A growth mindset: “There are no such things as limits to growth, because there are no limits on the human capacity for intelligence, imagination and wonder.” Ronald Reagan
A fixed mindset: “There is a theory of human behavior that says people subconsciously retard their own intellectual growth.” Philip Crosby
[Note: The following information is drawn from an article by Deborah Farmer Kris, “Never Too Late: Creating a Climate for Adults to Learn New Skills,” and an article by Maria Popova, “Fixed vs. Growth: The Two Basic Mindsets That Shape Our Lives.”]
In her book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Carol Dweck writes that her twenty years of research have shown that our mindsets profoundly affect the way we lead our lives.
If we have what she calls a “fixed mindset,” we believe that we only have a certain amount of intelligence. We feel an urgency to keep proving ourselves to feel sufficient because we hunger for approval. We see risk and effort as potential giveaways of our inadequacies, so we avoid them as much as possible.
If we have what she calls a “growth mindset,” we believe that we can change and grow through application, experimentation and experience. We have a passion for stretching ourselves and sticking to something, even (or particularly) when it’s not going well.
This growth mindset allows people to thrive during some of the most challenging times in their lives. Dweck cites a poll of 143 creativity researchers, who agreed that the number one trait that forms the basis for creative achievement is the kind of reliance and fail-forward perseverance characteristic of the growth mindset.
People with a fixed mindset feel successful when they prove they are smart or talented and validate themselves. They are either successful or failures, there is no in-between, so failure is very bad. Effort is also a bad thing, because if they have to work for something, then they must not be smart or talented. Their priority is to succeed, and prove they are smarter or more talented than others.
People with a growth mindset feel successful when they are stretching themselves to learn something new. Failure is defined as not growing, not fulfilling their potential, rather than setbacks. Effort is what makes them smart or talented. Their priority is to learn and expand their existing knowledge and skills.
According to Dweck, “(1) We’re all a mixture of fixed and growth mindsets, (2) We will probably always be, and (3) If we want to move closer to a growth mindset in our thoughts and practices, we need to stay in touch with our fixed-mindset thoughts and deeds.” We need to pay attention to our fixed-mindset triggers.
Peter Heslin, associate professor of management at UNSW Australia Business School has developed a research-based growth mindset workshop for business leaders. His program includes four self-reflective exercises:
First, participants think about why it’s important to understand that people can continue to grow and develop their abilities throughout adulthood. In essence, what are the “real consequences” of adopting a fixed or growth mindset?
Second, they think about one of their strengths that used to be a weakness — and then reflect on how this change took place. He says this exercise helps participants understand that their skills are “not merely the result of an aptitude or talent they have,” but rather the result of effort and initiative.
Third, participants write a letter to a struggling employee, sharing thoughts about how the employee can strengthen his or her skills.
Fourth, they think about someone who surprised them by learning how to do something that they never thought this person could do. This final exercise, Heslin said, asks participants to reflect on the harm a fixed mindset can do to others by “leading us to ever so subtly discourage and hold them back from achieving more than we can imagine they can.”
A fixed mindset assumes that our character, intelligence and creative ability are static givens that we cannot change in any meaningful way.
A growth mindset thrives on challenge and sees failure not as evidence of lack of intelligence but instead as an encouraging springboard for growth and for stretching our existing abilities.
Imagine our world if everyone, our teachers, our leaders and ourselves, were to develop a growth mindset!
May your learning be sweet.