The concept of growth mindset vs fixed mindset explains how your beliefs influence the success you achieve in life.
Frank and Greg are two people who begin their careers from the same point. They study at the same college, possess a similar IQ, and even take up the same job at the same organization.
Fast forward 2 decades, their stories are no longer similar. Greg is running a multi-million dollar organization and operating as an executive. Frank has grown as a manager and is living an above-average life. Greg has completely out shadowed Frank over the years.
So how did two people who started at the same point with similar attributes reach different levels of success? Was it due to laziness, motivation, bad friends, or a stroke of luck? Sure, all those attributes could have played a part.
But the more likely cause is – mindset.
- Fixed vs growth mindset
- Differences between growth mindset vs fixed mindset
- How to identify symptoms of a fixed mindset in yourself
- How to develop a growth mindset:
Fixed vs growth mindset
A person with a fixed mindset believes skills and abilities are fixed. For example, he assumes his intelligence is constant and he can only reach a certain level of success with that. He believes he cannot grow beyond that point because his talent limits him from doing so.
A person with a growth mindset believes that by putting the effort to learn and practice, he can grow better at any skill. His opinion is that any person can achieve unlimited success and that the scale of achievement depends on how much work one is willing to put in.
Carol Dweck is an American psychologist and a professor at Stanford University. She has performed extensive research about mindset and motivation. In her best selling book, Mindset, she explains the concept of growth vs fixed mindset. Dweck was the first to present how our conscious and unconscious mind shapes our success.
Differences between growth mindset vs fixed mindset
How different are the people from the growth mindset compared to those of fixed? Dweck explains the opposing views and behavior of these two groups in different scenarios.
Let’s go back to the 2 characters from our hypothetical story – Frank and Greg. The first letter of their names indicates their mindset.
Frank – F- Fixed. Greg – G – Growth
Each scenario will contain examples of growth vs fixed mindset in Frank and Greg.
Frank stayed away from challenges throughout his life. When a friend challenged him to finish 5 pushups, he didn’t even try because he was afraid of failing. Greg attempted but failed that day. But, he did not let his failure bog him down. He started hitting the gym to work on his fitness. It took him a while to complete 5 pushups, but today he can do over 50 without breaking a sweat.
A person with a fixed mindset shuns away challenges due to fear of failure. The belief that he lacks the ability to overcome the challenge also plays a part. A person with a growth mindset takes on a challenge head-on though he does not win every single time. He fails just as often as the person from a fixed mindset, but he’s keen to test his abilities and make an effort to get better.
Belief about skills and abilities
Frank believes his skills are fixed. He assumes he cannot achieve more success than the person who scored higher grades than him in college. Since the top-performers in school already demonstrated their superior abilities, Frank thinks he does not have the potential to grow beyond them in his career.
Greg believes academic scores have little to do with long term success. He knows he has ample time to learn and grow if he puts in the effort day in and day out. Instead of allowing his base skills to turn into a limiting factor, Greg works on expanding his knowledge and abilities.
A person with a fixed mindset believes that every person comes with a fixed level of skills and abilities by birth. He does not attempt to push beyond the limits he currently has because he assumes it is impossible to do so. A person with a growth mindset attempts to improve on all areas he cares about by learning. Though he does not succeed every time, he puts in relentless effort to try and make it possible.
Reaction to obstacles
Frank and Greg worked on similar projects during their first job. When Frank faced a grueling obstacle, he chickened out because he did not know how to surpass it. When Greg confronted the same barrier, he had no clue how to solve the problem either. But, instead of giving up, he tried different methods to overcome the challenge. After a few failures, his determined effort helped him find a solution.
A person with a fixed mindset gives up too easily when he is trapped in a difficult situation. A person with a growth mindset functions like an ant.
Have you observed how any ant behaves when it faces an obstacle? If you haven’t, next time you find an ant walking, trying putting your hand or an object in its path. Wait and see what happens.
The ant will pause for a moment and try to get around the obstacle to resume its path. No matter what the barrier, the ant will immediately resume its mission to go from point A to point B. It will try to go above, below, or around. If need be, it will try to lift the obstacle itself or create a hole right through it. You will never see an ant waiting behind a barrier or turning back to where it started from.
Please note: That doesn’t mean you must beat every obstacle endlessly like an ant. At times, given the situation and circumstances, turning back might be the right thing to do. But, the ant operates with a growth mindset by making multiple attempts to find a solution to its problem.
Choice of whom they mingle with:
Frank chose to stay close to people who were like him. He never mingled with people who achieved more success than him. Whenever someone beat him, he made a snide remark blaming luck, circumstances, or external factors. For example, when the management promoted a team member over Frank, he said, “Oh, he was always close to the boss. I’m sure that’s how this happened.”
Frank mingled with people who reinforced his belief and made him appear skilled and intelligent.
Greg was always keen to hang around and work with people better than him. With an observant eye and an open mind, he watched how the top-performers did their job and applied the same methods himself. When someone outperformed him, he tried to analyze what did he miss out on and worked on fixing his mistakes. When the management promoted a team member over Greg, he walked up and congratulated him. He was eager to know what has contributed to his success so that he could improve his acumen.
A person with a fixed mindset is intimidated by the success of others. Their insecurity leads to jealousy and they try to find a reason why they’re aren’t as successful. A person with a growth mindset takes inspiration from success. They identify the pointers behind the achievement and add them to their arsenal for future use.
Method of doing things
Frank aimed for a goal solely for the result. When he started working out, he dreamed of a shredded body and ripped abs. After a few weeks of running like a mouse whose tail was on fire, the goal appeared nowhere in sight, so he simply gave up.
Greg started with the workouts he enjoyed. Therefore, he found himself motivated to exercise every day because he loved the experience itself. Finding ways to improve his regimen became a part of the cycle. A toned body was only a byproduct of his routine.
A person with a fixed mindset aims for a goal for the result alone. When the going gets tough, such people give up because they do not enjoy the process. A person with a growth mindset enjoys the journey of getting to the destination. Thus, results follow as a byproduct of such practices. Such people find the right way of practice and learning along with necessary course corrections to reach the goal.
Reaction to feedback
Whenever Frank heard criticism about his methods, he found a reason to justify his behavior. He denied his mistakes and always blamed circumstances or external factors for negative outcomes. Finding justification to negate feedback for improvement was how Frank boosted his self-esteem.
Greg, on the other hand, embraced criticism with open arms. He not only paid keen attention to critics but also went around seeking feedback proactively. He believed that criticism played an essential part in self-improvement. Finding excuses to explain his mistakes was never Greg’s approach. He took accountability for his errors and identified pointers for future correction.
A person with a fixed mindset hates negative feedback and finds reasons to challenge it. A person with a growth mindset keeps an open ear to criticism, applies careful thought, and learns lessons in the process.
How to identify symptoms of a fixed mindset in yourself
Each one of us has a fixed mindset in specific areas of life. Here are different ways you can identify such behavior in yourself. As you go through these symptoms as yourself if you you have a growth or fixed mindset?
Your words and thoughts:
A clear indication of a fixed mindset shows up in your words and thoughts. If you pay attention, you can spot them in yourself. Here are a few examples:
- I cannot because
- I failed because <external factor>
- I failed to get a job because the market conditions are bad
- I’m not <positive attribute>
- I’m not blessed with good genes to workout
- I’m <negative attribute>
- I’m bad at public speaking and I lack confidence
Your mind believes the statements you feed it, whether true or false. When you repeat them time and again, they turn into a limiting factor even if you have the ability to stretch beyond your current skills. Stop making such statements in your words or your thoughts to prevent yourself from believing them.
Your approach to success:
How do you react when another person achieves success? Do you feel the heat of jealousy? Do you find reasons to nullify the achievements by attributing it to luck? Do you consider such results entirely the result of inbuilt talent?
Such reactions indicate that you’re looking at success the negative way. Do not confuse disappointment with jealousy though. Feeling disappointed when a competitor achieves what you were aiming for is human nature and not a sign of a fixed mindset.
Your reaction to obstacles:
When an obstacle stands between you and your goal, what do you do? Do you try to find a solution or give up easily?
If you accept defeat without making any attempt to surpass the obstacle, you might have a fixed mindset. Whether your effort results in success is beside the point. That said, giving up on a few roadblocks that are impossible to overcome is a smart decision. But chickening out at every difficulty indicates a fixed mindset.
Fear of failure:
Do you fear trying something because you’re afraid to fail? Do you believe you’ll flounder before making an attempt?
Again, being scared of specific things is natural. For example, if you’re scared of reptiles, you don’t have to muster the guts to hold a snake by its tail and swing it in circles. But, if you’re afraid of taking any risks in life, your fixed mindset could be the reason.
How you handle feedback:
What do you say/think when you hear negative feedback about your actions? Do you find a reason or discredit the person for making the point?
If you dismiss every piece of feedback you receive, you are likely to suffer from a fixed mindset. But, that doesn’t mean you’ve to implement every advice you hear. As far as you digest the input without a counter-argument and analyze if it requires corrective action, you’re on the right track.
How to develop a growth mindset:
I have written an extensive article on how to develop a growth mindset. Therefore, I will cover the main pointers below in brief. You can apply these pointers to cultivate a growth mindset at work and in personal life. If you have exhibited many of the above symptoms, do not sweat it out. Every person can change from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset.
1. Develop humility
Humility and growth go hand in hand. When you’re modest enough to accept that you’re not the best, you’ll keep looking for ways to improve yourself. But, if your ego screams louder than your actions, you’re losing out the opportunity to get better. Arrogance is one of the biggest barriers to self-improvement and success.
2. Listen to feedback
Even when your worst enemy criticizes you, there will be an element of truth in it. If you listen without trying to fight back, you’ll find at least a minor pointer to work on.
You do not have to accept every feedback that you receive because many a time it may not apply to you. But, you must have the courtesy to listen, analyze, and decide if the feedback needs any action.
3. Cultivate a culture of learning
Take a moment to look at your skills today. How much do you think you’ve improved in the last one year? If you’ve put in a conscious effort to learn, you’re skills should have grown in the last 12 months. If your ability hasn’t changed in a year, take that as a wake-up call.
Learning does not stop in college. Those who believe it does are the ones who stagnate the fastest.
4. Wait for long term results
After you put in the effort, have the patience to wait for long term results. All the good results take time to show up. If you’re expecting big rewards in a short timeframe, you’ll give up and aim for a different goal. Over time, you’ll pursue one target after another failing to hit any of them.
5. Compare with yourself
Comparing yourself against others for inspiration helps you achieve your goals. But a common mistake is to compare your early effort against that of a seasoned expert. If you’re just starting to learn the guitar, do not consider yourself a failure for failing to match Eric Clapton. The scale of effort and the difference in experience makes such comparisons null and void.
Instead, you must compare yourself against the past you. Do not run a rat race with your rivals. Embark on a journey where you try to improve your performance over time, all the time.
Your thought process plays a key role in how far you step outside your comfort zone. What your mind believes, your brain follows. It is important to have a growth mindset because it not only helps in your career, but also makes you a better person overall.
Only when you believe you need improvement and that you’re capable of achieving it do you grow. If not, your limiting beliefs act as invisible shackles that you believe are real and fail to break free of.
Maxim Dsouza has spent over a decade experimenting and finding various time management techniques to improve his productivity. He strongly understands the fact that time is a limited commodity and tries to make every second count. He has extensive experience in leadership in startups, small businesses, and large corporations.
He has helped people of different professions and age groups gain clarity on their goals, improve focus, revise their time management skills and develop an awareness of their psychological cognitive biases.