I sometimes feel like I'll never be a good cook or that I just wasn't born to be bilingual. Sometimes, I catch my daughter saying that I can't do it. And I hear people say things like they're not good at math or not cut to be in business. All of these examples are fixed mindsets, and we are all guilty of it from time to time. Fortunately, fixed mindset doesn't have to be forever.
What is fixed mindset?
Psychologist Carol Dweck is one of the leading experts in thinking and author of the book Thinking: The New Psychology of Success. Early in her career, she pointed to two mentalities: growth and fixed. These two mentalities explain why some people face problems on the head while others put pressure on it. Fixed mindset people think that their skills or abilities are set in stone and determined at birth. If you think you're bad at math, not good at sports, or a natural musician, you're demonstrating a fixed mindset. People with a growth mindset think that their skills and abilities can be improved and fine-tuned through effort and perseverance. When you take action to improve yourself and stick with it, you demonstrate a growth mindset.
False Thinking Growth
Dweck elaborated on her work by explaining that every person has a fixed mindset at one time or another on a particular issue.((Atlantic: how to praise became a consolation prize)) people don't always have a fixed or growth mindset. I could work hard at the gym to get stronger and more flexible by giving piano lessons because I think I'm not a musical person. This example shows that I have a growth mindset regarding my fitness but a fixed mindset regarding my piano playing. It would also be an oversimplification to say that the mindset is growth effort. Dweck explains that efforts and strategies are necessary for a true growth mindset. It's not enough for me to just keep on and not try. The true growth mindset involves effort, reflection, reassessment, and then more effort. Self-awareness is a critical component of the growth mindset because you must accurately assess your current progress in order to make appropriate adjustments towards achieving your goals. Just not going to cut it.
Fixed Mind Works
A fixed thinking trigger is something that changes thinking from thinking that abilities can be improved to thinking that they are fixed or advance. Think about what might make you raise your hands in defeat and claim that you are not good at something and you never will be. The most obvious fixed mindset trigger is someone telling you that you are not very good at something. This can make it look like your ability is set in stone. Imagine you're trying your best in a Spanish class and the teacher casually says, "It's good that you're good at math." This remark may make it seem like you've always been bad at Spanish and always will be, no matter the effort and determination you bring to the table. Another fixed mindset triggers people to overreact to failure. When people make a big deal out of your mistakes, it may seem like you're just not meant to be together, chasing what you failed to do. Let's use our Spanish Example. Let's say you're working on your Spanish project—a film. You show it to a friend who starts laughing and shows you saying the word “bota” instead of “Barco” over and over again as the movie focuses on the boat. Instead of thinking about all the Spanish words you got right, your mind may stop at that one egregious mistake, putting you in a fixed mindset about your Spanish abilities. Finally, the people who save you from failure can cause a fixed mindset. Continuing with our Spanish example, if your mom stops doing your Spanish homework and starts doing it herself to prevent you from falling, you may start to think that you are not very good at Spanish and never have been and never will be.
How can you change the fixed mindset?
Dweck talks about the praise process as an antidote to fixed thinking. Praise Process is when you praise and encourage someone to put in the effort and use strategies and related resources to learn and improve. Praising often someone's ability leads to a fixed mindset, praise promotes a growth mindset. So if I want to help someone change from a concrete mindset to a growth mindset, I should say something like, “You worked so hard for this” or “What could you try to do better next time?” instead of "You're so good at this" or "It's so unfair. Your opponent must be deceived." You can try praise for yourself too. If you find yourself making excuses, blaming someone or something else for your failures, or assuming your abilities are fixed, try praise. Instead of focusing on the effort you put in and the strategies and resources you used to improve. Dweck recommends being factual and not being too strong or passive with your praise. Be direct without being harsh or overly accommodating. Here are 8 other ways to move from a fixed mindset to growth:
1. Not Guilty
If you find yourself blaming someone or something else for your failures, stop yourself and refocus on your role in your success or failure.
2. The purpose of self-knowledge
Self-awareness is the key to a growth mindset. If you don't give much thought to your role in your success or failure, it will be difficult for you to strategize and improve. So, ask yourself questions about your efforts, strategies and resources. I could have practiced harder? Am I using the best schedule for my rehearsal? Is there a better way for me to study before the next test?
3. Avoid Negative, Fixed Mindset Talking About Yourself
Try to catch yourself when you are thinking in terms of fixed thinking. Stop saying you weren't made for this or you weren't born to be this. Instead, focus on the strategy and effort you put into.
4. Ask for feedback (and listen to it)
Feedback goes in one ear and out the other when we have a fixed mindset. When people think their abilities will be reinforced, they tend to make excuses, bristle, and blame when they receive feedback. Break this vicious circle and actively seek feedback. No need to defend yourself or make excuses and listen carefully to feedback, no matter how harsh. Use the feedback to develop the best plan for improving your abilities.
5. Don't overreact to failure (keep it in perspective)
Failure is a natural part of learning and improving, so don't overdo it when it happens to you.((Play Your Way Sane: 4 Games To Help You Get Better By Embracing Mistakes)) Try to keep failure in perspective so you don't fall to a fixed mindset.
6. Reflect and reconsider
Set aside time to reflect on your progress and plan how to improve. Remember that effort is only part of the true growth mindset. You also need to improve your strategy.
7. Don't Compare
When you compare yourself to others, it's easy to fall into a fixed mindset. We don't usually see the effort and perseverance of others, which is why this can lead to a fixed way of thinking. If someone seems naturally smart, you don't really know how much effort they put into learning. This is why comparing yourself to others is a fixed mindset trap.
8. Celebrate effort (process not product)
Finally, celebrate your efforts and perseverance. Treat yourself to how many piano classes you took or how you didn't give up when math got tough. If you're stuck on how good or bad you are, you may find yourself drifting back to this constant mindset.
Final thoughts on changing the fixed mindset
It's kind of nice to know that everyone experiences fixed mindset from time to time. However, we should not oversimplify the transition from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset. It takes more than focusing on effort. Do your best to notice when you start comparing yourself to others, making excuses, blaming others for your mistakes, and focus more on your shortcomings. This is all a fixed mindset trap. Instead, practice focusing on your efforts and strategies. How hard did you work? And is it time to change the game plan for learning and improvement? It is possible to change a fixed mindset as long as we are open and honest about what needs to be done and changed in ourselves.
More tips to improve your thinking
- 7 Characteristics of Highly Productive Thinking
- 8 Thinking Possibilities Books That Will Lead You to Success
- 10 Thinking Organized People That Make Them Successful
- 7 practical ways to change your mindset and change your life