Growth vs. Fixed Mindset: Unlocking Your Full Potential


Are you the kind of person who treats failure as a learning experience? Or does not succeeding devastate you?

Your answer to that question is a strong indicator as to whether you have a growth mindset or a fixed mindset, a dichotomy coined by Carol Dweck, Ph.D., a psychology professor at Stanford.

First things first: What is mindset? Here’s Wikipedia’s definition:

A mindset is a set of assumptions, methods, or notations held by one or more people or groups of people that is so established that it creates a powerful incentive within these people or groups to continue to adopt or accept prior behaviors, choices or tools

In other words, your mindset governs the choices you make. It governs how you live your life.

Decades of mindset research

Dweck has spent decades trying to figure out what motivates people. In 2006, she released Mindset: The New Psychology of Success where she argued that success and productivity are not solely rooted in the talents and skills we’re born with. How we treat those characteristics is what really matters.

In her extensive research, Dweck has argued that growth mindsets are more desirable. Instead of thinking that there’s a finite limit to how much can be achieved, those with growth mindsets believe that education is truly a lifelong endeavor, that they can keep becoming better iterations of themselves.

Yes, some people are inherently more talented than others. But Dweck also discovered that praising people’s innate characteristics can actually be detrimental to their success.

When a child aces test after test after test, for example, it’s common for teachers and parents to congratulate him or her on a job well done. But such praise can actually encourage kids to avoid putting themselves in situations where they’re actually challenged. Accustomed to success, they become afraid of making mistakes to the point they stop trying something new. It turns out that praise for innate skills—like intelligence—actually solidifies a fixed mindset.

In a separate study—which Dweck discussed in a recent TED talk—10-year-old students were given problems that were a few years beyond their abilities. Instead of being turned off by the difficult of these problems, the kids were invigorated. They embraced the challenge.

The sum of Dweck’s research reveals that those of us who believe our intelligence can expand ad infinitum (i.e., growth mindset) produce better results than those of us who believe intelligence is limited (i.e., fixed mindset). While such a sentiment might not be the most original idea in the world, Dweck succeeds because she supports her thesis with extensive research—the first to do so. Her work has undoubtedly inspired a number of new mindset-focused books as well, including The Power of Habit and Gorilla Mindset.

Which mindset do you have?

Are you aware of which mindset you’re governed by? If not, take this test to find out.

If you happen to take the quiz only to find out you have a fixed mindset, it’s not the end of the world. Here’s the best part: You have the ability to change your mindset whenever you want to.

Yes, some people are born with more innate skills than others. We all know the kids in class who breezed through school without spending much time on homework or studying.

But just because you may not be as innately gifted as some folks doesn’t mean you need to stifle your intelligence. Your brain, just like every other muscle in your body, needs exercise.

This all is not to say you should expect to become as influential as someone like Elon Musk or Louis CK by reading a few books or telling a few jokes. Rather, the true potential of any individual is impossible to define—particularly when you look decades into the future. We have the ability to reinvent ourselves and improve ourselves every day. The only thing that holds us back is our mindset.

Change your outlook on life and the way you view yourself, and you’ll see the world from a completely new angle. Instead of feeling overwhelmed when you encounter something you don’t understand or you’re not great at, you’ll begin to see that effort leads to mastery—not futility.

You’re in control of the way you perceive your abilities. Don’t let a defeatist mentality prevent you from reaching your full potential. If you’re stuck in life—either personally or professionally—it’s time to make some changes. Give it a shot. Buy a book on a topic that interests you. Try your hand at a new craft. Pick up a musical instrument.

Today is yet another new day. You are right here right now, and there’s a whole world out there filled with things you don’t know, things you’ve never even heard of. Don’t be scared. Dive in. Adopt a growth mindset and improve yourself. Become a better friend, a better thinker, a better conversationalist, a better worker and a better lover.

What do you have to lose?

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