Fixed Mindsets and Growth Mindsets: A Psychological Perspective

The article explores the concept of fixed and growth mindsets and their impact on success, drawing on Carol Dweck's influential work "Mindset."
Ben Kill, Chartered MCIPD

  • Carol Dweck's research distinguishes between fixed and growth mindsets, emphasizing that success hinges not on inherent intelligence or skills but on one's outlook on personal abilities and the willingness to grow.

  • A fixed mindset sees abilities as static, leading to avoidance of challenges and a fear of failure, whereas a growth mindset embraces challenges, feedback, and the potential for personal development through effort and learning.

  • Dweck's strategies for fostering a growth mindset include paying attention to internal dialogues, embracing challenges as opportunities for growth, questioning limiting beliefs, and actively applying a growth mindset to overcome obstacles and enhance team leadership.

What is a Mindset?

When you think about individuals who embody success, intelligence, and skill, who comes to mind? A lot of people will bring up names like Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, or – more recently Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos. But it’s important to know that as successful as these people became, their journeys weren’t straight paths. They didn’t get to their destinations easily or quickly, but due to ongoing curiosity, commitment, and effort.

In her influential work "Mindset," Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck argues that the key differentiator for successful people is not their intelligence, skills, or education but rather their mindset. More importantly, she defined the two primary types of mindsets as “Fixed” and “Growth.”  

So, what exactly is a mindset?  

Well, the term mindset refers to a set of attitudes, beliefs, or ways of thinking that determine one's outlook on life, including how they perceive their own abilities and the world around them. Your mindset can significantly influence how you interpret and respond to situations, challenges, and opportunities. They not only shape your behaviour, but your decision-making processes, and your attitudes toward learning and failure.  

In this article, we’ll approach the concept of mindsets from a psychological perspective. Specifically, we’ll analyse Dweck’s work and see if we can determine how having a "fixed mindset" can limit our progress while a "growth mindset" can empower us to achieve our aspirations. 

Want to know more about cultivating a growth mindset? Check out our FREE team eLearning course on the topic here

Understanding the Fixed Mindset

Having a fixed mindset means believing your intelligence, talents, and abilities are somehow set in stone. It's the idea that you're born with a certain skill set and that these capabilities cannot evolve over time. Individuals with a fixed mindset often fear not being sufficiently intelligent or skilled to achieve their objectives. For this reason, they might limit themselves to tasks within their comfort zone, avoiding challenges where they risk failure.

In leadership terms, a manager with a fixed mindset might worry about being overshadowed by the accomplishments of their team members. They might even feel threatened by others, leading to actions that stifle a high-performing team member's growth and neglect the needs of their team to protect their own status.

In her research, Dweck discovered distinct neural responses in individuals with fixed mindsets. When informed about the correctness of their answers on a quiz, their brains displayed heightened activity, reflecting a deep concern with the judgment over their success or failure. However, when offered guidance on learning from their errors, their interest waned, indicating a disbelief in their ability to improve and a consequent lack of effort towards personal development.

Understanding the Growth Mindset

Having a growth mindset means embracing the belief that dedication, persistence, and motivation can help you enhance your innate talents and abilities. Neuroscientist Gilbert Gottlieb highlighted that intelligence is shaped by both genetics and environmental factors. This seems to suggest that life experiences and environment play critical roles in activating certain genes throughout one's life.  

While the debate between nature versus nurture is still ongoing, Dweck emphasizes the potential for personal growth through experiences, education, and effort. Consequently, individuals with a growth mindset view feedback and errors as chances for improvement, almost relishing the journey of learning and increasing productivity. This concept, referred to by Dweck as "purposeful engagement," underlines a proactive approach to overcoming challenges and persisting until objectives are achieved.

Dweck's work is informed by the principle of neuroplasticity, which demonstrates the brain's capacity to forge new connections into adulthood, whether through recovery from injury or exposure to new experiences. This principle underscores the possibility of adopting a growth mindset at any stage in life. In short: this means we can unlock an increasing amount of potential through continuous learning and practice.

For example, Dweck argues that praising someone's effort rather than their achievements, fosters a growth mindset. Focusing on outcomes may suggest that effort is irrelevant, whereas commending the learning process encourages perseverance and motivation toward achieving one's goals. This approach supports the development of a growth mindset, making individuals actually want to realize their unique potential.

The Big Question: How Do I Develop a Growth Mindset? 

Luckily for us, Carol Dweck has outlined several strategies for adopting a new mindset focused on growth and development. Here are some of the most important steps:  

  • Pay Attention to Your Inner Dialogue – The voice of a fixed mindset can deter you from pursuing success. Maybe you find yourself doubting your abilities or fearing failure and rejection when faced with new challenges. Maybe you find yourself rationalizing poor feedback by blaming others or justifying your stance. Whatever the case, it’s crucial to recognize these patterns and use self-awareness to counteract pessimistic thoughts.

  • Understand You Have a Choice – Life is filled with hurdles, challenges, and setbacks. Your reaction to these obstacles determines your path. For instance, you might view them either as proof of your own inadequacy (fixed mindset) or as opportunities for evolution (growth mindset). Facing difficulties with a mindset geared towards learning and perseverance allows you to devise strategies for improvement and resilience.

  • Question Your Fixed Mindset Beliefs – When you hesitate before challenges, it may be because you fear you lack the necessary talent. However, you can counter this by affirming your ability to learn and improve through effort and practice. Remind yourself that mastery comes with time and persistence and that initial failures are part of the learning process.

  • Act on Your Growth Mindset – Just as skills improve with practice, so does adopting a growth mindset. Do your best to approach setbacks as learning opportunities. Remind yourself that each mistake is a chance to grow and refine your approach. When applied consistently, this mindset can significantly ease how you face and overcome obstacles.

Want to know more about cultivating a growth mindset? Check out our FREE team eLearning course on the topic here

Applying a Growth Mindset to Team Leadership

Encourage your team by recognizing their efforts and commitment to learning. If you've previously underestimated someone's capabilities, you might try to acknowledge their progress. Likewise, you can promote your team's growth through training sessions or coaching. This fosters a collaborative environment by encouraging open communication and the sharing of ideas. Finally, taking the time to celebrate effort and improvement rather than just results can nurture a culture of growth and continuous development within your team.
Empty space, drag to resize
Want to learn more? Teamioed specializes in technology-led team experiences that empower managers to run their own team development sessions. We’ve specifically designed these discussions to complement existing meetings and create minimal disruption whilst enhancing team cooperation, efficiency, and engagement. To learn more about Teamioed’s low-cost, subscription-based platform, click here

Fixed vs. Growth Mindset F.A.Q.

What is a Fixed Mindset?

A fixed mindset is the belief that one's intelligence, talents, and abilities are set and unchangeable. Individuals with a fixed mindset may avoid challenges, fear failure, and feel threatened by others' success.

What is a Growth Mindset?

A growth mindset is the belief that one's abilities and intelligence can be developed through dedication, effort, and learning. People with a growth mindset view challenges and feedback as opportunities for growth and improvement.

How Can a Growth Mindset Impact Success?

A growth mindset fosters resilience, a willingness to face challenges, and a continuous effort toward personal development, significantly impacting one's ability to achieve success and overcome obstacles.

What are Carol Dweck's Tips for Developing a Growth Mindset?

Dweck recommends acknowledging and addressing one's fixed mindset inner dialogue, viewing challenges as opportunities for growth, questioning and overcoming limiting beliefs, and consistently applying a growth mindset to learning and development activities.

How Does a Growth Mindset Affect Team Leadership?

Adopting a growth mindset in team leadership involves recognizing and encouraging effort and learning, promoting open communication, and fostering a culture of continuous development and collaborative improvement.

Can Anyone Develop a Growth Mindset?

Yes, according to Dweck's research and the principle of neuroplasticity, anyone can develop a growth mindset at any stage of life through awareness, practice, and a commitment to learning and growth.

Why is Feedback Important in a Growth Mindset?

Feedback is crucial in a growth mindset as it provides insights into areas for improvement, encourages learning from mistakes, and supports the ongoing process of personal and professional development.

Want to Effortlessly Develop Your Team?

Connect, develop, and engage with a collaborative team eLearning experience. Your team will love it!
Write your awesome label here.