Fixed vs. Growth Mindset: Which is Better and Why it Matters?

Carol S. Dweck

The view you adopt for yourself profoundly affects the way you lead your life.

Fixed vs. Growth Mindset: What is it?

Do you have a fixed or growth mindset? Does it even matter? Well it does according to Carol Dweck who is the author of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.

Within her best selling book, Carol mentions that we all either have a fixed or growth mindset. The distinction between the two is of course of paramount importance as it influences how you think about the world, think about life, respond to adversity, and how you adapt to changes within your environment.

How we adapt to adversity and to changes within our environment effectively determines how successful we potentially become in any field of endeavor. Moreover, it determines how much of our potential we are able to access to help us accomplish our personal goals and objectives.

We develop our preference for a fixed or growth mindset early in life. During childhood, certain life experiences and the influence of our peers shapes our preference for one mindset over the other. This of course doesn’t mean that we cannot change or shift our mindset preference as adults. Change is always very possible, but can be difficult for those who have deeply ingrained patterns and beliefs that shape how they think and respond to circumstances.

Awareness is of course the first step to change. Becoming aware of how you think and respond to circumstances can be the catalyst that brings about a shift in the way you approach your life.

The purpose of this article is to help raise your awareness of the existence of these two mindsets. Once you become aware of them you can then use this knowledge as a catalyst to make positive changes moving forward. We will specifically breakdown the fixed and growth mindset and discuss how they differ in terms of beliefs, habits and overall approach to life and circumstances.

Breaking Down the Fixed vs. Growth Mindset

Having a fixed or growth mindset doesn’t necessarily reflect your current level of success or accomplishments. You might for instance have a very high level of self-belief and confidence in your own ability. This belief and confidence drives you forward and helps you achieve all your goals and objectives.

This is of course all well and good, however with a fixed mindset there is a ceiling in place that limits your potential. What that effectively means is that when you reach a certain point where you’ve topped up on your self-belief and self-confidence in a particular situation or scenario, you simply don’t have what it takes to raise yourself above that level. As a result, you just can’t move forward beyond a certain point.

On the other hand, a person with a growth mindset has a very high ceiling. In other words, their potential is essentially limitless and they are therefore able to get the most from themselves in any and every situation they face.

What follows is a discussion of the differences between a person with a fixed and growth mindset. Understanding these differences will help you to identify within yourself which type of mindset dominates your thinking style. Then of course with awareness, you can start making positive changes to move yourself forward in more optimal and helpful ways.

The Attitude of the Fixed vs. Growth Mindset

A person with a fixed mindset typically approaches life and circumstances in the following way:

I don’t like challenges where mistakes are possible. I will therefore avoid putting myself in these kind of situations.

If I can’t handle a problem, then I’m not going to bother trying because I don’t want to look like a failure.

I’m very much concerned about what people think of me especially when I fail or make a mistake.

I worry about what people think, but I don’t care so much for their feedback and constructive criticism. They can just keep it to themselves.

If someone challenges me, then yeah, I take that offensively and get very defensive about it.

If I don’t get the results I was expecting then it’s never my fault. There’s always something or someone to blame.

I don’t make mistakes. I just simply don’t. If I know I can’t do something I just don’t bother trying, so mistakes are not possible.

When you succeed then it must mean that I’m a failure. I’m therefore threatened by all your achievements as it makes me look bad.

When I don’t know what to do, I don’t care to ask for help because that will make me look incompetent.

Every situation I face I evaluate whether it’s something I’m good at or not; whether it feels comfortable or not; whether I will succeed or fail; and whether or not I will look smart or dumb while I’m at it. If I’m not good at it, if it doesn’t feel comfortable, if I’m likely to fail and look dumb as a result, then I simply won’t bother trying.

A person with a growth mindset typically approaches life and circumstances in the following way:

No matter what happens I work my way through the situation.

If I don’t know what to do, then I’ll just keep trying until I eventually figure it out.

The feedback and criticism other people give me helps me learn more about myself and about the approach I am taking. I use this as a catalyst to improve my situation.

When I feel stuck I ask for help. And if nobody can help me then I do my very best to learn from other people’s successes and failures.

When other people succeed I’m happy for them and feel motivated and inspired to do the same.

No matter what life throws my way I accept it with an open mind and explore it curiously. The more I know about something the better I can deal with the situation.

I may not be the very best at everything I do, but I am the most persistent and will keep improving my performance consistently over time.

If I make a mistake I try and learn from that experience as best I can. I then adjust my approach and try to do better the next time around.

Every situation I face I see as an opportunity that helps me learn, grow and become a better version of myself.

A person with a fixed mindset often achieves inconsistent results over time. When they are doing things that are within their domain or area of expertise, then that is when they shine and can quickly become a very high achiever. However, once they are pushed outside their comfort zone, that is when they struggle to make progress.

On the other hand, a person with a growth mindset might initially start a few steps behind, but because of their willingness to embrace and adapt to changing conditions and circumstances, they produce consistent results over time that help them to move forward in more optimal ways.

Fixed Mindset Perspective

The Belief Patterns of the Fixed vs. Growth Mindset

A person with a fixed mindset is typically governed by the following types of beliefs:

I believe that a person’s potential is fixed at birth.

I believe that a person’s capabilities are predetermined.

I believe that intelligence is carved in stone and can’t be changed.

I believe that effort shouldn’t be required if a person is smart and talented enough.

I believe that a person’s results are a direct reflection of their level of intelligence.

I believe that success means making the most of one’s talents and abilities.

I believe that life is a test and that I have to consistently prove myself.

A person with a growth mindset is typically governed by the following types of beliefs:

I believe that success means working harder to become your very best.

I believe that one’s level of intelligence can be developed over time.

I believe that life is a journey of self-growth and self-improvement.

I believe that through applying oneself that anything is possible.

I believe that I will get from every situation whatever I put into that situation.

I believe that a person’s true potential is unknown.

The distinction between the belief systems of both the fixed and growth mindsets stands out like a sore thumb. On the one hand you have a person who believes that their intelligence and potential is fixed and unchanging, while on the other hand you have a person who believes that their intelligence and potential is somewhat unlimited and can evolve over time.

The person with the fixed mindset might be the more intelligent of the two who has accomplished a great deal more in life. However, the person with the growth mindset seems like they are willing to learn, to evolve, to adapt and to grow from every experience. Intellectually they might be the lesser of the two at this very moment, but given time they will certainly surpass the accomplishments of the person with the fixed mindset.

Growth Mindset Beliefs

The Inner-Talk of the Fixed vs. Growth Mindset

How we talk to ourselves is a direct reflection of our belief systems. Moreover, it provides insight into the choices and decisions we will make in any situation.

A person with a fixed mindset will typically talk to themselves in the following way:

Yes, I am great at doing this. This is my domain where I feel unstoppable.

I don’t understand this and I’m therefore never going to quite get it.

It didn’t work how I expected it to work. It therefore can’t be done.

I don’t believe I can make this any better than it is. It’s just not possible.

This is good enough. No more effort and energy is required.

It’s easy for her because she’s intelligent, skilled and talented.

A person with a growth mindset will typically talk to themselves in the following way:

Yes, I seem to be on the right track. Things are playing to my favor.

I’m going to have to practice this to get better and improve my results.

This is going to take some time, but with more effort I will get through this.

Mistakes slow me down but they also help me learn and adapt my approach.

That didn’t work, but I believe it can be done. How could I potentially get this to work?

What can I do to make this better? How can I improve and move this forward?

The contrasting self-talk of the fixed vs. growth mindset helps shed some light into how each person thinks about the challenges they face. On the one hand, the person with the fixed mindset sees effort as a fruitless exercise that won’t make any difference in the end. While on the other hand, the person with the growth mindset believes that by trying harder they can potentially accomplish more and do better as a result.

In the end, one person will mope around and quit, while the other will keep working at it until they make a breakthrough of some sort that helps move them forward.

Fixed Mindset Beliefs

The Fixed vs. Growth Mindset Approach to Goal Setting

The person with a fixed mindset will typically set goals that make them look smart in every situation. In other words, they won’t normally set goals that are beyond their intelligence or ability. Moreover, they won’t set goals that require a significant amount of effort that takes them out of their comfort zone. The goals that they typically set are essentially “never fail” goals. They set goals that they know they will achieve without question.

In contrast, a person with a growth mindset will typically set goals that challenge them and push them outside their comfort zone. They set stretch goals that involve risk and potential failure, however this doesn’t phase them. They gain value by learning from every experience and then adapting their approach moving forward.

The Fixed vs. Growth Mindset When Facing Adversity

When facing adversity, a person with a fixed mindset typically approaches it in the following way:

I believe that when I don’t know what to do that effort is fruitless.

I believe that failure is a path toward total humiliation.

I believe that failure is a sign of my level of unworthiness.

I believe that if I can’t do something that it’s better to just give up than to keep trying. Trying isn’t going to change anything anyways.

I believe that no matter how badly things are going that it’s not worth asking for help. After all, I don’t want to make myself look stupid in front of other people.

I believe that failure is a result of my lack of talent and ability. And unfortunately there is nothing I can do about it.

When facing adversity, a person with a growth mindset typically approaches it in the following way:

I believe that setbacks are impermanent. Yes, I failed this time around, but I will try harder the next time.

I believe that adversity is an indication that a better approach is required.

I believe that setbacks indicate that more effort is needed from me in this situation.

I believe that any challenge I face must be embraced fully. Growth and learning after all require effort. I know I will get better over time.

I believe that if I don’t know something that it’s better to ask for help than to waste time trying to figure things out myself.

I believe that if I keep persisting that I will get through any setbacks that life throws my way.

A person with a fixed mindset immediately loses confidence when faced with a challenge they haven’t confronted before. In such instances they kind of feel like a fish out of water. They just don’t know how to adapt and resign to the fact that they simply can’t move forward beyond a certain point.

A person with a growth mindset sees challenges as impermanent. Adversity doesn’t phase them because they clearly understand that it’s only one small roadblock along their journey. And even if they don’t know what to do, this doesn’t hold them back from moving forward. They will just keep trying until they reach a point where they find the answers and the opportunities they have been looking for.

The stark contrast between the two approaches explains how some people are able to successfully adapt to adversity, while others wilt away under the pressure and resign to the fact that making progress is simply not possible.

Growth Mindset Perspectives

Is it time to grow or to stay fixed?

Having now familiarized yourself with the two mindsets, can you recognize whether or not you have a fixed or growth mindset? Possibly you have a bit of both? Maybe you approach some situation with a fixed mindset and other situations with a growth mindset? Many people are in fact a mix of both. It just depends on the situation and circumstances.

If however you primarily have a fixed mindset; there’s no need to despair. In fact, get excited because you have an incredible amount of untapped potential waiting to be unleashed onto the world. Changing your mindset, however will not be easy. It won’t be easy because you have a whole set of belief systems in place that are keeping you stuck.

In order to start making changes you need to first and foremost begin working on breaking down the limiting beliefs that are currently influencing every choice and decision you make.

Building new belief systems is however only a start. You also need to work through your unhelpful thinking styles and look at methods to reframe your thoughts in various situations to help you see things in a more optimal and advantageous way.

Over time you will develop new habits of mind that will challenge you to think about your life and circumstances in a growth-oriented way. Only then will you finally put yourself in a position where you let go of your fixed ways of looking at the world and upgrade your thinking patterns to a growth mindset mentality. And only then will you breakthrough the ceiling of your potential that has been weighing you down all these years. 🙂

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Adam is a life coach, mind mapper, doodler and visual thinker. He founded IQ Matrix in 2009 and has created over 350 self-growth mind maps. He also has a Free 40 Day How to Doodle Course where he teaches how to doodle using simple daily lessons. Read more about Adam’s story, and how he created the concept for IQ Matrix. Feel free to also get in touch and send Adam a message here.