Fixed vs. Growth Mindset

If you have a growth mindset, you see life as presenting you chances to learn and develop into a more mature, happy human. This makes sense because we are each a work in progress. You have potential and are not limited by who you were as a child, a teenager, or even yesterday. A success in your life is a chance to smile and congratulate all involved. A failure hurts but you’re resilient and persevere… it’s a wake-up call! You’re motivated to improve and to do better next time. This is all possible because you can trade in any cards you’ve been dealt.

If you have a fixed mindset, you’re motivated to demonstrate what you know and that you’re a very accomplished, socially limber, <more adjectives>, capable person. This is logical because you were born with what you got and it’s up to you to make the best of it. Every success is a chance to hone your set of skills and prove that, whatever you were dealt, you’re absolutely killin it. You’re worthy of all the good things in your life and everything is justified. But… a failure… oh, a failure is shameful. It feels best to blame other people to distract from your indelible flaws. Failure makes you exposed, vulnerable and lame, the kind of person who will and should get left behind and eaten by wolves.

In one world, effort is a bad thing. It, like failure, means you’re not smart or talented. If you were, you wouldn’t need effort. In the other world, effort is what makes you smart or talented.

In a Brainpickings article, Carol Dweck identifies two ends of the mindset spectrum: fixed and growth.

Fixed = I am what I am. I’m fixed. My qualities are written in stone. My talents & capabilities hang from me like shingles… they’re how I display to others who I am and what I can do. When I’m born, my personality and talents are brand new. As I age, they deteriorate, warp and rot. I might change, but it’s just to compensate for things that happen to me… I don’t really ever change… not really. “Risk and effort are potential giveaways of” my inadequacies. Failure means I am a piece of shit. I can only love someone who will both ignore and compensate for my faults… and basically worship me. If we have a misunderstanding, it’s a sign that we’re not meant to be together.

Growth = I am always changing. I have potential. The grandiose “I can do anything” is a sham… the truth is I define my own destiny and can change it at any time. My talents and capabilities define me, but only in one moment in time, and only in the context of my entire experience. I change all the time in response to so many opportunities I’m given to learn– strangers, family, friends, my dog… everyone is helping me. One unsuccessful effort does not invalidate me as a quality human… it actually makes me better. I catapult towards my potential… it’s hard work, but why would I aim for anything else? I can only love someone who will help me improve on my faults as compassionately as I help them improve on theirs. When conflicts arise, we’ll talk about them and our bond will be even stronger.

The view you adopt for yourself profoundly affects the way you lead your life. It can determine whether you become the person you want to be and whether you accomplish the things you value.” ~Carol Dweck, Stanford psychologist and author of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.

If you have a fixed mindset, but wish you had a growth mindset, don’t worry. You can change! It will be scary, but worth it.  All you need to do is change your definitions of success and failure…. and you’ll also likely need to find new friends…

Having a forward-focused, positive mindset is healthy, while the opposite is not. A growth-focused mind is like a healthy digestive system. It metabolizes thoughts and experiences, extracts what’s good and evacuates what’s bad, then flushes. A fixed mind is constipated. It holds on to worries for too long until they overflow all over everyone else.

More in this BrainPickings article.

Highlights of the article (all modified quotes):

  • A mindset is an interpretative process that tells us what is going on around us. In the fixed mindset, that process is scored by an internal monologue of constant judging and evaluation, using every piece of information as evidence either for or against such assessments as whether you’re a good person, whether your partner is selfish, or whether you are better than the person next to you. In a growth mindset, on the other hand, the internal monologue is not one of judgment but one of voracious appetite for learning, constantly seeking out the kind of input that you can metabolize into learning and constructive action.
  • One of the most basic beliefs we carry about ourselves has to do with how we view and inhabit what we consider to be our personality.
  • A “fixed mindset” assumes that our character, intelligence, and creative ability are static givens which we can’t change in any meaningful way, and success is the affirmation of that inherent intelligence, an assessment of how those givens measure up against an equally fixed standard; striving for success and avoiding failure at all costs become a way of maintaining the sense of being smart or skilled.
  • A “growth mindset” thrives on challenge and sees failure not as evidence of unintelligence but as a heartening springboard for growth and for stretching our existing abilities.
  • Out of these two mindsets, which we manifest from a very early age, springs a great deal of our behavior, our relationship with success and failure in both professional and personal contexts, and ultimately our capacity for happiness.
  • Believing that your qualities are carved in stone — the fixed mindset— creates an urgency to prove yourself over and over. If you have only a certain amount of intelligence, a certain personality, and a certain moral character — well, then you’d better prove that you have a healthy dose of them. It simply wouldn’t do to look or feel deficient in these most basic characteristics.
  • Every situation calls for a confirmation of their intelligence, personality, or character. Every situation is evaluated: Will I succeed or fail? Will I look smart or dumb? Will I be accepted or rejected? Will I feel like a winner or a loser? . . .
  • In the “growth” mindset, the hand you’re dealt is just the starting point for development. It’s based on the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts. 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.
  • No, but they believe that a person’s true potential is unknown (and unknowable); that it’s impossible to foresee what can be accomplished with years of passion, toil, and training.
  • creates a passion for learning rather than a hunger for approval. Its hallmark is the conviction that human qualities like intelligence and creativity, and even relational capacities like love and friendship, can be cultivated through effort and deliberate practice. Not only are people with this mindset not discouraged by failure, but they don’t actually see themselves as failing in those situations — they see themselves as learning.
  • The mindsets change what people strive for and what they see as success. . . they change the definition, significance, and impact of failure. . . they change the deepest meaning of effort.
  • These mindsets form very early in life. In one seminal study, Dweck and her colleagues offered four-year-olds a choice: They could either redo an easy jigsaw puzzle, or try a harder one. Even these young children conformed to the characteristics of one of the two mindsets — those with “fixed” mentality stayed on the safe side, choosing the easier puzzles that would affirm their existing ability, articulating to the researchers their belief that smart kids don’t make mistakes; those with the “growth” mindset thought it an odd choice to begin with, perplexed why anyone would want to do the same puzzle over and over if they aren’t learning anything new. In other words, the fixed-mindset kids wanted to make sure they succeeded in order to seem smart, whereas the growth-mindset ones wanted to stretch themselves, for their definition of success was about becoming smarter.
  • In another experiment, after having their brains scanned, those with a fixed mindset were only interested in hearing feedback that reflected directly on their present ability, but tuned out information that could help them learn and improve. They even showed no interest in hearing the right answer when they had gotten a question wrong, because they had already filed it away in the failure category. Those with a growth mindset, on the other hand, were keenly attentive to information that could help them expand their existing knowledge and skill, regardless of whether they’d gotten the question right or wrong — in other words, their priority was learning, not the binary trap of success and failure.
  • Growth mindset: “personal success is when you work your hardest to become your best.” Fixed mindset: “success is about establishing their superiority, pure and simple. Being that somebody who is worthier than the nobodies.” For the latter, setbacks are a sentence and a label. For the former, they’re motivating, informative input — a wakeup call.
  • And how does this apply to love? Those with a fixed mindset believed their ideal mate would put them on a pedestal and make them feel perfect, like “the god of a one-person religion,” whereas those with the growth mindset preferred a partner who would recognize their faults and lovingly help improve them, someone who would encourage them to learn new things and became a better person. The fixed mindset, it turns out, is at the root of many of our most toxic cultural myths about “true love.”

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