What is a Growth Mindset and Why Does it Matter?

A growth mindset is an attitude of curiosity, and even eagerness, when facing a challenge. It is cultivated by focusing on one’s growth, process, and efforts whereas a fixed mindset is reinforced by:

  • tying one’s personal value to the results one can produce
  • focusing on efforts to prove whether one is talented or not
  • the idea that we can’t get any smarter or capable than we already are

A growth mindset unleashes your energy toward the situation at hand whereas a fixed mindset stays obsessed with appearances and status quo. In an experiment run by Carol Dweck, a professor at Stanford University and the author of the book Mindset, brain scans of people in a growth mindset were red hot with activity while the brains of those in a fixed mindset remained inactive as both groups were confronted with a problem just beyond their ability. Those in a fixed mindset were literally avoiding the problem.

Research on growth mindset teaches us to hold our strengths loosely. If faced with a situation that seems draining, instead of thinking “that’s not my strengths” it’s better to get curious regarding how you might apply your strengths and what you might learn from the situation.

A growth mindset is more effective even when the fixed mindset seems positive. Dweck gives many examples of this in Mindset. She describes how people may become financially successful with a fixed “I’m smart” mindset but over time they alienate themselves, become unhappy and ultimately become less successful than those who have growth mindsets.

As an example to illustrate how this works, when a person with a fixed “I’m smart” mindset does something especially intelligent they might tell themselves “this means I’m smart,” or “this means I’m better than others” for a short time. But the unbearable inner dialog of “I’m not smart,” “I’m a loser,” and “Why can’t I ever get it right?” is always waiting when they slip up or have just an average day.

This fixed focus on judging themselves in the context of others distracts from finding the best solutions and from a real sense of well-being.

Next, see my post “How to Maintain a Growth Mindset.”