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Dr. Carol Dweck, a professor of psychology in Stanford University coined the terms ‘fixed mindset’ and ‘growth mindset.’ Starting out as a young researcher in the 1970s, she discovered these mindsets whilst observing children solve puzzles in a school in Chicago.

What struck her was the fact that even though the kids were failing the task, some of them seemed to enjoy the process. One child said “I love a challenge!” whilst another said “You know, I was hoping this would be informative!.” In her own mind, she held a black and white perspective on failure – you either coped with failure or you did not, there were no shades of grey in between. Yet, here these kids were failing, but they appeared to have embraced the experience.

Her mission from then, was to discover what the ‘secret’ was that these kids were on to and then to ‘bottle it and distribute it’ to help others.

Fixed Mindset and Growth Mindset Definition: An Overview

In her book ‘Mindset: The New Psychology of Success,’ she defines Fixed Mindset’ as a belief that an individual’s innate traits such as their personality, intelligence or creative abilities are fixed and that they cannot be changed. On the other hand, a ‘Growth Mindset’ is defined as a belief that individual traits such as one’s personality, level of intelligence or artistic abilities can be improved through effort.

 To clarify further: a fixed mindset is the belief that the cards you’re dealt with at birth are what you’re stuck with. On the other hand, a growth mindset belief is that whatever you are dealt with is the starting point for development.

She also clarifies that the 2 mindsets are a spectrum, that is -no one individual is bestowed with a completely fixed mindset, nor are they completely growth oriented. You can have a fixed mindset in one domain of your life but have a growth mindset in another domain.

Fixed and Growth Mindset Examples: How Would You React?

Imagine this scenario: 

Your mid-term exams have been graded and you’ve received a C+, something which you were not expecting. Things get worse as you notice a parking ticket on your car on the way back home. Once you reach your place, you immediately phone a friend to share your experiences – your friend appears uninterested and brushes you off.

How would you interpret these events? Dr. Carol Dweck presented this scenario to a group of university students who were initially divided into 2 groups: those with fixed mindset beliefs and those with growth mindsets. She then asked them to write down how they would interpret / react to these events. Here’s what she found:

Those with the Fixed Mindset wrote things in the line of: “Nothing good ever happens to me” “I can’t seem to get anything right” “People hate me” “I feel like a loser.” On the other hand, students with the Growth Mindset, their interpretations were along the lines of: “I need to try harder in class.” “I will be more prepared for my next exam” “I need to be careful where I park my car.” “…find out how my friend is doing.” Most importantly, the lesson is that achieving a near fail grade or getting issued a parking ticket or being rebuffed by your friend are not pleasant regardless of your mindset, but as Dweck points out from her research:

“…those people with the growth mindset were not labeling themselves and throwing up their hands. Even though they felt distressed, they were ready to take the risks, confront the challenges, and keep working at them.”

A View from the 2 Mindsets:

Effort
Fixed Mindset: Is not necessary since you have all the talent.
Growth Mindset: Is a necessity to master your craft.

Ability
Fixed Mindset: Something to be proved.
Growth Mindset: Cultivated through effort, persistence and toil.

Criticism
Fixed Mindset: Angry, defensive.
Growth Mindset: Feedback to be used as improvement.

Adventure:
Fixed Mindset: Nothing ventured, nothing lost.
Growth Mindset: Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Setbacks:
Fixed Mindset: Blame other people or environment.
Growth Mindset: Acknowledge and take responsibility.

Achieving Goals:
Fixed Mindset: Focused on outcome, it’s about the rewards.
Growth Mindset: Focused on process, it’s about the journey.

Changing your mindset – 7 Ideas to Help Shift your Mindset towards a Growth Framework.

Just by knowing about the 2 mindsets creates a positive shift within your cognitive machinery. Also, believing in your ability to change is a crucial prerequisite to changing your mindset. Moreover, Dweck mentions that shifting your mindset towards a growth orientation is a journey rather than a destination, as it requires sustained effort. Below are additional ideas you can implement to help you transition towards a growth mindset:

1. Spend one week observing your internal dialogue and make mental notes of what it is saying. Observe yourself during trigger moments, when the inner critic in your mind says things like: “Oh they’re so brilliant and talented!” “Don’t try this you might look foolish.” Listen and acknowledge without judgment.

2. “Are there situations where you get stupid—where you disengage your intelligence? Next time you’re in one of those situations, get yourself into a growth mindset—think about learning and improvement, not judgment—and hook it back up.” 

3. “Think of times other people outdid you and you just assumed they were smarter or more talented. Now consider the idea that they just used better strategies, taught themselves more, practiced harder, and worked their way through obstacles. You can do that, too, if you want to.” 

4. The Power of Yet: Next time you start something new and challenging, instead of saying -“I’m not good at this” or -“I don’t think I can do this,” try re-framing your words by adding ‘yet’ at the end of each statement: “I’m not good at this yet” or “I can’t do this yet.” By adding a ‘yet’ at the end of these statements, you are re-affirming to yourself that you are on a learning curve and as a result, motivation and persistence is re-kindled. 

5. Challenge yourself all the time. When presented with a task that is easy versus a task that is a challenge, take the more challenging task!

6. Flip your perspectives regarding failures or setbacks. Take setbacks and view them as a valuable learning experience. Every time you encounter a setback, ask yourself:
“What did I learn from this?” “How can I improve so as not to repeat the same mistake again?”

7. When pursuing a goal, focus on the process and how you can improve, rather than on the outcome. Know that meaning can be found in the journey uphill, and not in the fleeting sense of satisfaction awaiting at the next peak.

“Self esteem is not something you give to people by telling them about their high intelligence, it is something we equip them to get for themselves, by teaching them to value learning over the appearance of smartness, to relish challenge and effort, and to use errors as routes to mastery”

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