Set for success? Perhaps a growth mindset may help you out

By Roberta Attanasio, STEMM Leadership Editor

Mindset (Merriam-Webster) — 1: a mental attitude or inclination; 2: a fixed state of mind

Mindset (Cambridge Dictionary) — a person’s way of thinking and their opinions

In decision theory and general systems theory, 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. This phenomenon is also sometimes described as mental inertia, “groupthink”, or a “paradigm.”

However, one’s mindset and group’s mindsets may change over time—they’re formed through life experiences and emotional milestones starting at an early age. As new experiences come up, with practice it’s possible to look at these experiences differently, thus facilitating a mindset shift.

Photo by Josh Riemer on Unsplash

Perhaps the most talked-about mindsets are the “fixed mindset” and the “growth mindset.” Our understanding of these two mindsets, or core beliefs, relies on the groundbreaking, decades-long research of Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck. In her book “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success”, Dweck explains the results of her research, which crosses the boundaries of personal, social and developmental psychology.

She found that the ability to succeed in any kind of endeavor is dramatically influenced by how we think about our intelligence, talents and abilities—and the way we approach challenges—as reflected in either the fixed or the growth mindsets. These mindsets drive much of our behavior and our relationship with success and failure, thus affecting all aspects of our life. People with a fixed mindset believe that abilities are fixed—in other words, they believe that their intelligence, talents and abilities cannot change and evolve. In contrast, people with a growth mindset believe that effort leads to success. Under the fixed mindset point of view, you achieve success because you’re talented; under the growth mindset point of view, you achieve success because you’re developing yourself.

A few years after the publication of her book, Dweck said: “Society is obsessed with the idea of talent and genius and people who are ‘naturals’ with innate ability. People who believe in the power of talent tend not to fulfill their potential because they’re so concerned with looking smart and not making mistakes. But people who believe that talent can be developed are the ones who really push, stretch, confront their own mistakes and learn from them.” Over the years, Dweck’s ideas have gained wide popularity and have been successfully implemented by schools and companies.  

Here are some of the good news—”Mindsets are themselves malleable. Praising children’s effort rather than their intelligence, for example, can help instill a growth mindset. And simply reading about the brain’s plasticity might be enough to shift people’s mindsets and generate beneficial effects.”

Another important concept developed by Dweck is the “Power of Yet.” Think in these terms: you may feel you’re not making progress towards your goals—this does not mean you can’t, it just means you’re not there yet. When faced with personal challenges, think through the power of yet. It may help shift your mindset, and by adding that simple and powerful word — yet — you may help your brain to respond differently to the challenge at hand.

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5 comments

  1. The growth mindset is a concept that I learned from my MCAT teacher while I was studying for the test. It was one of the first things I learned. Saying affirmations such as “I don’t know this information… yet,” set my mind up to be open to growth. This a technique I wished I used more during my time of studying. As my test date grew closer and closer, I totally threw my growth mindset out of the window. I feel as though I shouldn’t have done this because this could have saved me from a lot of unnecessary stress and unrealistic expectations. I got to a point in my studying where I couldn’t learn anything anymore and I didn’t understand why. Looking back, I can only attribute that to my mindset. My mindset no longer allowed me to learn and if I came across anything that seemed too hard I easily gave up on it. If I used the growth mindset, I would have been able to be more open to the challenges I faced and I may not have needed to retake my MCAT.

  2. I’ve heard about fixed and growth mindsets from several classes I took in the past. Many of the professors like to implement a growth mindset onto the students before diving into the course. They do not want the students to be discouraged in the class as they work through the semester. I think this method was excellent because not only did I pass the course, but I also viewed myself differently. I’ve been told by a friend of mine multiple times that I have a fixed mindset, and it will hold me back if I do not try to develop a better mindset. At first, I did not believe such nonsense, but after learning more about fixed and growth mindsets, I found what my friend said to be true. Many of my thoughts and feelings fit the descriptions of a fixed mindset individual would say about themselves. This fixed mindset of mines is also a weakness that I need to improve on. As an in-training leader in science, I am walking a path full of rocks and pebbles, and I do not hope to walk a path of obstacles and come out fine. People expect me to trip and fall, but I can not be discouraged by failures and mistakes. Leaders with a growth mindset do not let a downfall stop them from pursuing their goals because they know failure or mistake is just another opportunity to improve themselves and their goals. A growth mindset is what I’m working on, and a leader is what I’m trying to become.

  3. In my opinion, a growth mindset is crucial to maintain. Being raised in communities that only praise you for your success, it is not so surprising that many of us grow up to become individuals with fixed mindsets, believing that if we don’t have the ability for something, we will not succeed. Of course, this is not true! There is a saying that you are your worst enemy. Only you are holding yourself back when you let pessimism get to you. I know this all too well. A friend of mines has this issue. Whenever he experiences failure, he says, “It must be because I’m dumb.” In the contrary, he is extremely intelligent in everything he does, but his fixed mindset has held him back from truly trying. If we want to be successful, we start by developing and nurturing a growth mindset. Instead of berating ourselves, we should continue our efforts to achieve the goal we are so eager to pursue. Believe in what Dweck calls the “power of yet.” You are technically not failing; you just haven’t achieved the goal YET. Of course, there’s also the issue of being realistic. If you have put your utmost effort and still do not get the results, then it may be time for some changes. But if you never truly tried, how could you tell yourself that you’re not good enough for what you want?

  4. This was an amazing piece on what is one of the driving forces for the current state or outcome of many people in the world. Whether being something that is driving them toward success, or something they feel is an obstacle holding them back from getting to the next or final step of their personal journey to feeling accomplished. The way a persons mindset is fortified, like “the law of attraction” is both a sub-conscious and conscious thing that reinforces or breaks down or believes, strengths and weaknesses.
    I wondered as I was reading through this article if is ideal or technically even possible to have both a fixed mindset and a growth mindset. Can you have both at the same time or is it possible to switch between the two depending the requirement’s the situation dictates. I feel as if to some regard that I have both. I feel very convicted and fixed in my ability and intellectual capacity because of my natural God given talent. But I also feel like it is my job to consistently grow and develop ones core qualities.

  5. I believe very strongly in the growth mindset and the concept of “Power of Yet”. The two statements from above “people with a growth mindset believe that effort leads to success” and “under the growth mindset point of view, you achieve success because you’re developing yourself” is critical in understanding the differences between fixed and growth. To be successful as a leader in science, a person must be able to put in the effort to work hard at what they are doing and also focus on developing themselves and others in the process. This is what will lead you to success. Setting insurmountable goals or expecting people to behave in a certain way will not aid in the growth mindset. I believe setting “step goals” will help you improve and develop yourself further. Being able to achieve a step goal (small step goals that lead to your overall goal) will give you encouragement and therefore help you to continue to apply the effort needed and also allow yourself to learn and grow more along the way. This will also help you overcome potential failures (learning opportunities) and roadblocks that may “highjack” your goal. This in turn will help you to continue on your self development journey and become a true leader.

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