Mindset. It’s become somewhat of a buzzword. We say things like, “I wasn’t in the right mindset to do X,” or “I want to change my mindset,” but what do we really mean when we use the term? Based on the way we speak about mindset, apparently one’s mindset has a significant effect on outcomes in life. Precisely. Mindset is powerful.
In 2006, Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D., published her findings from over ten years of research in her work Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. Dweck focused her research on why people succeed and how to foster success by evaluating individuals’ perceptions of their abilities. In Mindset, Dr. Dweck summarizes her findings by identifying two types of mindset apparent in her subjects: fixed mindset and growth mindset. Contrary to the fixed mindset, the growth mindset is the key to success and to fulfilling one’s full potential.
Mindsets are beliefs about one’s abilities and qualities. A “mindset,” as we often refer to it (“I wasn’t in the right mindset.”) is a set of beliefs about oneself that we choose. Mindset is in one’s control, and it can absolutely be shifted. And, if you’re in the fixed mindset, shifting to adopt a growth mindset can lead to a greater sense of accomplishment in all aspects of life.
Traits of a Fixed Mindset
- Primary belief that one’s “basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits.”
- Success is a result of talent and “brains,” rather than effort.
- Loss of motivation and productivity.
- Interior dialogue is judging: “My qualities, traits, and skills are fixed and unchangeable; I was born this way and my brains and talents are set.”
- Consequence: “I must always prove that I have desirable qualities, skills and knowledge…if I can’t, I will fail/lose/be rejected.”
Traits of a Growth Mindset
- Primary belief that one’s “most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work – brains and talent are just the starting point.”
- Success is a result of learning, embracing challenges and developing resilience.
- Increase in motivation and productivity.
- Interior dialogue is growth-oriented: “My qualities, traits, and skills can be developed and changed through my own dedication and effort; I was born with brains and talent upon which I can build and grow.”
- Consequence: “I can always develop and cultivate my basic skills through application and experience because I will always be discovering my true potential.”
So, Dweck proposes one self-reflective question to determine one’s general mindset:
“Think about your intelligence, talents, and personality. Are they just fixed or can you develop them?”
If your answer to this question is, “My intelligence, talents, and personality are fixed,” this is – surprise! – the fixed mindset. If your answer to this question is the contrary, “I can develop my intelligence, talents, and personality,” this is the growth mindset. This is a very simple way to identify mindset, but if you’d like to test your mindset more extensively, take this brief 16-question quiz available on Dr. Carol Dweck’s website about her work Mindset.
…But what about genes and environment? Or the discussion of nature or nurture? How do these concepts affect mindset? Neuroscientist Gilbert Gottlieb explains that genes and environment develop in parallel cooperation, genes taking information from the environment and vice versa. Naturally, everyone is endowed with a certain genetic predisposition (temperaments and aptitudes), but what mindset theory asserts is that experience, practice, and effort build upon those genetic traits. Similarly, an individual can alter his or her environment with motivation, determination and effort. Basically, mindset theory maintains that purposeful engagement and prolonged learning is a greater determinant for whether or not people achieve success. One’s potential is not based on fixed prior ability such as genes.
We can all fall into a fixed mindset sometimes. It’s easy to judge oneself if a mistake occurs or a challenge or problem arises – in work, at school, in a relationship, with a project. To shift that fixed mindset voice that more or less sounds like, “I can’t. It’s impossible. There’s no use trying again. I don’t have the skills/knowledge/talents." make an effort to:
- Recognize that this fixed mindset voice is there in the first place.
Do you see potential options or doomed outcomes?
- Recognize that you have a choice.
Do you see setbacks as a personal weakness or as an opportunity for greater effort to develop skills?
- Counter the fixed mindset voice with a growth mindset voice.
For example, change the dialogue from:
FIXED MINDSET: “I could have done [X] ‘right’ if I had the skill.” (fixed mindset)
GROWTH MINDSET: “I can only do [X] ‘right’ if I try again and put in a little more effort/time/work/patience.”
- Act on the voice of the growth mindset.
Proclaim: “I will fully embrace challenges, try again, and learn from setbacks!”
Ultimately, the mindset voice you choose to hear – that internal dialogue we all undeniably have and heed – is your choice of mindset. Will you continue to tell yourself that you are a finite being, incapable of growth, change and improvement? Or will you embrace, learn from, and be humbled by challenges and difficulties so that you may work towards your full potential, moving towards success?
Mindset is a choice, and it is all yours.