Carol S. Dweck, professor of psychology at Stanford University, examines human motivation. In her work, she has discovered that we can differentiate people based on their attitudes.
She theorizes that there are two different attitudes:
- a growth mindset
- a fixed mindset
Carol Dweck has explored the differences between fixed and growth mindsets and their impact on our lives in different fields (sport, career, learning, relationships, education), so we can apply the lessons of her theory to all areas of life.
In this article, after defining the terms growth mindset and fixed mindset, we will move on to the practical steps of mindset change and what is needed to master a growth mindset.
- But what is a growth mindset?
- What are the positive effects of looking at the world with a growth mindset?
- How can we break out of a fixed mindset?
Among other things, we explore these three questions.
What is a growth mindset?
According to the growth mindset, our abilities are not predetermined, we can develop them through effort.
People with a growth mindset are risk-takers, love challenges, and are more likely to meet those challenges because they believe in their development.
Growth and fixed mindsets
Imagine you are back in primary school.
School bell ringing. Silence. The teacher starts handing out the test papers about the previous lesson. Your palms sweat and you stare glassy-eyed at the desk in front of you.
You've studied a lot, but you didn't get the essay you wanted. When you reach your desk, the teacher slides the paper in front of you, disappointed.
- What do you think of your performance?
- Does the grade you got change what you thought about your abilities?
- What's your next step?
Let's see how a student with a fixed mindset reacts to this situation and how a student with a growth mindset reacts to failure.
Fixed mindset: success equals being smart, while failure points out my stupidity. At least in that subject for sure.
Growth mindset: the result of an essay means nothing, except that I have not prepared properly. You can't draw a straight line if you only have one point.
Success means pushing my limits. Even though I failed the test, I gave my best.
There was an extra task in the essay that could earn extra points if solved. What did the fixed- and what the growth-minded student think when he saw the assignment?
Fixed mindset. the homework is extra difficult, so instead of wasting time, I go back to the familiar type of tasks.
Growth mindset: new challenges are exciting. I can improve by solving previously unseen types of tasks.
Those with a fixed mindset avoid challenges, while those with an evolving mindset see challenges as an opportunity for improvement.
Fixed mindset: I give up easily when faced with difficulties. If one task is difficult, I move on to another rather than dwell on it.
Growth mindset: I am persistent. I keep trying until I can solve a task.
Fixed mindset: If I have to push myself, it means I'm not talented enough. It's better to try to get results in some other area because I'm not getting anywhere here.
Growth mindset: effort is part of the path to success. It is better to become someone than to be someone.
The Myth of the Genius
Our society values effortless results more. We look for genius, the born talent. We search for the flame that becomes a success in an instant, forgetting years of hard work, failures, and new beginnings.
Most of the time, behind the moment of achievement, is an athlete, a writer, or a diplomat with a growth mindset.
Michael Jordan is widely regarded as the most successful basketball player the world has ever seen. You would think that Jordan, blessed with perfect genetics, would have taken obstacles with ease and then suddenly woken up as a champion.
Not even close.
Michael Jordan wasn't even drafted to play high school basketball. The failure didn't make Jordan give up basketball, he didn't think he did not have any talent, he trained hard before and after class.
He practiced until he slipped through the cracks.
Whether it was a high school team tryout, the NBA draft, or a championship, Jordan was constantly challenged.
"I have missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I have lost almost 300 games. On 26 occasions I have been entrusted to take the game winning shot, and I missed. And I have failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is precisely why I succeed." - Michael Jordan
Michael Jordan attributes his success, not to superior genetics or a God-given ball sense, but a growth mindset.
Many things are said about Charles Bukowski, but his works are still passed from hand to hand, his poems and short stories discussed at length. Although his name conjures up images of alcohol and the grotesque rather than hard work, his productivity as a writer is undeniable.
He has written thousands of poems, hundreds of short stories, and six novels. Few people know, however, that although he published his first short story at the age of 24, he did not become a full-time writer until he was 49.
"If I worried about what people were interested in, I'd never write anything." - Charles Bukowski
Benjamin Franklin was 45 when he ran for his first election. Of the 14 candidates running for seats in the Pennsylvania General Assembly, only one candidate received fewer votes than he did. He miserably failed in his first political challenge.
Benjamin Franklin, however, did not crumble.
His caucus sent him to Europe as an ambassador, a mission that over the years made him a world-renowned diplomat and a statesman of considerable political influence.
The Role of Labels
Would the three gentlemen just listed have been starlets, born writers, and gifted diplomats?
Were they talented or hard-working?
Praise with a growth mindset
If we think in terms of a growth mindset, it is not all the same. Labels affect us, and with children, these simple words have a special meaning.
What do we say to a school pupil who is writing a perfect essay?
If we praise him for his brain and emphasize his talent, we will not only reduce his motivation but also his performance later on. By praising success alone, we trap the student in a fixed mindset. Our praise, in this case, reinforces the idea that if he succeeds he is clever, if he fails he is stupid.
Praise according to the growth mindset.
Emphasize diligence and hard work to help further progress, rather than encouraging the student to defend the labels they have earned.
Much more than idolizing talent, prejudice has a negative impact. If you are given no chance to prove your potential and are labeled as a criminal, untalented or clumsy, it is hard to see life as a sunny playground full of interesting challenges.
Ethnicity, skin color, gender, or even religion says nothing about the mathematical ability of a student, the ball sense of a basketball player, or the technical affinity of a young girl. Yet many people are put off by slum students and just turn a blind eye when a girl is studying engineering.
If we take a growth mindset, stereotypes cannot play a role in our decisions. Both labels and stereotypes are characteristic of those with fixed attitudes.
How to adopt a growth mindset?
The growth mindset not only helps your success but also the progress of those around you. Michael Jordan's developmental approach is what made him successful in a team sport. A coach with a growth mindset can lead a team of mediocre players to success.
The same is true for companies.
Just think of Satya Nadella's methods.
After he was elected Microsoft's new CEO, he began to lead a stagnating company based on values and growth potential, which has since conquered new areas and seen its shares steady growth.
Do you want to break out of the fixed mindset?
Use the following 4-step guide to change your mindset.
1. Learn to recognize your fixed mindset
- Are you deflecting blame when you hear constructive criticism?
- Do you see feedback as your arch enemy?
These voices are all the result of a fixed mindset. But you don't have to banish your natural reactions, you just have to learn to listen to their growth-focused opposition!
2. Recognise your potential and develop your skills
If your goal is really important, you will do your best to find realistic ways to achieve it.
But what do you care about? What is your goal and how will you get there?
Define your goals and find the skills to help you on your way!
Develop the skills you need to achieve your goals!
3. Act in the spirit of the growth mindset
In the first step, you identified your fixed mindset, now you need to find growth answers to the same problems.
- a, Are you really trying?
- b, Why not? After all, I can only win.
- a, What happens if I fail?
- b, I look for another solution, try a new method.
- a, Wouldn't it be better to give up now? So you can keep your dignity.
- b, I am not defined by my results. Failure has nothing to do with my dignity.
4. When you fail, respect the obstacles
Challenges, obstacles, and failures are an inevitable part of the journey. Remember that when you fail, you grow. You learn lessons that you can apply to the next obstacle.
You become more persistent and learn to deal with failure.
Taking risks and persevering is part of a growth mindset. The proof is not in the success, but in the learning itself, the work you put in.
Extra tips to develop a growth mindset
Growth once, fixed another time
A growth mindset has great effects, but it's not so easy to apply in everyday life. I've attended a training on growth mindset, I've read Carol S. Dweck's book, and yet to this day, there are areas where I can't flick that particular switch.
Although I used to shy away from writing, I am writing now. I thought it would take an exceptional sense of beauty and a programming vein to create a website, yet I put this blog together. Still, painting a house can drive me out of the world. There are simply areas where I am still influenced by a fixed mindset.
But I am trying. Maybe that's the secret of the growth mindset.
Don't talk about others with a fixed mindset
You're very hardworking, but that this guy is a natural-born talent.
It's no use trying to adopt a growth approach in our own or our immediate environment if we continue to think and talk about the world in a fixed way.
There is no point in interpreting your favorite football team and the 14-year-old boys you coach in two different coordinate systems. The same two equations describe your team's performance, only your kids' scores have barely moved off the origin, while a top team has years of hard work behind it.
The Growth Mindset Guide
Mastering a growth mindset doesn't happen with a snap of the fingers. If this article fails to convince you of the positive effects of a change of mindset, I suggest some videos and books by real experts on the subject with the same enthusiasm as me, but with much more expertise.
Carol Dweck - Developing a Growth Mindset
The Advice That Changed Satya Nadella's Life
What Growth Mindset Means for Kids - Rebecca Chang
Carol S. Dweck: Mindset - The New Psychology of Success
This book by the creator of the growth mindset concept is the best resource for learning about the growth mindset in an easy, readable way through stories from multiple disciplines.
Resources and references
Carol S. Dweck (2015): Mindset - The New Psychology of Success