Choosing Success in a Growth vs. Fixed Mindset

By Ellie Walburg on June 13, 2018

Continuous improvement. Perseverance. Innovation.

Another framework that people live and work within is either a growth mindset or fixed mindset. While often applied to the work environment, this distinction between a growth or fixed mindset can help set you on a path toward success and fulfillment in life.

Both of these mindsets are based internally. You make the decisions and develop your own mindset. However, external factors certainly come into play as you develop such mindset.

Here, we explore what you need to know about a growth vs. fixed mindset. We'll also share how you can continue to build upon that growth mindset for both yourself and your team to help you achieve your goals.

What is the Difference Between a Growth and Fixed Mindset?

Toddler standing at the bottom of a stairway

Before advocating for a growth mindset, it's important to understand the distinction between the two.

Concepts Established

Dr. Carol Dweck is credited with establishing this important topic of having a growth or fixed mindset, according to an article from Fearless Motivation. Dweck is a professor of psychology at Stanford University who developed these concepts during her extensive research in schools and other environments. Her book, "Mindset: The New Psychology of Success," outlines her findings about how our mindset influences our opportunities and outlook on life.

In an article from Brain Pickings by Maria Popova adds that Dweck's book highlights how both our conscious and unconscious beliefs can have such a profound effect on our lives.

Popova writes,

"Out of these two mindsets, which we manifest from a very early age, springs a great deal of our behavior, our relationship with success and failure in both professional and personal contexts, and ultimately our capacity for happiness."

In other words, whether we have a growth or fixed mindset makes a big difference.

So what is a growth mindset and a fixed mindset?

Growth Mindset

According to Dweck's research, a growth mindset is founded in the belief that we have the power to change, improve and grow in our abilities and personalities.

Popova describes a growth mindset as one that "thrives on challenge and sees failure not as evidence of unintelligence but as a heartening springboard for growth and for stretching our existing abilities."

Someone with a growth mindset stays on the lookout for new opportunities and areas for improvement. They want to get better and grow.

Fixed Mindset

A fixed mindset doesn't see those opportunities as clearly. Someone with a fixed mindset instead sees personalities and beliefs as unable to change. Popova describes a fixed mindset as one that sees success as "the affirmation of that inherent intelligence, an assessment of how those givens measure up against an equally fixed standard." She continues on to add how avoiding failure is a big element of having a fixed mindset.

An article from Positive Psychology Program notes how someone with a fixed mindset constantly seeks validation and tries to prove herself. The fear of making mistakes may become debilitating in their work.

So which one is better for success?

Dangers of a Fixed Mindset

In Dweck's research, a growth mindset is seen as the mindset with greater opportunities for success, satisfaction and joy in life. That's because a fixed mindset can feel restricting, preventative and inhibit progress.

Fear of Failure

With a fixed mindset, failure is seen as a major loss that contributes to your inadequacy. An article from 7 Mindsets notes how having a fixed mindset emphasizes external rewards, which reduces the value of internal development. This may cause unnecessary competition in the classroom or in the workplace. Actions may be done out of insecurity rather than a willingness to try something new that could end up benefiting you greatly later on.

The article from Fearless Motivation mentions how a fixed mindset incorporates debilitating thought processes such as:

  • "Failure is the limit of my abilities."
  • "When I'm frustrated, I give up."
  • "I can either do it or I can't."

Discourages Progress

Thoughts like these don't encourage success. They are stemmed in fear and the unwillingness to try and step out of your comfort zone. Such thoughts are discouraging, especially when things in life get difficult.

When you believe that your abilities and intelligence are predetermined, you're not always willing to get out of that comfort zone. You may wonder what the point is. The authors from Positive Psychology Program note that those with the fixed mindset "doubt their ability which in turn, undermines their resolve, resilience and learning." A fixed mindset is not conducive to forward progress and improvement.

Thankfully, there's another way to look at things.

The Value of the Growth Mindset

Three mason jars with plants growing in them

While a fixed mindset can often hinder your opportunities for success and progress, a growth mindset can help boost and encourage success and progress. Whatever field you find yourself in, maintaining a growth mindset can help advance your goals and create a better environment for those around you.

Here are just some of the many benefits associated with a growth mindset:

Passion for Learning

When you're not so concerned with seeking the approval of others, such as in a fixed mindset, you're able to celebrate learning and thinking for you. Popova mentions how having a growth mindset establishes a passion for learning and cultivating new skills and experiences.

Positive Psychology Program suggests to see learning differently with this mindset. The article notes to, "think of learning as a joyful and constructive process rather than a chore that exposes your inadequacies." This positive view of acquiring new skills and experiences may just spur on further desire to continue to learn.

And who wouldn't want to be a lifelong learner?

See Failure as Opportunities

Rather than seeing failure as a personal reflection on your inability to achieve, those with a growth mindset see failure as a way to improve themselves. Popova mentions that people with this mindset are not only "not discouraged by failure, but they don't actually see themselves as failing in those situations—they see themselves as learning."

With their passion for learning, failure is seen as a new opportunity, something to glean new experiences and information from. Positive Psychology Program adds that failure is viewed as feedback on the performance rather than a personal attack on one's character or value as a person.

Be Positive

When you keep your sights set on new opportunities and look forward to how you can make yourself and your environment better, it's easier to be positive. If you see a difficult problem ahead of you and look ahead to how you can learn and try new things to solve the problem, you'll contribute to a more positive self-image.

And a boost in self-confidence can help you in all areas of your life.

Celebrate Your Effort

A growth mindset celebrates the effort and work you put into something. You may not be able to tackle or solve a problem right away, but you still take a moment to appreciate how far you've come and what you've learned.

In a society that is so centered around achievement and seeing results, refocusing on celebrating the work put into something may seem counter-cultural. However, when we take time to recognize those milestones on your journey toward success, you're more likely to continue on with your work.

Achieve More

When you're not paralyzed by the fear of failing, you have the potential to get more done as you keep moving forward.

Dweck mentions this herself in her article from Harvard Business Review. In the article, she writes that those with a growth mindset,

"tend to achieve more than those with a more fixed mindset (those who believe their talents are innate gifts). This is because they worry less about looking smart and they put more energy into learning."

And when you can get more done, you can continue to move and grow into new opportunities. Learn more and accomplish more with a growth mindset.

Check out Carol Dweck's Ted Talk Video from TEDxNorrkoping that includes just some of her extensive and insightful research:

How to Boost Your Growth Mindset

With such value that comes with a growth mindset, it's worthwhile to explore ways to boost our growth mindsets.

We're Not All One Or The Other

Two women jumping in the air from a dock

While most of us would probably choose to always have a growth mindset and always view our trials and failures as positive. We would like to never have to worry about our own insecurities and need to seek the approval of others.

However, rare is the case where someone is all growth mindset or all fixed mindset. Positive Psychology Program notes how most of us lie in between the two mindsets and may change based on our situation or feelings.

Suitable For All Ages

While our mindsets begin to shape as children, it's important to work on and pay attention to what mindsets we tend to follow as we grow up. But especially for children, instilling a growth mindset can greatly influence their self-esteem in their school and in life, as Dweck's extensive research has shown.

So how do you cultivate this important mindset to be successful? Here, we share four strategies you can use to boost your growth mindset:

1. Identify Your Fixed Mindset

As with a lot of things, your first step in improvement is identifying that area of life that is holding you back. In this case, identify the areas in which you tend to have a fixed mindset rather than a growth mindset.

These areas where we have a fixed mindset may not always be easy to identify. Positive Psychology Program notes that "fixed-mindsets don't come with a label attached to them but they reveal themselves when we are about to quit trying or avoid something that we know is good for us." They add that the feelings of boredom, anxiety and discomfort may help us identify where we see the situation as restricting and unable to change.

2. Appreciate Honest Feedback

One of the most difficult areas to tackle in overcoming a fixed mindset is being able to accept constructive criticism. When you begin to appreciate that others can help make you better—whether that be your supervisor, your professor, your parent or friend—you can implement their advice into your life without fear.

When someone praises your work or a job well done, celebrate that and continue to grow in that area. When someone offers a piece of advice or an opportunity for improvement, don't take it personally or as a failure. See constructive criticism as a way to grow.

An article from Fearless Motivation mentions suggests to "welcome it as a hint toward what you have yet to perfect. Go one step further and ask your coworkers or boss to suggest if there is anything you should work on to achieve better results."

Seek out those opportunities to identify your weaknesses and build upon your strengths.

3. Set Goals

When you're working on building up a growth mindset, you want to continue to get better. Setting goals that may challenge you and encourage you to work hard can help reframe your situation with a growth mindset.

Choose goals that will make you better. And if you don't meet (or exceed) those goals, don't spiral in seeing failure as a reflection of you. See it as a way to continue to learn and improve.

4. Be a Lifelong Learner

Without fear of failure, you can continue to learn and grow in your knowledge and experience. Feed your curiosity and wonder by taking classes and earning your degree that can help you get ahead. Understand your ever-increasing capacity to acquire something new and never stop learning.

Commit to a Growth Mindset

Female graduate looking to the horizon while standing outside

If you've been stuck in a fixed mindset for some time, changing to have more of a growth mindset may take initiative and work. However, the effort you put forth will be worth it as you grow in your personal and professional goals. Perhaps a degree program can help you get there.

What areas do you need to switch from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset? How do you think having a growth mindset can help you in pursuing your goals and living the life you desire?

Category: Leadership