Growth mindset or fixed mindset—can the way we think about ourselves and our abilities shape our lives? Absolutely. The way we think about our intellect and talents not only affects the way we feel, it can also affect what we achieve, whether we stick to new habits, or if we will go on to develop new skills.

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A growth mindset means that you believe your intelligence and talents can be developed over time. A fixed mindset means that you believe intelligence is fixed—so if you’re not good at something, you might believe you’ll never be good at it.

At Mindset Health, we’re all about growth mindsets and encouraging people to adopt a positive outlook on learning. So, let’s look at growth vs. fixed mindsets together, explore the science, and see how people can change their mindsets over time.


Growth vs. fixed mindsets for life

Science once told us that the human brain stops developing in childhood, however, we now know that the brain is constantly evolving and changing. Many parts of the brain respond to experiences and our ‘software’ can be updated through learning.

Despite the neurological facts, some people still think that you’re stuck with the talents and ‘smarts’ you’re born with. Psychologist Carol Dweck, from Stanford University, was the first researcher to explore the idea of fixed and growth mindsets.

In Dr. Dweck’s seminal work, she described the two main ways people think about intelligence or ability as having either:

People with a fixed mindset typically believe that their level of intelligence and abilities are innate. In Dr. Dweck’s own words, fixed mindset people beleive that “they have a certain amount and that”s that, and then their goal becomes to look smart all the time and never look dumb”.

For people with a growth mindset, however, they understand that not knowing or not being good at something can be a temporary state—so they don’t have to feel ashamed or try to prove they’re smarter than they currently are.

Dweck states that in a growth mindset, “students understand that their talents and abilities can be developed through effort, good teaching, and persistence.”

Do you have a ‘growth’ or a ‘fixed’ mindset? Take the mindset quiz

What is a growth mindset?

A growth mindset views intelligence and talent as qualities that can be developed over time.

This doesn’t mean that people with a growth mindset assume that they could be the next Einstein—there are still variables in what we can all achieve. A growth mindset simply means that people believe their intelligence and talents can be improved through effort and actions.

A growth mindset also recognizes that setbacks are a necessary part of the learning process and allows people to ‘bounce back’ by increasing motivational effort.

This kind of mindset sees ‘failings’ as temporary and changeable, and as such, a growth mindset is crucial for learning, resilience, motivation, and performance.

Those who adopt a growth mindset are more likely to:

Embrace lifelong learningBelieve intelligence can be improvedPut in more effort to learnBelieve effort leads to masteryBelieve failures are just temporary setbacksView feedback as a source of informationWillingly embraces challengesView others’ success as a source of inspirationView feedback as an opportunity to learn

What is a fixed mindset?

In a fixed mindset, people believe attributes, such as talent and intelligence, are fixed—that”s to say, they believe they’re born with the level of intelligence and natural talents they’ll reach in adulthood.

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A fixed-minded person usually avoids challenges in life, gives up easily, and becomes intimidated or threatened by the success of other people. This is in part because a fixed mindset doesn”t see intelligence and talent as something you develop—it”s something you “are”.

Fixed mindsets can lead to negative thinking. For instance, a person with a fixed mindset might fail at a task and believe it”s because they aren”t smart enough to do it. Whereas a growth mindset person might fail at the same task and believe it”s because they need to spend more time practicing.

People with a fixed mindset believe individual traits cannot change, no matter how much effort you put in, and are more likely to:

Believe intelligence and talent are staticAvoid challenges to avoid failureIgnore feedback from othersFeel threatened by the success of othersHide flaws so as not to be judged by othersBelieve putting in effort is worthlessView feedback as personal criticismGive up easily

Who identified the growth mindset?

Psychologist Dr. Carol Dweck of Stanford University was the first to describe the growth mindset. In her ground-breaking research, Dweck investigated why some people fail and others succeed.

In one study, high school students were challenged with puzzles that ranged from easy to difficult. Much to the surprise of researchers, some students embraced failure and treated it as a learning experience, and this positive attitude was what Dweck later coined the ‘growth mindset’.

Dweck’s research also found, contrary to popular opinion, that it’s more beneficial not to praise talent or natural abilities but praise the process. In particular, effort, strategies, persistence, and resilience should be rewarded. These processes play a major role in providing constructive feedback and creating a positive student-teacher relationship.

Dweck later noted, in a 2015 article, that while effort is an important part of a growth mindset, it shouldn”t be the main focus of praise. Effort should be a means to learning and improving. When fostering a growth mindset, continue telling yourself “great effort” after finishing a task, but also look for ways to improve next time—so you feel good in the short and long term.

The benefits of a growth mindset

Studies by Dweck and others indicate that a growth mindset has a positive effect on motivation and academic performance.

One study examined the academic enjoyment of undergraduate students after learning about the neuroplasticity of the brain.

The students were encouraged to endorse a growth mindset through three one hour sessions on brain functioning. The control group was taught that there are several types of intelligence. Students showed significantly higher motivation and enjoyment of science after learning about the growth mindset than in the control group.

In another study, teaching a growth mindset to junior high school students resulted in increased motivation and academic performance. The researchers found a growth mindset was particularly beneficial for students studying science and mathematics.

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Studies have also indicated that students who endorsed a growth mindset, rather than a fixed mindset, had higher grades in mathematics, languages, and grade point average (GPA).

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