Have you ever felt like something was impossible for you? Have you ever quit something you used to enjoy because it got too difficult? Have you ever looked at someone else and thought, how can they be so good at that?
At some point in their lives, most people question whether they have enough talent to succeed at their goals. At a young age, many people inadvertently learn that some people are talented and others are not, that that’s just how it is. It can be heartbreaking to think you’re not up for the task — but what if it didn’t have to be like that?
Motivation researcher Carol Dweck thinks maybe it doesn’t have to be. Dweck proposes that success has more to do with mindset than talent-level.
In her book Mindset, she differentiates two common types of beliefs people hold about themselves, naming them fixed mindsets and growth mindsets.
Dweck’s research has been widely embraced by schools and universities hoping to increase learning and student success. However, understanding fixed and growth mindsets can be helpful for everyone, especially people who might have answered yes to any of those three questions that started this post.
Let’s take a look at the differences between fixed and growth mindsets and consider how they impact learning and success.
People with a fixed mindset believe their capabilities are fixed and cannot be changed. Likewise, they tend to believe other people succeed not because of hard work, but because of natural talent. Someone with a fixed mindset might think that intelligence, creativity, fitness and a slew of other traits are things people are born with.
A fixed mindset can prevent progress. For example, a person with a fixed mindset might choose to stay in their comfort zone instead of trying new things, which can cause them to miss out on valuable opportunities.
Furthermore, a person with a fixed mindset may become insecure if they aren’t provided with external validation. This is because they are more likely to believe their value is directly related to how they perform in comparison to others.
It’s easy to see how a fixed mindset might cause one to be less successful and less happy in life. After all, if success is based on fixed traits that can’t be changed or improved, why would you try to learn and improve yourself anyway?
People with fixed mindsets may be less likely to adopt positive habits that lead to personal growth, which explains why their skills often stagnate.
In contrast to a fixed mindset, people who have a growth mindset believe that their capabilities can change and improve over time. These people tend to see challenges as learning opportunities and successful peers as inspirations rather than threats.
Because they believe they can improve their skills and talents with hard work, people with growth mindsets are more likely to embrace difficult tasks and persist through failure, so they naturally end up achieving more on average.
In addition, people with growth mindsets are less likely to conflate their accomplishments with their self-worth. Because they plan to progress over time, one failure isn’t allowed to define them. In this way, people with growth mindsets are hardy stock, unlikely to give up on their dreams, even when faced with adversity.
Which Mindset Is Best?
It probably seems obvious from the descriptions above that growth mindsets are more conducive to success and happiness. However, the growth mindset isn’t best just because it tends to lead to better outcomes — it’s also a more accurate depiction of how the brain actually works.
Scientists used to think the brain stopped growing after adolescence. Now we know that the brain continues to grow and develop throughout life. The process of learning something new actually changes the structure of the brain at a cellular level, which means that, when you’re attempting to learn something, you’re actually helping develop your brain to a point when the new knowledge or skill comes naturally.
The flexibility of the brain is excellent news. Not only can you continue to learn and improve yourself throughout your life, but you can also learn to adopt a growth mindset, which will help you to overcome obstacles and reach your goals.
Most people don’t have entirely fixed or growth mindsets. You may have a fixed mindset about your abilities in math and a growth mindset about your ability to play ping-pong.
No matter your goals or your current skills, Dweck’s research suggests that you can always improve your mindset and yourself. All you have to do is believe you can.
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