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Carol Dweck’s Fixed and Growth Mindsets

Carol Dweck’s Fixed and Growth Mindsets:

How You Think Can Determine Your Success

 

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One’s intelligence has always been attributed as one of the main contributing factors to one’s success. And it only makes sense–a smart person will surely make the right decisions, find solutions to overcome challenges, and come up with innovative ideas that will revolutionize the world as we know it. This is true for many of today’s thought leaders, politicians, visionaries in the science, tech, medical, design, and art worlds. But according to renowned Stanford psychologist and author Carol Dweck, it’s not always intelligence, talent, or education that determines how far you will go in life. In fact, achieving your goals and reaching your objectives mostly rely on one thing–your mindset.

In her book, “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success,” Dweck discusses her idea of mindset: how a “growth mindset” can be your ticket to success, and how you can be held back by having a “fixed mindset.”

 

The Fixed and Growth Mindsets

According to Dweck, her research focuses on examining the origins of the fixed and growth mindsets and how they affect one’s motivation and self regulation as well as their “impact on achievement and interpersonal processes.”

Dweck posits that our mindset is rooted in our most basic beliefs. And whether we are aware of it or not, these beliefs–particularly those that we hold about ourselves–ultimately shape our personality and affect our goals and our chances of achieving those goals.

 

The Fixed Mindset

An individual with a fixed mindset believes that their intelligence, talents, character, abilities, and other qualities are permanent. These characteristics define who they are, and therefore, they cannot be changed. According to Dweck, when you believe yourself to be a certain way–and mold your personality according to those unchangeable traits–you will want to prove yourself correct over and over. Not just to yourself but to your peers, family, colleagues, and to your community.

Most of the time, your actions and decisions are geared towards confirming that you possess this particular intelligence, character, ability, or personality as a way to assert and affirm your identity, feel accepted, and measure success. If you believe yourself to be a smart person, you will take every opportunity to prove how smart you are. This may mean you’re only  participating in activities that you know you can do well or declining opportunities to learn new skills.

Needless to say, having a fixed mindset can hold you back in several ways. You may avoid new challenges for fear of discovering that your own perceived intelligence or skills may not be enough to overcome them, and thus, realize that you are not what you or others make you out to be. You may be prone to ignoring criticism that invalidates your own ideas or goes against the image you wish to portray. The success of others may also threaten you, especially if you’re convinced that their success is a failure on your part. And lastly, having a fixed mindset prevents you from learning from your mistakes. When you believe that the characteristics and traits that define you are set in stone, there is no point in trying to change or improve in areas where you are lacking.

 

The Growth Mindset

On the other hand, the growth mindset operates on the principle that with practice, perseverance, you can nurture and improve your inherent qualities. Individuals with a growth mindset believe that the characteristics they are born with are not the only things they will have going for themselves for the rest of their lives.  Instead, they are seen as a starting point. They are things that can be built upon and developed.

This idea of always having room for growth can have a positive impact on an individual. It allows a person to seek challenges and creates a desire for knowledge. Having a growth mindset enables you to see effort, practice, and hard work as essential elements to success. Thus, you are always keen to hear criticism to see how you can further improve, persist in spite of unforeseen challenges or failures, thrive in new situations, and find inspiration in successful individuals and view them as examples. 

In fact, Dweck asserts that with the growth mindset, failures and mistakes are not what defines you. Whereas a fixed mindset is preoccupied with always being right, and thus fails to see the opportunity for improvement in failures, the growth mindset views it as a challenge or a problem to be solved and learned from. You use feedback and constructive criticism as guides in your learning process.

Dweck adds another fundamental difference between fixed and growth mindsets: While having a fixed mindset confirms one’s deterministic view of the world, a growth mindset gives individuals a greater sense of free will and freedom.

 

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Developing a Growth Mindset

Switching from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset is often easier said than done, but it’s not impossible. Using the theory of neuroplasticity, or the ability of the human brain to continue forming new connections into adulthood, Dweck states that developing a growth mindset can happen at any time of life. In her book, Dweck lists down simple mindsetting steps to help individuals alter their way of thinking. These include:

  • Listening to yourself. A fixed mindset will often worry about failing or cast doubt on your ability to accomplish a task. Responding to and countering the negative voice in your head requires thought awareness–that is, observing your thoughts and recognizing how they came to be in your head. Once you’ve done this, you can begin to challenge those thoughts in a rational way.

 

  • Choosing how to react. When you have a fixed mindset, you will likely view failures as further confirmation of your personal beliefs. If you believe yourself to be bad with numbers, failing a Math exam is something you expect of yourself. You won’t be compelled to improve your performance because in your mind, Math will always be too difficult to understand.. In this example, you can clearly see how a fixed mindset can hinder you from exploring your potential. On the other hand, a growth mindset sees setbacks as challenges to be overcome. Failing a Math exam means you will have to study harder–take remedial classes, hire a Math tutor, practice solving word problems and equations–until you get a better result. As Dweck asserts, the difference between success and failure is how you handle obstacles and defeats.

 

  • Challenging yourself. Doubting your own talents and skills is normal–it happens even to the best of us. But what sets the two mindsets apart is that  someone with a growth mindset will not be crippled by limiting self-beliefs. The growth mindset will know that what you’re lacking now can be learned and developed with practice. In fact, your effort and willingness to learn and keep trying are what really matters most, says Dweck. Instead of focusing on results, she states that more praise should be given to one’s effort–their strategies, plan of action, perseverance, progress–because it encourages a person to continue improving and creates resilience. But while we should focus more on the effort than the result, it’s important to ensure that the effort you put out is effective. 

 

  • Practicing. Changing the way you think and approach situations is no easy feat, and recognizing this is your first step into developing a growth mindset. Allow yourself to make mistakes and understand that success doesn’t always happen with your first try. Just like learning any new skill, mindsetting takes practice, involves a lot of mistakes, and requires patience.

 

 

 

References:

Dweck’s Fixed and Growth Mindsets: Overcoming Obstacles and Recognizing Effort

Carol Dweck: A Summary of Growth and Fixed Mindsets

 

 

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Craig Selinger

Owner at Themba Tutors
Craig Selinger, CEO of Themba Tutors (serving Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island, Bronx, Westchester, Long Island, New Jersey, and Connecticut), is a NY State licensed speech-language pathologist, executive functioning coach, and learning specialist with over 18 years of experience working professionally with over a thousand families. His expertise includes language-based learning issues, e.g. reading, writing, speaking, and listening, executive functioning, ADHD/ADD, and learning disabilities. Check out his interviews with top-notch professionals in the field on Spotify.
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