Growth Mindset vs Fixed Mindset
One of our most important assets in life is our mindset. A mindset is a belief people hold about themselves, their abilities, and their talents. Our mindset impacts our feelings and behaviors, relationships, achievement, learning, and overall well-being and success. Understanding growth mindset vs fixed mindset can help us lead healthier, happier, and more successful lives.
Carol Dweck, a psychologist and researcher at Stanford University, identifies two opposing viewpoints: growth mindset and fixed mindset. In this post, we’ll explore growth mindset vs fixed mindset, how to develop a growth mindset, and a few key strategies for teaching growth mindset to kids.
What Is a Fixed Mindset?
People who have a fixed mindset believe intelligence, talent, and personality don’t change or develop over time. They think that you’re either smart, or you’re not. You’re either good at something, or you aren’t.
This is a limiting mindset that discourages people from facing challenges or persisting in the face of failure.
What Is a Growth Mindset?
On the other hand, people with a growth mindset believe that qualities like talent and intelligence can grow and develop with practice and effort. They understand that the brain is like a muscle. The more “exercise” or practice you give it, the stronger it gets.
With a growth mindset, people are willing to tackle tough challenges, persist through obstacles and failure, and learn from their mistakes.
If we don’t believe in our potential for change and growth, we won’t ever embrace the challenges and opportunities growth requires. A fixed mindset is linked to avoiding challenges and fearing failure. This is because people with a fixed mindset see failure as confirmation of their limited intelligence or lack of talent.
Students with a fixed mindset give up easily, are threatened by the success of others, and don’t listen to feedback. They are often hard on themselves and easily discouraged, and they may struggle with confidence and self-worth. It’s difficult for these students to reach their goals because they give up on them as soon as failure seems like a possibility.
By contrast, people with a growth mindset understand that mistakes are simply lessons to learn. They go back to the drawing board and try again. They listen to feedback, try new strategies, and ask for help when it’s needed. People who have a growth mindset want to learn and build new skills, and they draw inspiration from the success of others.
Students with a growth mindset are more likely to confidently embrace challenges. They strive to develop their abilities through persistence and hard work. They’re willing to take risks and keep trying until they learn, improve, and reach their goals.
Strategies for Developing a Growth Mindset
Before it’s possible to teach growth mindset to kids, it’s important to internalize a growth mindset for yourself. So, how can adults develop a growth mindset?
First, it’s important to understand that growth mindset is a journey. Even if we understand what a growth mindset is and why we should have one, it’s not easy to reverse long-held beliefs about ourselves. Many of these beliefs are unconscious and were molded years ago, during childhood. It takes time to identify our limiting beliefs and work to change them, but there are several strategies that can help.
Find Your Fixed Mindset Triggers
Dweck explains that no one has a growth mindset all the time. We’re all sometimes triggered into a fixed mindset. It’s helpful to pinpoint your fixed mindset triggers. For instance, hearing about someone else’s success is a potential trigger. You may also be triggered by challenges that are outside of your comfort zone.
Pay attention to what’s happening when you have fixed mindset thoughts. What specific experiences trigger these thoughts? Reflect on why these experiences trigger fixed mindset beliefs for you. Then, practice shifting your mindset. Instead of thinking, “I’ll never be as successful as him/her,” think, “If I keep working hard, I can succeed too.” If it’s too hard for you to completely shift your thinking at first, try simply questioning your fixed mindset beliefs. Ask yourself, “What if that’s not true?”
Learning about neuroplasticity can help you understand that growth mindset isn’t just a feel-good concept. It’s based on brain science.
Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to change and grow over time, even into old age. When brain neurons are activated in a pattern, it becomes faster and easier for the brain to follow the same pattern again. The more you use your brain to complete a task, the more the brain remembers the task, making it easier and easier for your brain to successfully complete it each time.
Brains aren’t static. Challenges and repeated practice help our brains build pathways for future use. We can improve our intelligence and our abilities; it just takes time and repetition. For many adults, understanding the science behind growth mindset makes it easier to embrace.
Venture Outside of Your Comfort Zone
One of the best ways to overcome any fear is to face it head on. This concept applies to the fear of failure too. Try challenges outside of your comfort zone, and push yourself to stretch your intelligence and abilities.
In some cases, you’ll succeed. And even if you don’t, you’ll learn that challenges and even failure aren’t as scary as you first believed. You’ll also train your brain to become more accepting of tackling tough tasks.
When you make mistakes or fall short of your goal, journal about what you learned and what you’ll do differently next time. In this way, you’ll reframe failures as opportunities to learn—not catastrophic confirmations of your inability to succeed.
Use the Power of “Yet”
The power of “yet” is a very simple strategy to build growth mindset. Instead of telling yourself you can’t do something, or you won’t reach a goal, tell yourself it hasn’t happened “yet.” Again, you’re training your brain to be hopeful and future focused.
You’ll learn to focus on solutions instead of problems. And you’ll begin to believe that you don’t need to give up. You can overcome setbacks and failures on your path to success.
Key Strategies for Teaching Growth Mindset to Kids
Once you’ve developed your own growth mindset, you can help foster growth mindset in children too. Helpful strategies include:
- Read growth mindset picture books. Picture books are a fun, effective way to encourage kids to internalize new concepts. Read about growth mindset with your kids, then discuss how they can apply the concept to their own lives and challenges.
- Use examples. Help children come up with examples of tasks that were once challenging, like learning to read or riding a bike. Talk about how with practices, these challenges became easier. Now, reading or riding a bike feel almost automatic. That’s because they built a pathway in the brain, and the same process can work for almost any task—even the ones that seem hard right now. These bell ringers have many examples and strategies incorporated into the daily growth mindset tasks.
- Use analogies. Growth mindset is a bit of an abstract term, so applying analogies makes it easier for children to understand. Building pathways in the brain is like building a bridge to cross a canyon, or like creating a walkable path through overgrown grass. The first time you walk through the grass, it’s going to be really difficult. But the more you walk the path, the easier it gets. Eventually, there will be a clear path through the tall grass, just like your brain will eventually learn to easily do a hard task.
- Emphasize the process. The learning process is more important than outcomes. Praise students for their effort and progress, emphasizing that hard work and practice lead to growth, because making mistakes is a part of a learning process. It’s not about being the best in the class, it’s about getting better and better every day.
- Provide concrete strategies. At the same time, avoid empty praise for effort. We don’t want it to feel like a consolation prize or suggest to students that we don’t believe in their abilities. Instead, it’s better to focus on exactly how effort can lead to progress. Give students concrete strategies, like asking for help, utilizing available resources, and trying a different approach.
For adults and children, our mindset determines our potential, persistence, and confidence. It shapes our willingness to try new things, keep trying when we encounter setbacks and failure, and believe in our ability to change, learn, and grow.
With a growth mindset, students feel inspired to take risks and persist until they reach their goals. They develop confidence, curiosity, resilience, and a love of learning. All of these qualities are essential to well-being and achievement. Start by developing a growth mindset for yourself, then help instill this mindset in children with picture books, examples, analogies, an emphasis on the learning process, and concrete strategies. With a growth mindset, your students can dream and grow without limits.
Start out with a sample of the free growth mindset bell ringers so that you can start implementing growth mindset activities in your classroom in 10 minutes or less a day. Also I have many growth mindset posters, activities, and literature units for a variety of grade levels in my TPT store.