growth mindset

How to get Unstuck in Life: Fixed Versus a Growth Mindset

Problem: a fixed mindset causes undue stress

“It’s not how hard you can hit. It’s how hard you can get hit and keep on moving forward.” Rocky Balboa.

What is a key difference between those who dust themselves off and keep ‘moving forward’ after one of life’s ‘hits’ and those who drop like a stone?

It’s not possible in one article to cover all of the reasons people struggle to move forward. (although that didn’t stop Americans spending 13 million on personal development in 2010 trying to find out!). However, as dedicated psychologists and sociologists increasingly investigate subjects like happiness and optimism (Seligman), genius and talent (Dweck), procrastination (Steel) and influence (Cialdini) they are uncovering significant keys or leverage points which can make our lives more effective and fruitful.

One such key exists in the difference between a growth and a fixed mindset. I will be borrowing liberally from Mindset by Carol S. Dweck as well as other literature to explain the importance of this.

Here’s a promise: Understanding and implementing this distinction can liberate you to embrace growth as your birthright. It may also deal with a host of negative consequences that come with using the fixed mindset. But more on that later.

So what is a fixed mindset?

Basically, a fixed mindset believes you have some quality or you don’t. You’re good at something or you’re not. You’re smart or you’re not. You’re beautiful or you’re not.

So what, you say? It’s true. Some of us have inborn talent and some don’t. It’s obvious. Just look in the playground for example– some kids are good at football and some are not.

Only… a reading of books like The Talent Code, Bounce, and Talent is Overrated strongly suggest that its not so. They looked at so-called geniuses (and also at the places in the world that produce exceptional talent) and concluded that an outrageous amount of the right kind of practice is really what separated the goods from the greats. In other words, anyone who works hard enough and applies themselves to developing skills the ‘right’ way can develop what looks and smells like genius.

“Well, maybe” so you say – “but I was born with an advantage. I was good at music/sport/board-surfing since an early age.”

I’m not God, perhaps you were. But let’s look at the dangers of assuming you have fixed inborn talent or smarts. I have heard of ‘smart’ children who go to schools for gifted pupils and suddenly find themselves surrounded with others far ‘smarter’ than themselves. Or so it seems.

What are they to think? This is where the difference between the fixed and growth mindsets starts to kick in.

Children with the fixed mindset start to doubt that they are that talented or smart after all. They are surrounded by kids who really seem to have ‘it’, to have been touched by God.

Tracking studies have shown that children with this mindset fall behind in their grades after two years. They increasingly tend to avoid situations they think they can’t handle thus avoiding the opportunity to grow.

Project that avoidance tendency over a lifetime and you get a lifetime of under-achieving on your full potential.

Children with the growth mindset understand already that they can learn from those who know more than them. They believe they can get that good through learning and practice.

They may seek out extra help. They may befriend people with a greater talent and find out ‘how they do it.’

They actually relish challenges because what they see is the growth, not that the challenge means there’s something wrong with them.

Let me let you in on the secret. Growth oriented people don’t focus on the hit, they focus on the moving forward.

Fixed mindset people focus on what the hit means about them.

Dweck says “From the point of view of people with the fixed mindset, effort is only for people with deficiencies. And when people already know they’re deficient, they have nothing to loose by trying. But if your claim to fame is not having any deficiencies – if you’re a genius, a talent, or a natural – then you have a lot to lose.

Effort can reduce you.

What develops the fixed mindset?

 

Ironically, praising or criticising a child for having (or lacking) a particular quality can start the problem. It seems more natural and easier to tell a child (like my 18 month old) “You’re so smart” when she brings me my toothbrush and exclaims “daddy teeth” . This could encourage the fixed mindset whereas “I’m so pleased you worked that out – that you brush your teeth with the toothbrush” encourages effort and further thinking.

So what keeps the fixed mindset in place?

Lack of awareness of the growth mindset is one reason!

But now you’re learning about it your mind, stretched by a new idea, will never go back to its original dimensions (thanks Oliver Wendell Holmes for the quote!)

Secondly, because of the way our minds look for evidence for what we already believe if we see the world through ‘some have it, some don’t’ eyes we’ll continue to do so unless we have a jolt that forces us to re-evaluate.

Here’s a jolt: if you have a fixed mindset you can kiss long-term high self-esteem good-bye. Why?

Because each time there’s a challenge to how smart and talented you are your self-esteem (which is based on this) is threatened.

Even if you overcome there can always be the lurking suspicion and fear about what will happen if you fail. You won’t be smart. Then what WILL you be? A loser?

Do you really want to think like that? Many do.

But the cost of such thinking is anxiety, avoidance, lack of growth, despair, self-criticism, unfulfilled potential blah, blah, yadah, yadah!

Now before you fall into a pit of despair I want to reassure you that there are ways to ameliorate this mindset.

As mentioned above, just learning about the new mindset can create a shift towards growth thinking.

Dweck reports one child who, having realised that intelligence was not fixed, asked with tears in his eyes: “So I don’t have to be dumb?” From that moment on he improved greatly in his attitude and grades.

If you’re very self-critical you need to create a framework of self-acceptance, appreciation and esteem. If you struggle with this The Personal PowerPack available from here can help you set these frames.

If you have a fixed mindset you may overuse a mental process called Identification.

Alfred Korzybski, creator of General Semantics, talked about the unsanity of identification. Although this sounds technical it refers to how we make linkages in our minds between things.

When we make links between who we are and a negative idea we can mentally imprison ourselves. For example, the belief ‘I AM a loser gets mentally processed as ‘I’ = LOSER.

Your mind will equate EVERYTHING you are with the idea of LOSER. Except you’re not a whole and total loser, are you? Are you?

Are you not more expansive and complicated and wonderful than that? I hope you think so.

Take a piece of paper and write out answers to:

I am a……………….

Then ask yourself if those descriptions say everything about you? Really? You’re just a x? In every situation? At all times?

If you’re having trouble changing beliefs you can use something like Reboot Your Mind,a radical belief change process which can free up your mind when you feel ‘stuck’ in a certain mindset.

How can you change from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset? (full details on http://www.mindsetonline.com )

1)  Learn to hear your fixed mindset voice

As you hit a setback, the voice might say, “This would have been a snap if you really had talent.” “You see, I told you it was a risk. Now you’ve gone and shown the world how limited you are.” “ It’s not too late to back out, make excuses, and try to regain your dignity.

2) Recognize that you have a choice

You can interpret challenges as a sign that your fixed talent or abilities are lacking. Or you can interpret them with a growth mindset as a sign you need to make extra effort, find new strategies and stretch yourself.

3) Talk back to it with a growth mindset

So many personal issues never change because we don’t think to challenge them.

You need to challenge your fixed mindset with a new growth frame of mind.

So, ‘ my taxes are too difficult’ with ‘I can handle this by taking it slowly – one concept at a time. Each section mastered is a step forward, I’ve learned something new and I’m improving.

Even just telling yourself: “Plenty of  people have learned how to do this. I can learn this too and improve as I go.”

4) Take growth mindset action

Do something that reflects your new growth mindset.

Here’s a summary document of the key ideas in mindset. It’s useful to print out and put near your desk.

The final word is this: a growth mind set helps you become MORE of who you truly are.  A fixed mindset  immobilises you and fossilizes your natural growth abilities inside a cocoon of having to prove yourself.

Go out and grow!

 

——-

Products by Douglas Cartwright

Change your Concepts, Change your Life

The Personal PowerPack

Mind to Muscle SuperPack

Photo credit: ‘Row of Cars‘ by Big Stock

 

  • http://www.ofwnurse.net/ ofwnurse

    I am currently learning how to play violin.  It’s my 9th session now and I was about to quit and say that maybe I really have no gift for playing instrument.  Upon reading your article, I have realized that I have a fixed mindset. Now, I have realized that I can be good through learning and practice.. =)

  • Tomseebaran

    I am currently a student in high school and I really have found out that mindset  affects every aspect in your life. This Article have been really helpful to me as in that I know what I have to do to chance my mindset and develop myself.I really  appreciate  this and also this hole site and look forward to what you guys post tomorrow !!! :D

  • http://Mazzastick.com/ Justin Mazza

    So true Doug. Learning to set the mind to the coordinates of the outcome that you would want to happen is the key. Sly Stallones experience with writing and ultimately wanting to appear in the movie is a story exactly about that. Stallone knew his outcome and sure enough he got it.

  • http://Mazzastick.com/ Justin Mazza

    So true Doug. Learning to set the mind to the coordinates of the outcome that you would want to happen is the key. Sly Stallones experience with writing and ultimately wanting to appear in the movie is a story exactly about that. Stallone knew his outcome and sure enough he got it.

  • Naveen | planetnaveen

    Excellent point Doug,
    Growth is nothing but change.
    Change can be anything ranging from doing something differently, thinking creatively or trying anything which differs from a version that is tried and failed.

    Growth is realizing worthy goals set by us.

    And having growth mindset is the key for achieving growth. Fixed mindset always limits one to virtual boundaries.

  • Pingback: How to get Unstuck in Life: Fixed Versus a Growth Mindset | Tools For A Great Life

  • http://twitter.com/SteveWhiteToday Steve White

    “They increasingly tend to avoid situations they think they can’t handle thusavoiding the opportunity to grow.” This so true – and the feeling of “I know I can’t do it so I’m not even going to try” is also rampant among adults – even adults in well-paying, fulfilling careers. Sometimes all it takes to get “unstuck” is to realize how much we’re holding ourselves back and instead reroute our thoughts to imagine the impossible as completely possible.

  • http://filipinobook.com/?p=5725 Glori (CrazyIntrovert)

    I have so much to say about this.
    This makes so much sense! For years, I thought something was wrong with me because I’m not outgoing and I don’t like to party like everybody else. I just recently realized what I am, an introvert.
    And this fixed mindset explains all those feelings of guilt and shame that haunted me because i felt the pressure to be like everyone else or what everyone else expects me to be.
    That fixed mindset was actually nurtured by society: media, people around me, and everything else in between.
    So I guess I never really “grew” until I found out who and what I am. And I even started blogging about it, crazyintrovert[dot]blogspot[dot]com and it helps me grow.
    Thank you for this post. I hope everyone will appreciate as much as I have.

    • Lori Metevia

      You have to be yourself. It is ok not to be perfect. Success is doing our best and living with integrity. As humans, we won’t get things right all the time. The more we lesrn to forgive ourselves, the more we can accept and forgive others. We must remember that Jesus was the only perfect person to ever live. The rest of us are a work in progress. We must embrace the idea that we can change and so can others, especially if we depend on God.

  • guest

    I may be a person with a fixed mindset, but I can’t see the proof of such a wonders that mindset change does. It just seems like placebo. I understand that I can “grow” a little if I would believe it, even if it isn’t true. But it’s hard to believe.

    • Dougcartwright

      Hi guest, may I offer the suggestion (as you have) that because of your mindset you ‘can’t’ see the proof. Because you don’t see it because you have a fixed mindset. It comes down to frames – frames that blind us – when you experience a frame change and step outside of an important defining one for the first time – you’ll start to understand how possible it is. Check out work by Michael Hall such as Frame Games or even my cd http://www.change-my-beliefs.com – all the best.

      • guest

        Maybe you’re right. Thank you, I think at least it’s worth learning.

  • http://www.motivation.net.au/quotes/life-quotes Death Quotes

    I really enjoyed reading this post, big fan. Keep up the
    good work and please tell me when can you publish more articles or where can I
    read more on the subject?

  • http://pristineperception.com/ Suzanne

    The subconscious mind takes things literally so yes saying I am a loser does equate to I= Loser.
    When my kids were in sports, and they were sad if they lost against the ‘best’ team, I always told them it was ok that this is the team they will learn the most from. To put ourselves in the mix with someone we know we will ‘beat’ is only a temporary ‘win’. It feeds the ego more than feeding our need to grow and learn.

  • http://pristineperception.com/ Suzanne

    The subconscious mind takes things literally so yes saying I am a loser does equate to I= Loser.
    When my kids were in sports, and they were sad if they lost against the ‘best’ team, I always told them it was ok that this is the team they will learn the most from. To put ourselves in the mix with someone we know we will ‘beat’ is only a temporary ‘win’. It feeds the ego more than feeding our need to grow and learn.

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  • Jamaalthomas3

    Good article Doug…Very insightful!

    Did want to mention one thing….I’m sure Americans spent a lot more than $13 million on Personal Development in 2010.  Might want to look at that # again…

    • Dougcartwright

      Jamaal, yes, thanks for pointing that out. I had the figures from a research body who analysed the purchase of personal development books and I think it was higher…! Thanks for the comment.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/yadnyesh.luktuke Yadnyesh Yoginish Luktuke

    Thanks for all the advice really just what I needed….:D…!

  • Pingback: Flipping the Switch Often Helps to Let Go of Old Ideas « Emotional Sobriety: Friends & Lovers

  • Akenn90

    Love this! 

  • Lori Metevia

    I have definitely seen principle work as a Math teacher. The growth mindset is essential for doing well in Math. Confidence, a willingness to try again after setbacks and a willingness to practice are required traits. In fact, the descrepency in Math and Science scores for girls vs boys is most likely a mindset issue. Differences in scores among minorities is largely due to mindset issues as well. Parents must be careful about saying things like, “We are just not good at Math.” This is some excellent research. I just found out about it last year, but I have witnessed these principles working for 13 years. Psychology is becoming more and more in line with common sense. Gone are the days of blaming low self-esteem for everything when most of us suffer from serious pride problems.