Have you ever felt like you cannot do something because you don’t have the talent for it? Or that your abilities are limited? This is because you’re in the fixed mindset. You might not have a fixed mindset in all areas of your life, but even having it in your romantic relationship or at work can be very damaging for you.
Carol Dweck is a psychology professor at Stanford University who studied people’s mindsets extensively and shared her research in her book Mindset- The New Psychology of Success. In this post, I’ll try to teach you what I’ve learned from this book in an easy-to-understand way.
Professor Dweck identifies two mindsets, the fixed mindset and the growth mindset.
As she describes it, people with a fixed mindset think that their abilities are fixed and cannot be changed. If they have a ‘natural talent’ that means they don’t have to put any effort into succeeding, which also makes them feel superior to other people and reluctant to learn new things.
The other group of people who have a growth mindset believes that basic qualities can be cultivated through effort. If they put in a lot of effort they can change and become better through practice and experience.
These two groups also see failure very differently. In one study where they gave 10-year-olds a series of puzzles to solve, they found that kids with a growth mindset thrived on challenges. They didn’t even think that they were failing when they couldn’t solve a puzzle, they thought they were learning. If they failed that means that they either have to work a lot harder or they have to switch to a better strategy the next time to improve.
Kids with the fixed mindset, however, saw failure as a sign that they are not talented enough and that they should move on or even cheat at the next challenge. If it doesn’t work right away it means that it wasn’t meant to be.
We all know people who say: Well, I could also be a successful YouTuber if I just started a channel. Not realizing how much work and effort goes into regularly uploading videos and finding your audience. People with a fixed mindset don’t try because if they gave it everything and still failed, they wouldn’t have an excuse anymore for their defeat.
So this is how they avoid failure. At the University of Hong Kong, every class is taught in English, which is hard for many students who are not fluent in the language. They asked students with both mindsets if they would be interested in taking an English class offered by the faculty to improve their English skills. Those with a growth mindset were excited to sign up, while the ones with a fixed mindset declined the offer even though it would have helped them in their classes.
People with a fixed mindset are terrified to expose their deficiencies. They’re afraid someone might find out that they are not as smart as others think they are, so they don’t push themselves. They don’t try to challenge their abilities at competitions. because it would put them into an environment where they are not the smartest.
But why are people with a fixed mindset sabotaging themselves when it comes to improving their lives? What’s the problem with effort? In our society, we are taught that effort is a bad thing because if you’re smart, you shouldn’t need to try this hard.
The fixed mindset is always focused on the outcome: You’re only smart if you get an A on the test. While growth is focused on the process, regardless of the outcome: If I get a B but I put all I got into studying and I will actually remember the material long after this test is over, then I succeeded.
Do you believe that you can either draw or you can’t? That you’re simply born with natural creativity or not? Would you have guessed that this portrait (on the left) was drawn by the same person just 2 days before the professional portrait (on the right)? Now, do you still believe that?
If you did, I highly recommend you check out “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain”! People can learn how to be creative and can even outperform natural talents who don’t put in the effort to improve.
Therefore, there is a huge difference in effort vs. ability-based praise that we get in childhood. The type of praise we get early on can determine whether we develop a fixed or a growth mindset.
What do you think when you hear these two praises?
“You must be very smart.”
“You must have worked a lot.”
The former praises your ability ‘being smart’ while the latter praises the effort you put into your improvement. Which one would motivate you to do more?
What’s even more concerning is that in a study where they looked at both types of praise, participants were asked to write 1 page about their difficulties with the test they performed to help new participants. The study found that 40% of the ability-based students lied about their test scores. Imperfection was so shameful for those students that they would rather lie in an anonymous feedback form than admit their deficiencies.
But it’s not only the power of effort that we’re unaware of in the fixed mindset. We all know that stereotypes exist, but have you ever considered that you can stereotype yourself into a bad test score or performance?
Studies show that in the fixed mindset almost anything that reminds you of being female, for example before a test that you’re stereotypically supposed to be bad at, will significantly lower your test score. Even checking a box indicating your race or sex can trigger the stereotype in your mind that can lower your performance. For example, they found that if you put a female in a room with more males before a math test, the female’s score goes down if she has a fixed mindset.
But what can you do about this? The good news is that the growth mindset can be learned. We can achieve much more than we thought we were capable of through developing a growth mindset.
Awareness is the first step to growing your mindset. Learning about these two mindsets can already significantly improve your life. But it is a muscle that constantly needs to be trained. If you don’t practice it, you can easily fall back to a fixed mindset.
My favorite example of the power of the growth mindset is a girl’s university application. After being rejected by the college she set her eyes on, she practiced the growth mindset by getting in touch with the college to ask for feedback to improve for next term. Instead of just getting feedback, the department decided that since her application was a close call, they can take on one more application and offered her admission. The message of this story is not that she got in but that she saw her defeat as an opportunity for growth. When you do that, your chances of succeeding are much much higher.
Now…I hope that you found some value in this post or in my video. Here’s a tip on how you can apply what you just learned to grow your mindset: Next time you find yourself in a fixed mindset be conscious about what’s happening and ask yourself some questions to snap out of it.
For example, if you think you can’t do something,
- why do you think that?
- Is it really impossible or it just needs some effort?
- What can you learn from trying it?
Another great trick is to start using not yet. For example, I’m NOT good at emphasizing the important parts of my video YET. But the more videos I do and the more effort I put into the quality of my content the better it will become. There are plenty more examples in the book on how to practice a growth mindset.
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