If you fail a test, don’t get a promotion in work or don’t get invited to a social event what do you put it down to? Do you think “I’m not smart”, “I’m not good at my job” and “I’m not a likeable person”? Or do you think “I didn’t prepare enough and I made some mistakes”, “the person who got the promotion is better than me now but I can improve” and “I don’t know the host that well yet but I would like to, I will make an effort to be more sociable.” The first set of thoughts are examples of a fixed mindset while the latter ones are examples of a growth mindset and which one you have can have a huge impact on your success, your stress and your life satisfaction.
Psychologist Carol Dweck has extensively studied fixed vs growth mindsets. A fixed mindset is one in which everything, good or bad, seems predetermined . For example, some people view their intelligence as an innate feature of their person (a fixed mindset) while others view it as a malleable feature that can be grown and fostered with new learning and challenge (a growth mindset). Dweck has shown that the type of mindset you have is a huge predictor of how you fare in school and work, how you succeed in the face of challenge or adversity and even how you make friends and contacts. We wrote about the fixed vs growth mindset for children in an earlier blog (link here) but this mindset is equally important for adults as well.
For example, leaders in business who believe that they are ‘born leaders’ (a fixed mindset) rather than having grown into the role are less likely to succeed and less likely to build a good team around them. This is because for people with a fixed mindset any failure is proof that they are not, in fact, a ‘born leader’. Someone with a growth mindset will instead see a failure as a challenge and a learning experience. If a leader believes that they are a ‘born leader’ they must also see those on their team as being relatively inferior and this creates a culture in which creativity is stifled not fostered . The same is true for sports stars. Athletes who have a growth mindset tend to be more successful than those with a fixed mindset because when they discover a weakness in their performance they do not see it as an attack on their beliefs about their innate ability but something that can be worked on .
The good news is that mindset itself is not something that is fixed but something that can be changed. Simply teaching people about mindsets and the effects they have can help people to change theirs and to feel empowered not weakened when they hit a roadblock in life.
- Dweck, C. (2006). Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. New York: Random House.