving yourself. “Success” means living up to what you believe yourself to be.
- If you believe you’re intelligent, you avoid taking on anything too hard – anything which might make you look stupid.
- If you believe you’re creative, you stick with the tried-and-trusted techniques which you already know – you don’t want to produce something that doesn’t work.
- If you believe you’ve got great business skills, you avoid taking risks – what if your company failed?
The fixed mindset can hold you back in other ways, too. It can lead you to focus on appearances over reality (so you cover up mistakes, for instance, rather than learning from them). It stops you taking on new challenges – perhaps playing a sport or learning a musical instrument – because you think you don’t have the innate talent in those areas.
The Growth Mindset
Having a growth mindset means that you believe your personality, skills and traits can be changed. You believe that experience and practice count for a lot more than your genetics. You might think about all the things you’ve learned during your life – and all the times you’ve started off as a total beginner only to become really good at something.
In the growth mindset, you stop worrying so much about failure. “Success” means that you learned something – even if the outcome wasn’t perfect.
- You want to become more intelligent, so you take on harder challenges which really stretch you. Sometimes you fail – but you always learn something.
- You want to become more creative, so you try out new mediums and take courses to improve your skills. Maybe you come up with something that doesn’t quite work – but you know what to do differently next time.
- You want to be better at business, so you take risks and try something new. Not everything you do succeeds and sometimes you lose a bit of money – but you quickly learn what does and doesn’t work.
The growth mindset isn’t about positive thinking or kidding yourself. It’s a recognition of how the brain really works – how new connections are being made all the time, new pathways forged, new memories stored. It means understanding that people aren’t born as great athletes or musicians or business gurus – they become that way through constantly challenging themselves to go a step further.
How Can You Change Your Mindset?
It’s pretty obvious that a fixed mindset doesn’t serve you too well. It’s a hard habit to break, though – I know that I’m still tempted to see intelligence, creativity and even ability to focus as innate traits rather than things we can develop.
It’s definitely possible to change your mindset for growth, though. You could:
- Read more about fixed verses growth mindsets, and the structure of the brain. Try Carol S. Dweck’s “” and read (particularly the section about brain damage).
- Spend fifteen minutes writing down a list of things you’ve learned during your life. You weren’t born able to walk, talk, read, ride a bike, do math… And as a teen or adult, you’ll have developed lots of complex skills – perhaps playing an instrument or using a particular bit of technology.
- Pick something you think you’re bad at, and give it a go. Singing, drawing, writing, whatever it is … look for a beginner’s guide or class and work through it. (There’s a great example of how drawing can be learned in Hunter Nuttall’s post on .)
- Look for success stories from people who seem “ordinary” – but who achieved extraordinary things through the effort they put in.
- Stop focusing on what you achieve; praise and reward yourself for effort. Don’t shy away from challenges – take a step outside your comfort zone.
- If you accomplish something perfectly, don’t get too smug. It was too easy a challenge. Find something harder to try next time!
I’d love to hear your own thoughts on fixed vs growth mindsets – and if you have any stories to share of times when you learned a great deal through putting in time and effort, let us know in the comments!