Carol Dweck’s excellent book on Mindset shows us that there are two dominant mindsets that people choose to believe of themselves and about learning and growth. Anyone who is involved in any learning and growth will recognise these two mindsets. The diagram here represents the two types of mindsets and I’ll sure you’ll recognise the attitudes of many people you know.
Let’s first take a look at the Growth Mindset:
Individuals who hold the Growth Mindset believe that intelligence can be and is developed, that the brain is like a muscle that can be trained. With this belief is the desire to improve.
To improve, firstly you embrace challenges, because you know that overcoming challenges makes you stronger.
No matter what you decide to do, there will be obstacles. For the growth mindset believer, external setbacks do not discourage you. Your self-esteem and self-image is not tied to how you look to others or your success. You see failure as the best opportunity to learn, thus, either way, you win.
You don’t see effort as something useless to be avoided but as necessary to grow and master useful skills.
No-one truly enjoys criticism or negative feedback but the Growth Mindset individual integrates feedback that has genuine worth as an opportunity to change and learn. Negative feedback is not seen as a personal attack, but for what it is; feedback.
The success of others is seen as a source of inspiration and information. To Growth Mindset individuals, success is not seen as a zero-sum game .
Let’s have a look at the Fixed Mindset side:
Those who hold these beliefs think that “they are the way they are”. This doesn’t mean that they have any less desire for a positive self-image than anyone else and they do want to perform well and look smart. But, to achieve these goals…
Challenge is hard and success is not assured, so rather than risk failing and negatively impacting their self-image, they will often avoid challenges and stick to what they know they can do well.
Obstacles face everyone but the difference with the Fixed Mindset individual is that obstacles are seen as external forces that get in the way and are either avoided (leading to sub-optimal results and usually, blaming others) or are the ‘excuse’ for giving up.
When effort is required and your view is that effort is unpleasant and rarely pays dividends… what’s the point in exerting that effort? The smart thing to do then is avoid as much effort as possible.
Negative feedback tends to be ignored because the Fixed Mindset leads you to believe that any criticism of your capabilities is criticism of you. This is discouraging to the people who are giving you feedback and after a while they stop giving any negative feedback, further isolating the person from external influences that could generate some change.
The result is that they don’t reach their full potential and their beliefs feed on themselves: They don’t change or improve much with time, if at all, and so to them this confirms that “they are as they are”.
The good news – especially if you just recognised yourself as being someone who holds the Fixed Mindset worldview – is that it is possible to change from one to the other.