What is it that allowed Ray Croc to believe that, at the age of 52, and having never been in the restaurant business, he could build a successful restaurant franchise?

And what is it that allowed Howard Schultz, the founder of Starbucks, to keep trying after being rejected for investment money by over 200 investors?

What is that “secret attribute” that allows some people to learn, grow, and persevere through obstacle after obstacle, while others quit when they meet the smallest amount of resistance?

That “attribute” is mindset, and it can be developed. Coming out of the research of Stanford Psychologist Carol Dweck, “mindset” refers to a set of beliefs about your talents and abilities.

From those beliefs, arise your attitudes, thoughts, and behaviors.

As such, your mindset touches every single aspect of your life. It affects:

  • how you view effort and ability
  • how you view challenges, setbacks, and “failures”
  • how quickly you give up or quit
  • when you experience positive or negative moods
  • who you make (and keep) as friends
  • who you seek as your significant other
  • what career path you choose
  • what hobbies you pursue

Dweck identified two distinct mindsets; the fixed mindset, and the growth mindset. In the fixed mindset, you believe your intelligence and abilities are fixed, unchanging, set in stone. In the growth mindset, you believe your intelligence and abilities can be developed; they can be improved.

Here’s a handy visual mindset checklist to quickly identify your mindset.

(Feel free to download, print, and share)

Now that you’ve gotten a good overview with the checklist, let’s jump into the more detailed differences between the fixed mindset and the growth mindset.

What does “effort” mean to you? 

In the fixed mindset, effort is for those people who aren’t naturally gifted with the inherent talents, abilities, and intelligence. Whereas in the growth mindset, effort is what nurtures and develops your intelligence. It’s what makes you skilled and what creates success.

In the fixed mindset, putting effort into something means you’re “not good enough”. After all, you shouldn’t “have” to put effort into things if you have the talent for it. You should get what you want, and good things should come to you as a validation of how special, intelligent, and talented you are.

In the growth mindset, effort is what gets you the things you want. Good things come as a result of your hard work, dedication, and persistence.

In the fixed mindset, you don’t want to be “seen” as putting effort into something because it shows yourself, and those around you, that you’re not “good enough” to coast on talent and natural ability alone. It may reveal inadequacies in who you are as a person. Effort and hard work are like dirty words in the mind of someone with a fixed mindset. 

Example:

In the fixed mindset, you “shouldn’t” have to walk up to an attractive woman and engage her in conversation. She should just magically know that you’re “better” and come to YOU. And if she doesn’t, then she clearly can’t tell what quality is and you’re better off without her anyways.

See how silly that sounds? 

Basically you should magically get the things you want, people should magically know you’re “better” than others, and it should all come as a validation of your innate intelligence, talents, and other awesome personality traits. And if it doesn’t happen, then it’s a sign that society, or the world in general, is all messed up and people don’t know gold when they see it. Yes, I know, it’s silly, but I confess, I’ve approached a few areas of my life from a fixed mindset before and in the moment, looking at the world through a fixed mindset, the silly things made sense, and so did the excuses/defense mechanisms.

In the growth mindset you’re proud of the effort you put in. You recognize that getting what you desire in any area of your life requires a tremendous amount of learning, perseverance, and hard work. Operating from a growth mindset, you believe that it’s illogical to want something and expect to get it without putting any effort in. 

Example:

The first step in getting the attractive woman is to walk up to her and engage her in conversation. It’s to develop your conversational skills, your social skills, your relationship skills. How would someone know you’re interested in them if you don’t talk to them? If you don’t succeed, it’s not because there’s something wrong with the world. Even if there IS something wrong with the world, it’s up to you to learn, to improve, to adjust, and to keep on trying. 

In fact, in the growth mindset, you’re excited to try new, challenging things because you may succeed, and even if you don’t, you’ll learn a lot along the way.

In a fixed mindset, if at first you don’t succeed, then maybe “it’s not meant to be”, maybe you’re not meant to be doing it. For example, if you get cut during tryouts for basketball in high school, then OBVIOUSLY you’re not meant to be playing basketball competitively. The “obviously” above sounds sarcastic, but in the fixed mindset, it’s not. It really IS obvious to you that you’re not meant to be playing basketball because your world view comes about as a result of operating from the fixed mindset, where you have to be good at something right away as a validation of your inherent, fixed abilities.

In a growth mindset, if at first you don’t succeed, you try and try again. You try different strategies and tactics, you work harder, and you keep at it. For example, if you get cut during tryouts for basketball, then maybe you’re just not experienced enough, you lack the skills, or you didn’t give it your all at the tryouts. Getting cut is an indication that you need more practice, that you need to develop your skills. In a growth mindset, you would ask the coach what you need to work on to make it on the team next year, or you could ask to practice with the team even though you won’t be playing in games. You might take your free time after school every day to shoot free throws and to do dribbling skills. After all, in the growth mindset, most qualities, characteristics, and skills can be developed.

Comparisons

In the fixed mindset, there’s near-constant comparisons. If others have to put more effort into something than you then it means you’re “better” than them, not just more skilled, or more experienced, but inherently better. This is because through the lens of the fixed mindset, your talents and abilities are fixed, they’re ridgid. You may extrapolate being better at one thing, to mean that you’re better in many different ways.

In a growth mindset, just because something comes easy to others, doesn’t mean you can’t get to their level, or even surpass them, with consistent effort, discipline, and trying new strategies. In fact, you are likely to recruit those who are more skilled than you as allies in learning. You are likely to see if that person will help you get better, if they’d be willing to teach you. In the growth mindset, each person who is “better” at something is a potential teacher, helper, coach, or collaborator.

The drastically different meaning of “failure” in the two mindsets

In a fixed mindset, failure can be as simple as having a setback or getting rejected, even just once.

In the growth mindset, you’re more likely to recognize that setbacks and rejection are a part of life, but you can overcome those setbacks with persistence. In fact, in the growth mindset, setbacks are a part of success. There is no perfect obstacle-free road. Success requires overcoming obstacles, persisting through setbacks, and not letting some temporary “failure” deter you from continuing on your path.

In a fixed mindset, failure has the potential to define you. You may judge yourself as being a failure; it may become a part of your identity. This is one of the reasons that, in the fixed mindset, self-esteem is fragile. Because traits are seen as fixed, when you judge yourself based on someone being better or worse than you at some skill, your self-esteem tends to fluctuate with whoever you’re near and whoever you compare yourself to. It drops if you’re near someone who is more skilled at something than you, and it increases if you’re near someone who is less skilled at something than you. That’s why people in the fixed mindset oftentimes choose to compare themselves to people who are less skilled than them. It makes them feel better about themselves.

In the growth mindset, failure is defined differently. Sure, there will be setbacks, sure there will be something that others might call “failures”. But true failure comes only when you give up, when you don’t put your best effort in. In the growth mindset failure is a verb; it’s an action, it’s an occurrence. It’s something that happened; something that you can learn from, and move on.

What happens when you experience a challenge or setback?

In the fixed mindset, ANY setback may affect your self-worth, be it getting passed over for a promotion, having an argument with a significant other, making a mistake at work, etc. As seen in the section above, in the fixed mindset, self-esteem is tied closely to performance, and because you see your qualities as being “set in stone” to a large extent, each mistake, or even misunderstanding, may be seen as your qualities not measuring up, as you as a person not being “good enough”.

In a growth mindset, you see a setback as information, as feedback. Your skills and abilities can be developed. Thus, open and honest feedback allows you to adjust, to adapt, and to learn from the situation so next time you are better prepared. In fact, you’re motivated to try again.

In the fixed mindset, when you encounter a challenge or setback, you are likely to blame somebody or something else, or you may make excuses to spare your ego.

For example, if you have to switch over to a new software at work, and you’re having a lot of difficulty with it, you’re likely to blame the software, and/or blame the manager who approved the switch. You may even say that you “shouldn’t have” to learn the new software.

In the growth mindset, when you encounter a challenge or setback, you’re likely to maintain a high level of interest, even when the task is very challenging. In the same example from above, if you have to switch over to a new software at work, and you’re having a lot of difficulty with it, you’re likely to maintain a high level of interest, and focus on learning, trying harder, and trying new strategies to learn it. You may ask your coworkers, your manager, or even the software vendor for help and resources in how to master the new software.

In the fixed mindset, you lose interest quickly when something is challenging, and you quickly stop putting effort in, give up, or quit.

In the growth mindset, when something is challenging, you’re likely to persevere and enjoy the process of learning. Even when you do feel temporary defeat from a setback, you resolve to try harder, to do better.

When do you thrive?

In the fixed mindset, you thrive when you feel that things are “safely within your grasp” – when things are easy for you and you’re good at them.

In a growth mindset, you thrive when you are learning, stretching yourself, and getting better. 

In the fixed mindset, you thrive when you feel that you are inherently better than others; when something is easy for you but hard for others. You especially feel like you’re thriving when you perform perfectly at something right away, and it took minimal effort. For you that basically means you’re inherently great, and you’re meant to be doing that thing. The best way to put the cherry on top, is to have others validate you for that “inherent greatness”.

In the growth mindset, you thrive when you get to work on something that’s exciting and challenging. You thrive when you’re confronting challenges, making progress, and learning over time, at something that’s interesting. And of course you’re happy when you get what you want, even if it takes a tremendous amount of effort.

Experience the differences for yourself

Now that you know the detailed differences between the two mindsets, which mindset do you tend to operate from in different areas of your life?? Do you tend to see your intelligence and abilities as fixed? Or do you see them as capable of being nurtured and developed?

Would adopting more of a growth mindset in some areas of your life be helpful in achieving what you want? If so, challenge yourself to approach those areas from more of a growth mindset, driven by what you can learn, improve, and grow.

Feel free to bookmark, download or print the Fixed vs Growth Mindset Checklist to quickly assess which mindset you’re operating from 🙂

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