Growth Mindsets Are So Much Better Than Fixed Mindsets 
By Dr. Keith Witt
December 31, 2011
Lots of us make New Year’s resolutions, and most of us don’t follow through. Why is this? I believe it’s often because we have the wrong attitudes towards change—we try something, find it’s hard or sloppy, and then get irritated, embarrassed, or frustrated and just give the whole thing up. So this year, I encourage you to make a resolution to improve your attitudes towards change. We typically have attitudes we bring to bear on everything we do. If I drive carefully, I bring an attitude of caution each time I’m behind the wheel. If I drive aggressively, I bring an attitude of “Don’t mess with me!” Such attitudes are called, “mindsets.” Carol Dweck, author of Mindset, The New Psychology of Success has found that people live from two major mindset positions—growth mindsets and fixed mindsets:
- A growth mindset believes that effort and progress are what matter most. If I’m learning to play the piano, it’s less important that I sound great and more important that I’m practicing and improving. If I have a problem with my iphone, it doesn’t mean I’m stupid, it just means I need to invest some effort and progress to solve the problem, and—if I have a growth mindset—effort and progress resulting in finding and solving problems is what I like. Growth mindset people prefer friends and colleagues who are as smart and capable as possible to help stimulate fresh ideas and change, and are delighted to find somebody who is more knowledgeable or expert than they are.
- A fixed mindset believes that ability and intelligence is innate, and that failure is shameful. I’d rather do an easy project where I don’t risk failure than try a harder project that might involve being frustrated or temporarily stumped. If I have to work to learn something, it means that I am inherently flawed and I want to avoid that shameful feeling by avoiding the hard activity. A problem with my iphone scares me because it makes be feel inept and inferior. Fixed mindset people like friends and colleagues who don’t seem as smart or capable, because then the fixed-mindset person doesn’t feel stupid in comparison.
- Your eleven-year-old comes home from school proudly waving a report card with an “A” in every class. You compliment her extravagantly and she says, “It’s not that hard, really.” Later that day you tell your best friend (feeling a secret glow of pride), “June got straight A’s again. She’s just naturally gifted.”
- June comes home with three B’s and two A’s. You ask her how she feels about it and she says, “I feel good about my B in Algebra. I was a C for the first part of the class, but I studied hard and now I’m getting it better. Math’s like a bunch of puzzles that keep getting harder forever. I kind of like puzzles.” You tell your friend later (again feeling a secret glow of pride), “June got three B’s and two A’s, but she feels best about her B in algebra because she worked hard and saw progress.”
- A VP tells a fixed mindset CEO, “We have problems with quality control, and we need to gradually improve the culture in production. People get publicly humiliated for making mistakes, and everyone is afraid they’ll be axed in the next series of lay-offs.” The boss replies, “We have the best factory in the state! How dare you suggest there’s a “problem with the culture?’ You’re fired!”
- Same scenario with a growth mindset boss who replies, “Really sounds like you’re on to something! What do you imagine the next step should be? Who could best help us make these changes?”
- A fixed mindset husband tells his wife, “I’m just not in love anymore. It doesn’t feel the same as when we first got married. I don’t think we’re meant for each other and I believe we should separate.”
- Same scenario with a growth mindset husband who announces, “We seem to have drifted apart. Let’s get some help and advice about how to feel closer and have more fun. I think our marriage needs it.”
- Do you feel good when things go well, but still have a sense that you can make them even better with effort and progress? Do you get frustrated by mistakes or areas you’re clumsy or uniformed, but then tell yourself, “OK, I just need to focus on gradual improvement and everything will be fine.” These are growth mindsets which will eventually lead you to greater happiness and success.
- Do you make a mistake and tell yourself, “I’m an idiot!” and then rage for a while at yourself or someone else? Do you have zero patience for others’ imperfections? Do you get irritated or embarrassed when someone seems to be more knowledgeable or skillful than you? These are fixed mindsets that will compromise your happiness and success, and you might want to direct yourself to more growth mindset attitudes and behaviors—with the sense that effort and progress is beautiful.
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