Do you lose interest in something if you don’t see immediate results? Or do you keep trying, honing your skills?
According to Carole Dweck’s groundbreaking book, ‘Mindset’, there are two mindset categories that we all fall into: growth and fixed.
But what’s the difference? And is one better than the other?
In this mindset, the focus is on the belief that our innate qualities and talents are carved in stone. People with a fixed mindset often feel the need to prove their intelligence over and over, but shy away from anything that they could potentially fail at.
Everything is very black and white. You either succeed or fail, win or lose, appear intelligent or stupid. Fixed mindset people often lose interest in things that require effort, because they believe that if you’re talented at something, effort shouldn’t be required.
In contrast, in the growth mindset, the focus is on the journey and the learnings that come with it. People with this mindset believe that their basic qualities can be developed through effort, strategy, and help from others.
Failure isn’t a defining catastrophe. They view it with curiosity and see it as a challenge to grow and be better. They often look at people with the fixed mindset with surprise, “Why waste time proving over and over how great you are, when you could be getting better?”
How we were raised
Where we sit on the mindset scale is mostly determined by how we were raised as children. Many of us were praised for our successes, and not for the effort we put into achieving that success.
It’s common to hear parents and teachers praising children for their natural abilities, calling them ‘gifted’ and talented, but the pressure this puts on a child is immense. This language puts the focus on success and good outcomes, instead of growth and development.
If you tell a child, “You’re so brilliant, you got an A without even studying!”, all they will hear is, “I’d better stop studying because then they won’t think I’m brilliant.” It leads them into a fixed mindset: if success means they’re smart, then failure must mean they’re stupid.
McEnroe vs Ali
The difference between the fixed and growth mindsets is very apparent when we take a look at some of the most famous athletes.
Dweck uses the example of former tennis player and seven-time grand slam winner, John McEnroe. Whenever he lost, he would blame everything and everyone else rather than looking at his own weaknesses. His fixed mindset made him terrified of losing, but also made him unwilling to work harder to hone his skills.
In contrast, legendary boxing champion Muhammad Ali didn’t rely solely on his natural talent to win. His growth mindset enabled him to constantly strive for improvement. Dweck quotes Ali explaining how he prepared for his fight against rival Sonny Liston, “I talked with people who had been around him or had talked with him. I would lay in bed and put all these things together and think about them, and try to get a picture of how his mind worked.”
Changing from fixed to growth
Although the fixed mindset has its place, a growth mindset is what we should all be striving for.
But how can we change our mindset?
The first step is believing that you have the capacity for change - that’s Growth Mindset 101.
Here are some tips to try to get you into growth mode:
- Is there something you’ve never tried but have just assumed you won’t be good at? Do it, put in the effort and focus on the learning experience rather than the outcome
- The next time you find yourself thinking, “I can’t do that,” or “I don’t know how to do that,” try adding “yet” at the end
- Have a hero you admire? Research them a little more and find out just how much effort went into their success
- If you’re a parent, try praising your child for the effort they put in rather than just their end product. Try saying, “I love how you worked hard to achieve this.”
Because after all, Dweck says, “If you don't give anything, don't expect anything. Success is not coming to you, you must come to it.”