Like many people, I have heard the terms “growth mindset” and “fixed mindset.”
And, like many people, I equated “growth mindset” with being open-minded, curious, flexible, and tolerant.
On the flip side, I thought people with a “fixed mindset” were probably sticks in the mud, unwilling to try or even consider something new or a different perspective.
I was wrong.
Let’s start with the basics
My misunderstanding of what it means to have a fixed or a growth mindset is rooted in my lack of understanding of what these terms actually mean.
The fixed mindset is rooted in the belief that a human’s personal qualities are carved in stone. That, at birth, you were granted a certain amount of intelligence, morality, talent, etc. and that there is nothing you can do to develop more.
The growth mindset “is based on the belief that our basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts, your strategies, and help from others. Although people may differ in every which way — in their initial talents and aptitudes, interests or temperaments — everyone can change and grow through application and experience.”
Yep, I’ve got a growth mindset…or do I?
I was feeling quite good about myself until page 12. That’s where I hit the “Grow Your Mindset” quiz:
Read each statement and decide whether you mostly agree with it or disagree with it:
- Your intelligence is something very basic about you that you can’t change very much.
- You can learn new things but you can’t really change how intelligent you are.
- No matter how much intelligence you have, you can always change quite a bit.
- You can always substantially change how intelligent you are.
My answers were Yes, Yes, No, No.
(note, you can swap out “intelligence” for any personal quality — artistic talent, athletic ability, your personality)
Guess what, questions 1 and 2 are about the fixed mindset and questions 3 and 4 are about the growth mindset.
“I am a horrible person! I have a fixed mindset!” I thought just before collapsing onto the floor, ready to give up on my humanity. But then I rephrased the questions…
- A person’s intelligence is something very basic about them that they can’t change very much.
- A person can learn new things but they can’t really change how intelligent they are.
- No matter how much intelligence someone has, they can always change quite a bit.
- A person can always substantially change how intelligent they are.
This time my answers were No, No, Yes, Yes.
I wasn’t thrilled to realize that I had a “split mindset” but it did make sense.
When I think about myself, my capabilities, and my performance I tend to be a perfectionist (ok, I am a perfectionist) and ruminate endlessly on my mistakes (no kidding, I still vividly remember hitting the “hang-up” button instead of the “unmute” button on a conference call in 2010). I am terrified of feedback because I feel like it is a judgement against me. (Of course I ask for it and thank people when I get it but that’s just because these are the things we all agreed to say but none of us really mean. Right?)
But I don’t feel or think any of these things when it comes to other people. I genuinely believe that if you work hard enough and long enough, you can accomplish anything. I deeply believe that sometimes the best and only way to grow is to learn from mistakes. No one needs to prove anything to me and I love people who ask for feedback because it shows they care and that they’re trying and so I try to be as kind and helpful as possible.
I was a bit concerned that having a split mindset was one-step removed from having a split personality but it’s apparently not unusual at all.
People’s mindsets can change for all sorts of reasons — the context they’re in (e.g. work vs. home), who they’re with (e.g. the boss, their co-workers, their partner, friends, their kids, their parents), what they’re doing (e.g. math vs English, work vs a hobby), and any number of other variables. The key is to know when and where a change in mindset may occur.
There is hope!
“Mindsets are just beliefs. They’re powerful beliefs, but they’re just something in your mind, and you can change your mind.”
Thank you page 16.
I will now change my mind.
I had to get all the way to page 254 to figure out how.
- Step 1 — Embrace your fixed mindset. > DONE!
- Step 2 — Become aware of your fixed mindset triggers. Where does your fixed-mindset self show up. > I tried to answer this question with “life” but it was too general. So I tried being more specific. The list is LONG and still growing
- Step 3 — Now give your fixed-mindset persona a name > In progress.
- Step 4 — Educate your fixed-mindset persona, take it on the journey with you > I’d rather not as it’s quite an unpleasant travel companion, but fine.
- Step 5 — Print out this graphic and tape it to your bathroom mirror > No thank you, it will never survive. But I will print out this one and hang it next to my computer.
- Step 6 — At the start of each day, identify opportunities for learning and growth and create a tangible action plan to take advantage of each one. > I’m actually doing this. It’s helping (I think) but it also results in me taking a lot of deep breaths.
I wish the journey from fixed to growth mindset was as easy as simply checking off steps 1 through 6 but it’s not. It’s a daily process that can be frustratingly slow. But I think it’s worth it.
If only so that I can one day get to the point when I say “Thank you for the feedback” and actually mean it.
Other random nuggets of wisdom
In between page 16 and page 254 there was a lot of great stuff about how the mindsets come into play in business, parenting, and coaching. Here’s a sample:
“The fixed mindset creates an internal monologue that is focused on judging.”
“Effort is for those who don’t have the ability.”
“The fixed mindset is so very tempting. It seems to promise children a lifetime of worth, success, and admiration just for sitting there and being who they are.”
“However, lurking behind the self-esteem of the fixed mindset is a simple question: If you’re somebody when you’re successful, what are you when you’re unsuccessful?”
“The minute a leader allows himself to become the primary reality people worry about, rather than reality being the primary reality, you have a recipe for mediocrity, or worse.” — Jim Collins, Good to Great
“When bosses become controlling and abusive, they put everyone into a fixed mindset. This means that instead of learning, growing, and moving the company forward, everyone starts worrying about being judged. It starts with the bosses’ worry about being judged but it winds up being everybody’s fear about being judged. It’s hard for courage and innovation to survive in a companywide fixed mindset.”
“You aren’t a failure until you start to blame.”
“…even when you think you’re not good at something, you can still plunge into it wholeheartedly and stick to it.”
“Just because some people can do something with little or no training, it doesn’t mean that others can’t do it (and sometimes do it even better) with training.”
“A growth mindset helps people to see prejudice for what it is — someone else’s view of them — and to confront it with their confidence and abilities intact.”
“True self-confidence is ‘the courage to be open — to welcome change and new ideas regardless of their source.’”
In business “taking on challenges, showing persistence, and admitting and correcting mistakes are essential.”
“Not only do those with a growth mindset gain more lucrative outcomes for themselves, but, more important they also come up with more creative solutions that confer benefits all around.”