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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  1. Growth vs. Fixed mindset develops in a person from a young age. What our parents teach us is essential for developing either one. The challenges of a fixed mindset are hard to cope with when a person is led to believe that they are only gifted with skills, and those skills can not be grown over time. It is necessary to develop a growth mindset because it allows people to acquire essential knowledge as they work towards their future goals. A growth mindset will make a person a better leader than a fixed mindset. A leader with a growth mindset would be willing to grow themselves and learn the skills needed to be a better and responsible leader. A fixed mindset can make a person a leader, but it can not increase over time. Coming from a culture where a fixed mindset is appreciated over a growth mindset, it is a struggle to transform one’s way of thinking when all a person has learned over the years is that they only have particular skills. It becomes worse when parents start comparing those “fixed mindset” traits with traits of other “fixed mindset” children, which they consider to be far superior to their children.

  2. I believe that your mindset is something that changes over time specially as you grow up and thank god for that. I cannot imagine what the world would be like if our mindsets never changed because that would also mean you would never grow. I think it is very important for future generations to grow up with the growth mindset and the best way to do so is to through educating parents and teachers. Educating parents is a little bit harder because they have to read about it themselves but educating teachers should be easier. The growth mindset could be implemented in the training of new teachers and could be added to the retraining of old teachers. Teachers play an important part in forming the mind of the youth and teaching them to praise hard work versus talent could change the mindset of all future generations.

  3. I agree in setting “step goals” to achieve the overall goals is a helpful way to stay motivated. During a time in a pandemic, it may be hard for people to set goals because they have lost motivation during this hard time. Small goals will allow them to start, and eventually, become encouraged to continue to achieve. A growth mindset allows people to change and become successful which it why it is an important leadership skill. Leaders never give up when faced with difficulties or failures. They use these opportunities to grow.

  4. Changing your mindset can be a powerful tool in helping with someone’s success. I agree that it is important to know that you mindset can grow and change. The belief that one can change and grow their mindset allows them to achieve great things. I learned that mindset is important in leaders. Having a mindset that allows one to learn from failures, or managing the negative self-talk allows one to be able to become a good leader. Many people have good ideas, but sometimes do not put in the effort to reach their full potential. Changing they way we teach children or praise children could change the mindset at a young age which allows them to have a growth mindset earlier. Their leadership skills could start off an earlier age which could possibly help in their careers and future aspirations.

  5. I agree that a growth mindset is essential for success because having a growth mindset help to see failures and challenges as opportunities to grow and learn from them. Since mindsets are formed through experiences, they would change over time because we would look at those experiences from different perspectives. So, it is important to have a growth mindset rather than a fixed mindset because having a fixed mindset causes to avoid failures and challenges, ignore useful feedback and criticism, and inability to realize change. It is important to have a growth mindset, especially for those who are in different fields of science, because a fixed mindset is limiting and does not allow you to succeed. Changing from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset would not be easy, and it required practices as well as taking some time. Those who are successful leaders in science have a growth mindset because they work to develop their abilities while believing that effort leads to success; getting organized, improving the ability to learn, and specifying goals help through developing ourselves. Therefore, those with a growth mindset are more successful because they see their failures as an opportunity to improve and get better. Also, believe in the “power of yet” developed by Dweck because if you can not do it now, it doe not mean that you can not do it at all, but it means that you can not do it yet. So, using the word “yet” helps to shift a mindset and start changing to a growth mindset. 

  6. I believe a growth mindset is necessary for success, be in career or life in general. I was looking into IQ tests and who is the most genius person in the world, and I felt mediocre compared to the talent that numerous people have showcased. There are children who have a higher IQ than me, and I think this is where fixed mindset comes from. If I believe that I cannot achieve much in life just because I have an average IQ, that is basically fixed mindset. I am not allowing myself to develop mentally, physically, or emotionally. However, our IQ level can change with time and the more we develop, the more we influence it. This is where growth mindset is really important, to believe that we can achieve success after hard work and struggle, and that success doesn’t come to those who do nothing but wait idly for it.

    • Hello Laiba,
      Talent alone is not just enough in the pursuit or advancement of once career goals. If you take a look in the society; entrepreneurs, sportsmen/women etc, the majority succeeded with little talent, a lot of hard work and self belief. Several people never reached their true potential because they believed and relied heavily on their talent. The growth mindset makes your understand that everything is possible but you must sacrificed something in return. If you have a high IQ and spend two hours a week studying and I have an average IQ and spend six hours a week studying, the results will always favour the latter. The growth mindset is a powerful tool.

  7. I think the growth mindset is very compelling and it’s something I have never heard verbalized. I think most people express a fixed and growth mindset. For example occasionally when I do poorly on a test I know that it’s not due to my intelligence. I know that I need to study differently next time and for longer. On occasion if I get a few consecutive bad grades, then I might question my intelligence. I think it’s easier to have a fixed mindset because it is harder to hold yourself accountable to grow and change. Sometimes it is easier to blame a circumstance on a fixed thing, something that feels out of our control. It’s harder to take full responsibility for something that could change if we maybe put in more time or effort. Everyone is capable of a growth mindset and I think sometimes life forces us into having one no matter what. Circumstances change, things get harder, or a multitude of other things force us to grow at some point. If you have a fixed mindset, things not going your way may feel like things are piling against you. People who with a growth mindset will choose these as an opportunity to improve, get better, and not be a victim of circumstance.

    • Hello Victoria, It is possible that some people can not grow in particular talents, but if they were unable to produce, they might naturally be uninterested. If they have the capacity for growth, then a fixed mindset would never let them do it. You might be right that sometimes it is more than changing our mindset, but I believe that our mindset is not the only factor to be considered when that is the situation.

  8. The fixed mindset is a very serious problem that many people are oblivious about and that is the dangerous part of it; not knowing. I was a victim when I graduated from high school into college. I struggled to replicate the same academic excellence I produced in high school. I did not understand why a smart person like me or as I was made to believe should be making low grades. I never availed myself for the new challenges that came with college or accepted the responsibility that smart people still have to work hard. I still did not understand what was going on with me but I was lucky to work with my undergrad PI who mentored and practically dragged me to graduate school. I only learnt of the types of mindsets and their effects on our work output when I was going through training as an instructor for a course and now on this delightful blog. Learning about the growth mindset was a revelation and looking back, I realised I was just fighting a cold war with my mind. I have espoused the growth mindset and it has changed how I think. These days; I’m like bring it on! I am ready for any challenge knowing that I might not win “YET” but eventually! Graduate school is better already.

  9. I believe having a growth mindset is really important for a successful career. Even if you fail, having a growth mindset will allow you to see it as an opportunity to learn and do better. I find myself sometimes having a fixed mindset as I go along through courses I take and I see students succeeding while I struggle. I would see my struggles as a limit in my abilities. However, I have learned that having that type of fixed mindset will not help you succeed from those failures, and if you are able to change your mindset; it will help you in the long run in achieving your career goals. Being in a STEM career is not easy, many people will fail along the way. However it’s those people who have a growth mindset that will truly succeed from those failures. In this blog post, it mentions how the power of the word “yet” can impact your mindset, and I strongly believe in this. I want to go to medical school, and the journey to getting accepted and becoming a doctor is long and hard. Whenever I am feeling stuck in my tracks or feeling as if my pathway is not the “typical” one etc.; I remind myself of the word yet. I am not in medical school, yet. I am not a doctor, yet. However, I will get there because it is my ultimate goal.

    • Hi Roya,

      I wanted to know your thoughts on the fixed mindset. From the text we see that a fixed mindset means that you don’t think your intelligence, talents and abilities cannot change and evolve. You show that you are aware that you have exhibited fixed mindsets in the past, so do you think that by exhibiting this awareness that you show a growth mindset? How does this awareness affect your goal to be a doctor?

  10. This is my first time actually hearing about the two types of mindsets, and I’m glad to now know about them. I can now recall the plenty of times where I had the fixed mindset, which was the reason as to why I remained stagnant in my endeavors. The mind and your thoughts are such powerful things, and it can trick you into thinking you are incapable and inadequate. I say no more. I realize that this mindset tends to be extremely prominent in my studies as a student. Being a student comes with alot of obstacles and you will face setbacks, but it is important to never forget where you are trying to go. I remember taking Organic Chemistry I, and coming into it with built up anxiety, because of the opinions of people who had already taken the course. They mentioned it being extremely hard and difficult, and that the course took time and lots of practice. I thought sure, nothing I can’t handle. Fast forwarding to the week approaching the first exam, I had been studying rigorously but some concepts just did not click. I then began to think that I just couldn’t and won’t understand the information. I thought I tried my best and gave up at that moment. Obviously, I did bad on the exam. I had no hope, and it showed. After reading this article, I look back at the many times I was in predicaments like the one that occurred in my Orgo class, and I now realize that the problem the whole time was me and my way of thinking.
    I believe that if I begin to implement the growth mindset in all the facets of my life, I will see positive results.

    I also believe that the obsession that people have with the idea of talent is something that we all need to discuss. This is an issue I believe is prominent in everyone’s life. We live in a world that idolizes talent. People say they respect hard work, but do they? This part of the article reminded me of the saying, “Hard work beats talent when talent fails to work hard.”

    All in all, this was a great read!

  11. 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.

  12. 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.

  13. 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?

    • Hi Cindy,
      Excellent insight! When you mentioned your friend, I can see how he portrays a fixed mindset because I think and feels the same way he does whenever I experience failure. I could say that I also have a fixed mindset, as I tend to look down on myself very often. After reading the post on the growth mindset and the comments, I feel that instead of look down on myself, I should be developing and moving forward. If I keep looking down on myself, I’ll never be able to surpass my limits. And life is full of mistakes and failures; it’s not the success that makes you grow, but the mistakes and failures you’ve experienced and the ability to overcome them is what truly makes you grow.

    • Hi Quyen,
      I am glad that you’ve realized why it’s so important to have a growth mindset. Like I tell my friend all the time, you can only succeed if you learn from your mistakes. Don’t berate yourself after every failure; use that as a learning opportunity. Best wishes to you in your career!

  14. 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.

  15. 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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