Have you ever noticed how some people seem to achieve their goals so effortlessly? Everything seems easy for them, life just seems to work out, and they always succeed even when it seems at first that they won’t. It may seem unfair that life is a breeze for some people, while others seem to struggle to make even the smallest amount of progress. You may have wondered ‘what’s their secret?’ or ‘How do they do it?’. Well, have you ever considered that the biggest factor is your mindset and that your mind can either hold you back or make you successful?
Recent research in Positive Psychology has shown that our beliefs and attitudes about ourselves (our abilities, our capability, and our potential) can significantly impact our success and happiness. As is often the case, the answer to the question 'how do I get past my limiting thoughts and situations?' lies in shifting your mindset. To help you do this, today we are going to specifically examine the difference between a fixed mindset and a growth mindset, and why it may be the key perspective shift you need to create a life that you 100% love.
I had a discussion with a friend recently about the importance of having people around who have a good outlook on life. As my friend and I continued the conversation, I realised that a happy and upbeat person does not always take a beneficial or progressive view of their abilities, life, and goals. It is actually quite common for someone to be more optimistic, supportive and encouraging for other people than they are for themselves. How many of us have done this? How many of us have been quick to encourage someone else one minute, then doubted our own abilities the next? How many of us have decided that we won’t do something because we think we are not qualified or worthy enough? I know I have in the past. I believe this boils down to having a growth mindset instead of a fixed mindset.
Growth Mindset vs Fixed Mindset: What Do I Even Mean?
Let's start with the Fixed Mindset
This mindset is associated with thinking that you're born with a natural limit to your abilities. A person with a fixed mindset would believe that they can't progress or achieve a specific goal regardless of how hard they try, the amount of effort they put in, or the amount of time that passes. Imagine a fixed mindset as a glass ceiling that stops you from growing, improving, and learning new things. Commonly this mindset type is associated with negative thinking, but in some cases, it may not be quite so simple. A person can have a fixed mindset about their abilities, but they may also feel content with their life and what they have achieved. They may limit themselves yet decide to make the best of what they have, especially if they believe that they have reached the "peak" of what is possible for them. While this contentment does occasionally occur, it is far less likely than someone feeling frustrated, hindered, and upset that they cannot reach or manifest their goal.
I’m going to give you an example. It may sound a bit strange at first but stick with me and it will all make sense in the end.
Scenario: Imagine you're going on a road trip to somewhere beautiful. It's a bit of a journey but your SAT Nav is set, and the route doesn’t seem too difficult. You're passing through a city when suddenly the car runs out of petrol. You're almost at your destination, in fact you can see it in the distance, but things obviously aren’t going to plan. You get out of the car, really upset by how things have turned out, and decide that you can't go any further. You've used all of the petrol that you had put in the car before you left home, and you had no intention of getting to the destination in any other way. You decide you may never see the beautiful place you wanted to see, and you might as well go home.
Sounds strange? Maybe even a bit silly? Good, that was the point! It represents a very strong fixed mindset: being limited, having a fixed level of ability, no room for growth, very little persistence, reluctance to change, and being easily thrown off. The example is meant to be so fixed to a specific method to the point where it seems illogical. Remember the journey was passing through a city, so there would have been many opportunities to get more petrol or to find an alternative method to reach the destination. I hope the scenario made you question all of the choices the imaginary you was making: why would someone decide they can't go any further instead of just finding a solution? If we change out the beautiful destination for a goal that you would like to achieve and the car breaking down for a hurdle that has come your way (e.g. rejection, getting fired from a job, not getting onto a course you wanted to study, struggling with a new business), then the person sitting upset on the side of the road no longer seems illogical, right? But it’s the same exact thing as the example scenario. A fixed mindset will give up on what they want, but a growth mindset will find a way… even if that means learning how to fly!
Those with a fixed mindset generally:
Believe their intelligence and abilities are fixed traits
Fear failure and avoid taking risks
Give up easily when faced with obstacles
Are threatened by the success of others
Avoid challenges that may reveal their limitations
Take feedback personally and see it as criticism
View effort as a sign of weakness or inadequacy
Avoid effort and take shortcuts to achieve success
Believe that their abilities and traits are predetermined and cannot be changed
So, overall a person with a fixed mindset is more likely to fail a task because they believe that they do not have the abilities to complete it. They may believe that they are not smart enough and lack the natural ability to get the results they want.
Onto the Growth Mindset
In contrast, a Growth Mindset is associated with positive thinking and the belief that our abilities and potential can be developed. Someone with a growth mindset would complete the same task and view failure as an opportunity to learn, adjust, or try an alternative method. So if they have applied for a job but didn't get it, they would learn from the experience. It wouldn't mean giving up on having a job in that sector or even working for that specific company if that's what they really want. They would persist and grow from the experience. That doesn't mean that people with growth mindsets don't have rough days or find things difficult, they do! They just get back up after they've been knocked down and they don't let the circumstances determine what they can achieve. I've put the key characteristics in a nice little list for you, just for comparison:
Those with a growth mindset:
Embrace challenges and view them as opportunities for growth.
Believe that their abilities and intelligence can be developed over time through work and dedication.
Are persistent in the face of obstacles and setbacks.
Are open to learning and seek out new experiences and knowledge.
Take risks and are willing to step out of their comfort zone when inspired to.
Are not intimidated by the success of others, but rather see it as inspiration and motivation.
Welcome feedback as an opportunity to learn and improve.
Have a positive attitude and are optimistic about their future.
Are resilient and able to bounce back from failures and setbacks.
Let's play a little game! Guess which quotes are said from a growth mindset and which are from a fixed mindset. (Answers will be at the bottom of the post)
"I can't do it but everyone else can."- Growth or Fixed?
"You're just a natural at this, that's why you can do it."- Growth or Fixed?
"My technique may have been a bit off, but I've done some research and I'll try again." - Growth or Fixed?
"Maybe I'll give up. It was just not meant to be!" - Growth or Fixed?
"I don't care what happens, I want this and I will reach my goal!" - Growth or Fixed?
"I had a bad day, but I'll start again tomorrow." Growth or Fixed
Is it really that simple?
Yes! Someone with a fixed mindset may say 'oh but you're an expert, of course you would say that! You were just naturally talented and that's why you are where you are. I couldn't do what you've done.' That's not true, anyone can be where I am and know what I know. You can be just like your favourite celebrity, writer, idol, or the best version of you that you have in your mind.
If we take the nature side of the nature vs nurture argument (which argues that our biology has the biggest influence), this would not remove our ability to learn more effective, more successful, more logical, or more creative ways of doing things (even if we have a preference for one method over another). All it takes is a growth mindset: openness to new information, persistence when applying techniques, getting back up if things don't look like they're quite going to plan, viewing everything as a chance for growth and being your own cheerleader. You have to decide that you are having what you want and reaching your goal no matter what!
I have characteristics from both those lists...
And that's okay! It's often the case that we have a fixed mindset for some situations (e.g. relationships, money, academic success) but not for others (e.g. friendships, family, something you know you are great at with very little effort). Sit down and identify where you feel limited and what needs to change to shift your mindset. By recognising and shifting these negative and limiting thought patterns, you can unlock your potential and achieve greater success and happiness. It all starts with self awareness. Once you are aware of a fixed mindset in a specific area of your life, you can change it! You have all the power!
Do I Need to?
I've seen the real difference that mindset makes on whether or not someone succeeds or not. Clients come to me in difficult situations and we work on building a growth mindset and positive thought patterns. These clients are more likely to achieve their goals and manifest their desires than those who stay with a fixed mindset. Clients with strong growth mindset are now in happy relationships, they have the promotion or the new income stream, and they are living their best lives. It's not always easy to make the change, I know from personal experience, but persistence is needed to make a growth mindset the natural and normal state that your mind inhabits.
I really encourage you to try living with a growth mindset and applying the characteristics in the growth list to yourself and your life. With persistence, you will see a difference and you will start seeing the results that you want!
I hope this has helped give you some clarity on the types of mindsets and which is more beneficial. If you have been finding it difficult to know where to start, are feeling overwhelmed or want support and accountability, then I am here to help! Book a free discovery session or a coaching session with me today to learn how to cultivate a Growth Mindset and manifest the life you desire.
Dweck, C. S. (2006). Mindset: The new psychology of success. Random House.
Seligman, M. E. (2011). Flourish: A visionary new understanding of happiness and well-being. Free Press.
Fredrickson, B. L. (2009). Positivity: Top-notch research reveals the 3-to-1 ratio that will change your life. Three Rivers Press.
Diener, E., Lucas, R. E., & Oishi, S. (2002). Subjective well-being: The science of happiness and life satisfaction. Handbook of positive psychology, 63-73.
Answers: 1. Fixed, 2. Fixed, 3. Growth, 4. Fixed, 5. Growth, 6. Growth.