“In the fixed mindset, when you fail; you're a failure. In the growth mindset, when you fail; you're learning.” - Carol Dweck
Do you believe talent or hard work is the key to success? Some might say it’s both. It turns out the key to your own success is what you believe when it comes to your own capabilities.
Many of us suffer from what Carol Dwerk calls a Fixed Mindset. It is a belief that ability and intelligence is fixed, not grown through practice. If you’ve ever said, “I’m not good at math,” that’s a great example of a fixed mindset at work.
The opposite of the fixed mindset is the growth mindset, which inherits the belief that abilities are stretched and grown through challenge and, yes, even failure.
Dwerk’s research has found that people, young and old alike, adhere to a growth or fixed mindset about their own abilities. Her studies have found that people who believe intelligence is genetic and set, vs. learned and pliable, become victims of self sabotage.
She says, “Believing that your qualities are carved in stone — the fixed mindset — creates an urgency to prove yourself over and over. If you have only a certain amount of intelligence, a certain personality, and a certain moral character — well, then you’d better prove that you have a healthy dose of them. It simply wouldn’t do to look or feel deficient in these most basic characteristics.”
This translates into fixed mindset folks being overly concerned about appearing competent to others and affirming the self. Understandably, these people are less apt to take risk because failure is a catastrophic blow to the ego, which is occupied with proving it has fundamental worth.
However, when you believe your capabilities, intelligence and creativity can be cultivated through learning and practice, failure and risk are simply stepping stones and not stones thrown at self worth.
Dwerk asserts that it is this fundamental view of the self that fuels a person’s resilience and perseverance. And brain scans confirm that perseverance is related to mindset. This research from Michigan State reveals that brain scans reflect mindset when analyzing students in a lab.
People were given an incredibly difficult problem to solve, so that they were guaranteed to make mistakes. Those with fixed mindsets, when given a problem intentionally beyond their abilities, showed markedly less activity in processing neurons. In other words, they simply shut down when faced with challenge. The growth mindset subjects, however, had neuron's firing full tilt as they approached the difficult problem and made mistakes. They were interested in solving it, regardless of failure.
The key steps include recognizing the fixed mindset voice in your head and then recognizing that your mindset is a choice. From there, correcting internal dialogue is key.
As an example, your fixed mindset voice may say: "If I fail at this, I'll be the laughing stock of my family. Again."
So your growth mindset voice must correct this thinking and say: “If I don't try this, I fail before I even begin. No dignity in that. Better to be a risk taker and learner than a quitter."
After retraining fixed mindset verbal defaults, you can move forward. Experts agree that when you do, practice taking criticism as feedback, seeing challenge as opportunity and celebrating the process as you develop a love of learning.
It’s okay if you don’t get it right away. Take on a growth mindset about learning to change your fixed mindset. You can do it!