Fixed Mindset vs. Growth Mindset: Cultivating Infinite Possibilities
Mindset dictates much about how a person will interact with and experience the world. Understanding the two major mindsets – the growth mindset and the fixed mindset – can help identify areas where the subconscious is taking over to steer decisions or beliefs. To help visualize the difference, consider these two personalities.
Person A has never been someone who enjoys dancing. In fact, the idea of going to a wedding and being pressured to dance is downright frightening. “It’s just not who I am,” he’ll say. The belief likely stems from a very young age; perhaps as a child he had an experience that solidified this fear forever. Now, it’s so deep, that he doesn’t bother taking the time to step back to question its authenticity. Instead, his friends drag him out to a club every once in a while, and someone might pull on his arm to join them on the dance floor. Person A reacts with butterflies in his stomach and an overall feeling of rejection to the situation, thinking “no no no, this is very uncomfortable.. I’m not a dancer. I’m just going to stay here.” Their mindset is so fixed that friendly coaxing stands no chance. Thus they’ve willingly submitted themselves to a dance-free life.
Person B was exposed to dancing at a young age, and met the opportunity with curiosity and wonder. When first asked to join on the dance floor, Person B jumped at the chance and stepped into the unknown, seeing the act of dancing as an opportunity to express herself and learn something new. For her, the new experience is met with a mentality thinking “hmm I’ve never done this before, let me get out there and try to figure it out.” Person B never turned out to be a great dancer, but whenever she came across a dance floor at a wedding she had no shame in getting out there and letting loose. Person B is not defined by preconceived expectations and possesses a willingness to adapt and experience.
Person A has a fixed mindset. They have a rigid idea of their beliefs and personality; living in the confines of a flat acceptance of this is who I am. Some characteristics of the fixed mindset include a rejection of change, fear of the unknown, belief that effort is time wasted, and the belief that talent is something you’re born with. The fixed mindset person knows certain things, and perhaps knows them very well, but doesn’t explore other options for their lives. This quote by Carol Dweck, a Stanford psychologist, hits the idea of this mindset home in her book ‘Mindset: The New Psychology of Success’: “Believing that your qualities are carved in stone — the fixed mindset — creates an urgency to prove yourself over and over. If you have only a certain amount of intelligence, a certain personality, and a certain moral character — well, then you’d better prove that you have a healthy dose of them."
On the other hand, Person B lives with a growth mindset. A growth mindset has an open curiosity about the world, and possesses the intention to explore all of its challenges, peaks, and valleys. It is defined by the fundamental belief that personality is molded over time through experience. Growth mindset people are innately curious, embrace new/challenging experiences, view failure as a stepping stone for development, and believe that they have the power to define their existence. Here’s what Dweck had to say about the growth mindset: “This growth mindset is based on the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts. Although people may differ in every which way — in their initial talents and aptitudes, interests, or temperaments — everyone can change and grow through application and experience.” It’s clear that achieving a growth mindset can catapult someone’s world into a wave of positive change.
In exploring the growth mindset, it’s important to bring to light the benefits that this mentality can bring someone. People with a growth mindset can enjoy all things in life, ESPECIALLY the ones they’re not good at. There’s no stress about being perfect. No need to be the best. No need to defeat their peers. In fact, failure can be seen as an important stepping stone for personal development. One study by Dweck involved a group of children who were deemed helpless from their school. They demonstrated little ability to learn and gave up quickly when faced with a challenging problem. Throughout the study, a subset of these children were taught to associate their errors with a lack of effort on their part, not a lack of intelligence. As a result, these children learned to overcome failure and ultimately succeed, while the control group remained stuck in their ways. The study was a powerful representation of how mindset can effect performance.
The goal for a growth mindset person is simply to keep growing. As long as they are experiencing and developing, there is contentment. And with that contentment, is a resilience to labels and stereotypes that come at them. People love to categorize and judge their peers – and unfortunately, that isn’t going away anytime soon. But the ability to cultivate a resistance to judgement can be done, and is important to solidifying new habits in life. These individual mindsets and belief systems are aspects of life that can be strengthened. With focused determination, everyone has the power to change who they are and become something more.
However, cultivating a change in mindset can be a difficult, tiresome task – especially if it’s been ‘set in stone’ over 10, 20, or 40 years of living in another headspace. This can cause people to be lazy about change and keep their distance. But fear not! There are ways to bring the growth mindset into the life of someone who has always been fixed.
One method involves the use of affirmations. This involves waking up each day with a focused intention and repeating it over and over again until it morphs into a belief. Amy Cuddy, a social psychologist at Harvard Business School, gave a fantastic TED talk on the topic of confidence, projecting the message of ‘fake it ‘til you make it.’ She advocates an approach to change that involves full embodiment of the goal; literally being the mindset/attitude that is desired, and powering through the discomfort of the change until it actually becomes comfortable. Through deliberate, well-intentioned affirmations, real change can be made over time and a new mindset can become a reality. It’s about stepping beyond personal comfort zones. By doing this, people can effectively widen their personal boundaries and see what’s possible.
The possibilities are truly endless, as long as the eyes are open and seeking them.
Sure, we can’t sit here and place everyone into generic bins of fixed mindset or growth mindset, but each person can identify where they currently fall on the sliding scale. With increased awareness comes an increased understanding of individual personality, and what steps can be taken to move forward. The only way to do this is to make the conscious effort to step back and view current mindsets objectively, free of emotional ties and personal judgement. From this vantage point, it becomes clear how easily people can become defined by their mindset, and how much it impacts their lives. But what also becomes apparent is the fact that people can adapt to generate new beliefs and practices from within, achieve a growth mindset, and open each day into a glowing world of opportunity.
Dweck, C. S. (2006). Mindset: The new psychology of success. New York: Random House.
The role of expectations and attributions in the alleviation of learned helplessness.
Dweck, Carol S. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol 31(4), Apr 1975, 674-685.
*This post was pulled from a book I contributed to called 'Everybody Poses'. Check it out here: http://www.rootedtimes.com/everybody-poses-the-book