Growth vs. Fixed Mindset: What's the difference?

By Lauren Grzina

6 April 2021

Did you know that the way we think about ourselves and our abilities affects the way we learn and what we achieve? Well, it’s true, which is why having the right mindset when approaching challenges, tasks and learning is so important.

Mindsets can be simplified into two different ways of thinking; Growth Mindset and Fixed Mindset.

What are Growth and Fixed Mindsets?
While the human brain stops developing in childhood, it doesn’t mean that the brain doesn’t evolve or stops learning. Some people believe that your intelligence, talents, skills, ability and capacities are immovable once you’re out of childhood. This is a fixed mindset and it doesn’t do you any favours. However, research has proven otherwise.

A growth mindset is when you believe you can learn, improve and change your intelligence, talents, skills and abilities. This mindset is important for all situations.

Those with a fixed mindset believe they cannot change their personal traits and abilities no matter the amount of effort they put in. They are more likely to:
1) Avoid challenges
2) Give up easily
3) Ignore feedback from others or take feedback as a personal attack
4) Feel threatened or envious of other people’s success
5) Believe putting in effort is fruitless
6) Believe they are either good at it or not
7) Stick to what they know
8) Stay inside their comfort zone
9) Believe failure shows the limit of their abilities
10) Believe potential is predetermined
11) Avoid change

People who adopt a growth mindset believe that with some effort and learning, they can improve their talents and abilities. They are more likely to:
1) Learn from their failures
2) Take on board constructive criticism and feedback
3) Embrace challenges
4) Try, try and try again
5) Believe effort is needed for mastery
6) Views other people’s success as inspirational
7) Embrace lifelong learning
8) Believe skills and talents can be learnt and strengthen
9) Have an open mind
10) Take opportunities, even if they seem difficult
11) Find motivation from within

Why does a Growth Mindset work?
When people tell themselves they can’t achieve something, they often will fail. This then affirms in their mind they were right and they can’t achieve that thing. This is called a self-fulfilling prophecy. This kind of thinking, as discussed before, leads to no growth or improvement in skill.

Having a growth mindset makes you understand that you will most likely not succeed on your first try at something new. It gives you the resilience and persistence you need to continue trying and putting in effort until you get to the competency or mastery of that skill or ability that you are after. It also gives a thicker skin that allows you to view feedback as important and necessary information for growth, rather than as a personal attack.

How to change your mindset: Developing a Growth Mindset

Realise you can do it
By understanding that your brain is malleable and is built to learn it is easier to foster a Growth Mindset. If you need more convincing or want to know more about the neuroscientific facts or research surrounding Growth and Fixed Mindsets there are many books, podcasts, youtube videos, articles, courses, events and even coaching that you can find value from.

Stay motivated and accountable
For someone who hasn’t had much experience getting over challenges and failure, it can be hard to face. Without motivation or accountability, it can be pretty easy to fall back on past habits and get overwhelmed by the challenge. Instead, set smaller ‘bitesize’ goals that are like stepping stones to your larger goal. This can make the challenge seem less overwhelming and more achievable while also reducing burnout. Rewards can also help motivate you to achieve your goals. Set a small reward at every smaller goal, then a larger reward for when you completely accomplish your goals. However, rewarding only works if you are disciplined and stick to your reward system. Telling friends and family is a good way to keep you accountable, as they can help keep you focused and disciplined along your journey. Note: Write out all your goals and the steps you’ll take to achieve them, also write down how you’ll reward yourself when you achieve each step.

Get out of your comfort zone
Sometimes learning and growing requires some discomfort and getting out of your comfort zone. Know that it takes some time adjusting, but once you’ve had that experience, your comfort zone has expanded and you’ve learnt something.

Further Reading
Here is a short list of articles that further explore the topic of Growth and Fixed Mindsets, they go into depth about the neuroscience and research behind these mindsets and how they can affect your life and your achievements.

Fixed vs Growth Mindsets: The Two Basic Mindsets that Shape Our Lives. By Brain Picking:

Growth Mindset vs Fixed Mindset: How what you think affects what you achieve. By Mindset Health:

Remember, just telling yourself you can do it, isn’t enough to change and improve; positive self-talk needs to be accompanied by effort, learning and an open mind.

Growth vs. Fixed Mindset: What's the difference?