As I was thinking about and preparing to write today’s post, it led me down a path I didn’t expect. I came across the terms fixed and growth mindsets. Of course, our attitude has a lot to do with our success with anything.
As I was reading about mindset, I was struck by how important it is to have a growth mindset in life.
I’ve read blog posts and articles about an abundance mindset from the likes of The Chopra Center and John Maxwell. One of my favorite bloggers is J.D. Roth of Get Rich Slowly. He wrote a post in April 20108 on how to master the abundance mindset. His simple definitions resonated with me.
J.D. says if you have a scarcity mindset, you believe everything is limited (money, love, time). It leads to worry, thinking more about what can go wrong — those kinds of things.
Conversely, with an abundance mindset, you believe there’s plenty for everyone. You’re a more optimistic person. You think about how things can go right rather than worrying about what can go wrong. Rereading J.D.’s post and find others led me to the fixed and growth mindsets.
Though similar, there are some unique characteristics I want to explore. It doesn’t matter how you define success. That’s up to you. It’s another way to view how we think and how that relates to the quality of our lives.
Enough about that. Let’s get started.
You Need a to Have a Growth Mindset
Carol Dweck, Ph.D.
Carol Dweck, Ph.D. is the Lewis and Eaton Professor of Psychology at Stanford University. She wrote the book, Mindset, The New Psychology of Success. She’s a world-renowned author and speaker on achievement and success. When you Google the term mindset, fixed mindset or growth mindset, the vast majority of results cite her research and publications.
She contends that a person has either a fixed or growth mindset. People with a fixed mindset believe they are hard-wired to be the way they are. In many ways, these concepts aren’t new.
They do, however, lend credible research to what we all instinctually know – “when you stop growing, you start dying” – William S Burroughs
Dictionary.com defines mindset as follows:
- An attitude, disposition or mood
- Anintentionn or inclination
Merriam-Webster, though similar, has a distinct difference:
- A mental attitude or inclination
- a fixed state of mind
Oxford Learners Dictionary – this one is the most descriptive and is how many of us interpret the word:
- a set of attitudes or fixed ideas that somebody has and that are often difficult to change
A fixed, unchangeable state of mind is how many people would define mindset. We think of someone who has their mind made up or set (fixed) on something. We’ve all heard the phrase, “once he/she has their mind made up, they will never change it.” There’s a stubbornness attached to this version of the definition.
The premise of the mindset research is that people are either open or closed to learning. The view we have will impact everything we do. It shapes our worldview. It forms our interpersonal relationships.
Here’s a quote from Dr. Dweck where she sums up the difference between the fixed and the growth mindset:
“In one world, effort is a bad thing. It, like failure, means you’re not smart or talented. If you were, you wouldn’t need effort. In the other world, effort is what makes you smart or talented.” –Carol Dweck
Perfectionism often accompanies both the fixed and growth mindsets. However, it presents itself very differently in each. That’s illustrated in the following chart.
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People with a fixed mindset believe their essential qualities, like talents and intelligence, are fixed traits. Rather than spending their time developing them, they spend time documenting their ability or knowledge. They believe their talent and intelligence are the keys to their success. Hard work has no bearing on it. Dr. Dweck says for those with a fixed mindset, “it’s not enough just to succeed. You have to be flawless.” It’s the belief that says if you’ve got it, you’ve got it. If you don’t, you don’t.
Perfectionism is often a part of both mindsets. The perfectionism in a fixed mindset drives them to avoid judgment. When we think we have to be perfect all the time, we tend not to ask for help. Lack of preparation may also be part of the fixed mindset. They may fail to do the work and research necessary to prepare for and complete the task thinking it should be easy.
Errors and mistakes are not acceptable for those with a fixed mindset. They hide from or don’t acknowledge their mistakes. Those with a fixed mindset may appear to have it all together on the outside. On the inside, they may feel like failures. They will avoid asking for help, thinking their failures will come to the surface.
The duck syndrome
Dr. Dweck uses the metaphor of a duck swimming. She calls it the “duck syndrome.” When you see a duck swimming on a lake, the part of the body above the water looks like everything is humming along very smoothly. Under the water, they are paddling like crazy to try and stay afloat. People with a fixed mindset appear to have it all together on the outside. Many are paddling like crazy to stay afloat on the inside.
Perfectionism for people with a fixed mindset can be toxic and dangerous.
Those with a growth mindset believe their abilities can be developed with dedication and hard work. They think their intelligence and talents are only the starting point. Those with a growth mindset tend to be lifelong learners. They don’t sit back and expect things to come to them because they deserve them. They understand effort goes further than talent and intelligence.
One might also call the growth mindset the achievement mindset. They don’t believe they are “born” to be a certain way. Working hard and learning are integral parts of the growth mindset. Errors and mistakes are opportunities to learn and grow. They are not the enemy. Rather than feeding the feelings of failure and not measuring up, failures spur them to action.
The perfectionism in the growth mindset drives them to achieve more. They are often happier people. The growth mindset embraces the process. The process is what produces the accomplishments. Those with a growth mindset rarely feel stuck. Their perfectionism is about the end product. It’s about achieving excellence. They are less worried about what others think of them.
The growth mindset is the healthier of the two. Those who have it overcome obstacles more easily. They are not as fearful and tend to be more optimistic.
Here’s how Dr. Dweck describes it: “Everything important in life requires huge amounts of effort over long periods of time. If effort makes you feel inadequate… you are at a huge disadvantage.”
Mindset and happiness
As I thought about the two mindsets, I realized what a profound impact each could have on our happiness in life.
If you feel as if you are born the way you are and unable to change, it’s unlikely you will be very happy. I’m sure there are exceptions to that rule. There always are. But think about the characteristics of the fixed mindset. They have a fear of making mistakes. When they fall short of the results expected, they feel like failures. They feel like people are judging them.
Dr. Dweck calls the fixed mindset the CEO disease. Many who get to the level of CEO feel they have to be perfect. Or maybe even that they are perfect. When they fall short and make mistakes, it can be devastating to them. She asks the questions when describing this as follows. “If failure means you lack competence or potential – that you are a failure – where do you go from there.
When we look at life as an opportunity to grow, how much happier do you think we would be? Mistakes are opportunities to improve. Fear of failing has little impact on decisions. Instead, we look at failure as a way to learn from your mistakes.
People with the growth mindset prepare for and embrace the process of whatever task they’re pursuing. Their attitude is one that pushes them to finish the things they start. Quitting is not part of their makeup. They don’t believe the statement that we are what we are. They believe everyone can change.
There are always new opportunities to learn. They don’t shy away from challenges. Their standards are high. They are inspired. The focus is on continuous improvement (see grid above). The results are not what drives your happiness. The work and effort do.
Reading about the two mindsets got me thinking about my own. Do I spend time fearing failure? Am I afraid to make mistakes? If I’m honest with myself, I would have to say the answer is, at times, yes. Am I a glass-half-full or half-empty person? Again, being honest about it, I’d say both. At times when things feel like they’re piling up, I have a half-empty attitude. It doesn’t last long, but it rears its ugly head sometimes.
As a person of faith, the only way I can look at life is a that my glass is overflowing. I have a God who loves me and a promised life of eternity with Him. It doesn’t get any better than that! However, I still have to live life to the fullest in whatever time I have.
For the most part, I’ve always strived to grow and learn. I enjoy the process most of the time. With an amazing wife, a prodigal son who has recently returned, great friends, a faith community, and a supportive professional community, life is good. I don’t let others define my success (though I do get caught in the comparison game at times).
In closing, remember the William S Burroughs quote – “when you stop growing, you start dying.” Embrace challenges. Strive for excellence but don’t be obsessed with it. Understand failure is part of life. Dream big, understanding when you do, you may fall short. That doesn’t mean you are a failure. It just means you may need a little more time.
Now it’s your turn. Do you see yourself as someone with a growth mindset? How do you view the challenges the come your way? Are you a glass-half-full or half-empty person? I welcome your thoughts and comments.
Fred started the blog Money with a Purpose in October 2017. The blog focused on three primary areas: Personal Finance, Overcoming Adversity, and Lifestyle. During his time at Money with a Purpose, he was quoted in Forbes, USA Today and appeared in Money Magazine, MarketWatch, The Good Men Project, Thrive Global and many other publications.
In April 2019, Fred, along with two other partners, acquired The Money Mix website. To focus his time and energy where he could be the most productive, Fred recently merged Money with a Purpose with The Money Mix. You can now find all of his great content right here on The Money Mix, along with content from some of the brightest minds in personal finance.