Dweck's Fixed and Growth Mindsets
Overcoming Obstacles and Recognizing Effort
Who comes to mind when you think of a successful, intelligent and talented person? Perhaps someone like American inventor Thomas Edison, whose improvements to the light bulb has made it a symbol for moments of brilliance?
But, while Edison was a highly intelligent and talented individual, he wasn't born a success. And he didn't develop the light bulb in one day, or even on his own. It took a long, slow process of curiosity, dedication and hard work.
In her 2007 book, Mindset, renowned Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck says that it's not intelligence, talent or education that sets successful people apart. It's their mindset, or the way that they approach life's challenges.
In this article, we'll explore the meaning of Dweck's idea of mindset, how a "fixed mindset" can hold you back, and how a "growth mindset" can help you to reach your goals. We'll also show you how you can adopt a mindset of growth, so that you can increase your self-motivation, effectiveness and success.
What Is Your Mindset?
According to Dweck, people either have a fixed or a growth mindset, and the one that you adopt can affect every aspect of your life.
The Fixed Mindset
A fixed mindset is the belief that your intelligence, talents and other abilities are set in stone. You believe that you're born with a particular set of skills and that you can't change them.
If you have a fixed mindset, you will likely fear that you may not be smart or talented enough to achieve your goals. You may hold yourself back by engaging only in activities that you know you can do well.
Worse still, a manager with a fixed mindset may fear that their team members' achievements will surpass their own expertise. Or they may feel threatened if someone else spots an opportunity that they missed. To avoid being "found out" as lacking skills, the manager may discourage a star team member's development, and ignore their people's needs.
Dweck and her colleagues examined the brains of people with different mindsets. The brains of those with a fixed mindset showed higher activity when they were told that their answers to a series of questions were right or wrong – they were keenly interested to know whether they had succeeded or failed. But they showed no interest when researchers offered them help to learn from their mistakes. They didn't believe they could improve so they didn't try.
The Growth Mindset
If you have a growth mindset, you believe that, with effort, perseverance and drive, you can develop your natural qualities.
Neuroscientist Gilbert Gottlieb asserted that intelligence is determined by a combination of genes and environment, and that your environment influences the activation of genes during your lifetime. Whether your personality is determined by nature or nurture is still heavily debated, but, according to Dweck, you can develop your own skills, abilities, talents, and even intelligence through your experiences, training and effort.
You use feedback and mistakes as opportunities to improve, while enjoying the process of learning and becoming more productive. This is what Dweck calls "purposeful engagement."
You also believe that you can overcome obstacles. You choose to learn from the experience, work harder and try again until you reach your goals.
In her research, Dweck built on the theory of neuroplasticity, which is the brain's ability to continue to form new connections into adulthood, after it has been damaged or when it is stimulated by new experiences. This supports the idea that you can adopt a growth mindset at any time of life. You may not become another Thomas Edison, but a growth mindset can help you to realize your own potential through learning and practice.
This is why Dweck says that offering praise when someone does well reinforces a fixed mindset, while praising their effort encourages growth. When you focus on an individual's results, they learn that trying doesn't matter. But praising their efforts rewards their process of learning, so they become more motivated to keep striving toward their goals.
In the updated version of "Mindset," Carol Dweck repeats her advice to praise effort more than results. But she also warns that, to be truly praiseworthy, effort must be effective.
And she emphasizes that a growth mindset goes further than being positive and open-minded. It also requires focused effort, and should have a measurable impact on learning.
Mind Tools Club and corporate members can listen to our Book Insight on the latest edition of “Mindset.”
You can begin working toward your goals by writing your own Personal Mission Statement.
How to Develop a Growth Mindset
Dweck provides some simple steps that you can take to switch to a new way of thinking.
Step 1. Listen to yourself. The voice of a fixed mindset will stop you from following the path to success. For example, can you hear yourself questioning whether you have the skills or talent for a project? Do you worry that you'll fail and that people will look down on you? When you think about taking on a new challenge, do you resist for fear of failing? Perhaps you've received negative feedback and you hear yourself making excuses, blaming others, and defending yourself. If you do, you can use thought awareness to combat negative thinking.
Step 2. Recognize that you have a choice. Everyone will face obstacles, challenges and defeats throughout life, but the way that you respond to them can make the difference between success and failure. If you have a fixed mindset, you'll see these setbacks as proof that you're just not up to the job. But if you look at them as opportunities for growth, you can develop a plan for action, such as learning, working hard, changing your strategy, and trying again.
Step 3. Challenge your fixed mindset. When you're faced with a challenge and you hear yourself thinking that you'd better not try because you don't have the talent to succeed, remember that you can learn the skills you need to achieve your goals. You may not succeed the first time, but practice will help you to develop. For example, if you're facing a challenge and you think, "I'm not sure I can do this. I don't think I'm smart enough," then challenge this fixed mindset by responding with, "I'm not sure if I can do it and I may not get it right the first time, but I can learn with practice."
Step 4. Take action. When you practice thinking and acting in a mindset of growth, it becomes easier to tackle obstacles in a more positive way. Think of it like practicing the violin or your hoop shot: nobody does it perfectly the first time. When you make a mistake, try to see it as a chance to learn.
Think of how you can help your team by using the growth mindset. Praise your people for their efforts and for having an attitude of learning. If you had a fixed idea of someone's abilities, recognize and appreciate them when they improve. You can support your team's development with workshops or coaching. To build teamwork and encourage people to voice their opinions and ideas, create an environment of open discussion and communication.
If you have a fixed mindset, try to accept feedback and criticism as opportunities for developing your skills, rather than a judgment of your competence. Be open to learning and less defensive about failing. Remember, everybody makes mistakes!
In her book, Mindset, psychologist Carol Dweck says that success comes from having the right mindset rather than intelligence, talent or education.
People with a fixed mindset believe that they're born with certain intelligence, skills and abilities that cannot change. As a result, when they fail at a task or face a challenge, their fear that they might not succeed often stops them from progressing.
People with a growth mindset, however, embrace challenges because they believe that they can learn from experiences, develop their skills, and improve with practice – all of which can lead to greater achievement.
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