Carol Dweck, Stanford University psychologist best known for Mindset (2006), believes there are two mindsets: fixed and growth. Those with fixed mindsets believe personal ability and talents are set in stone, whereas those with a growth mindset believe our capabilities can be changed through effort and develop over time. Each mindset will impact our behaviour and life choices. Put simply…
Fixed Mindset Individuals
– Avoid challenges
– Give up easily when facing obstacles
– Perceive effort as pointless
– Deal poorly with criticism, ignoring feedback
– Are threatened by the success of others
Growth Mindset Individuals
– Embrace challenges
– Persist in the face of obstacles
– Perceive effort as a pathway to mastery
– Deal with criticism healthily, trying to learn from feedback
– Are inspired by the success of others.
Food for thought…
Think about how you would describe intelligence – in one maths equation. Answer the following:
Intelligence (100%) = _____ % effort + _____ % ability.
Which statements resonate with you:
- I’ll never be able to do it, I won’t bother
- It’s beyond me, for now
- If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again
- You’re either capable and talented, or you’re not
There is no right or wrong answer, just an interpretation…
Question 1: Those with a fixed mindset generally perceive intelligence as 35% effort + 65% ability; growth mindset perceive intelligence as 65% effort +35% ability (Grenville-Cleave, 2012).
Question 2: a & d represent fixed mindset; b & c represent growth mindset preferences.
Fixed vs Growth
So, what does this mean? Does it matter which mindset you tend to favour?
According to Dweck, your predominant preference will steer you to either of two outcomes.
Those with a fixed mindset believe qualities such as intelligence or traits are static and unchangeable, so won’t spend time trying to develop them. They will generally plateau early and underperform due to their beliefs, such as challenge avoidance. This then seems to confirm their deterministic view of the world, believing that effort has minimal impact on the outcome. Our brain and our capabilities are somehow locked, so what is the point of trying?
The growth mindset counterparts challenge self-limiting assumptions. They tend to prosper and achieve more positive outcomes, leading to an increased sense of free will. Their emphasis on effort impacting outcome seems to be ringing true. They continue to persist, try to learn from feedback and continue ‘growing’. This could potentially lead to an upward spiral of positive outcomes.
Maybe this idea is not new. Think for a second, in the words of Albert Einstein…
“The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.”
To spin these words a little, maybe he was referring to adapting a little ‘growth’ into our own lives, using our thoughts to expand our potentials? What power would that have on our day to day life? Could we tap into some unrealised potential through deliberate, effortful practice? Can we grow though adopting a growth mindset? Yes.
Can we change our Mindset?
Yes. Neuroscience suggests that learning or practising something new can help us develop our brain. Think of the brain as a muscle. To increase strength, we need to train our muscles. This theory of brain development occurs early in life, from learning how to walk, to learning to drive years down the track. These examples show us that repeated practise or ‘effort’ will impact our ability to perform a skill. Think the 10’000 hour rule. Research suggests that to reach expert status in any skill you require approximately 10 years or 10’000 hours of practise. Skills can thereby be learned through practise, rather than through innate ability alone. Better still, learning can occur over the lifespan.
Dweck writes that it is possible to change from a fixed to a growth mindset. Neuroplasticity agrees, telling us that our brains form new neural connections when we learn a new skill, that is our brains actually grow in density (Grenville-Cleave, 2012)!
The Tale of Two Wolves
This all reminded me of the Tale of the Two Wolves, a parable said to have come from Cherokee Indians legends. It goes something like this…
A grandfather is talking to his grandson explaining that within each of us are two wolves in constant battle. One good and one bad.
The good wolf stands for virtues such as love, kindness and bravery. The bad wolf stands for greed, hatred and fear.
The grandson is said to ask after pausing in thought, ‘Grandfather, which one wins?’
The grandfather then quietly replies, ‘the one you feed’.
To me, this could somehow symbolise our mindset. The one you focus on, the one you feed, determines your direction. This will determine the way you live your life, the way you face obstacles, the way you deal with criticism and whether you seek challenge or avoid it with might.
The bottom line is, our brains can ‘grow’ in density with new experience and through learning. So, treat the brain like a muscle, exercise it by seeking to learn a new skill. Those with a fixed mindset can change – You really are never too old to learn or try something new!
A fixed mindset will limit opportunities, whereas a growth mindset will unlock more doors. Pursue growth. Seek to feed the good wolf.
By Alex Hardy
Grenville-Cleave, B. (2012). A toolkit for happiness, purpose and well-being Positive Psychology. London: Icon Books Ltd.
Dweck, C. S. (2006). Mindset. New York, NY: Random House.