Fixed Mindset v Growth Mindset

By: Nicki Kavanagh & Cathy Marinacci 06/24/2021

A friend recently suggested we swim across Frensham Pond, a body of water located about 5 miles from where I have spent most of my life. I was horrified! Why would I want to swim across a muddy, cold pond when I’d much rather walk around it?

Immediately I recognised my “fixed mindset” response to the question.

The term “fixed mindset” was coined by Carol Dweck, US psychologist, who explains the difference between a fixed mindset and a growth mindset in this TED talk. Essentially, the fixed mindset focuses on only trying where you know you are likely to succeed (wants “results now”), whereas the growth mindset relishes in the effort, challenge and process (is comfortable with “haven’t achieved yet”).

Dweck’s research shows that those students of a growth mindset, comfortable with scores of “not yet” rather than “straight A’s” demonstrated increased resilience over time by consistently applying effort to problem-solving, by devising strategies to overcome challenges and by focusing on developing processes. Gratification came through the effort itself rather than the results, which ultimately led to an understanding that progress springs from failure and feedback.

You may recognise some of these fixed mindset traits in yourself, your colleagues, your direct reports or even your manager. So how can you move from a fixed mindset to a more open and growth-focused mindset to gain the outcomes Dweck refers to?

Here are three ways we would advocate:

  • Identify your self-limiting beliefs. Earlier in the year, we shared the Johari’s Window model, which can be used to uncover and disclose information about ourselves. Return to the model to identify and test areas where you have decided categorically that you cannot achieve something - “I can’t do that”. This reveals potential self-limiting beliefs. Now add the word “yet” to the end of the statement and see what a difference it makes to your point of view - “I can’t do that yet”. By changing your “self-talk” from negative to positive, you’ll start to view challenges in a different light.
  • Seek feedback from others. Gain a different perspective of yourself by simply asking others for feedback. Use open questions and statements, such as “Tell me about the more enjoyable part of the project we collaborated on” or “How could I have tackled that issue in a different way?” You’ll build a picture of yourself as seen by others that will highlight areas to celebrate and / or improve.
  • Play to your strengths. Use knowledge that you have of yourself to focus on stepping outside of your comfort zone (or extending your comfort zone – depending on how you choose to look at it!) to try something new.

That is what I did, anyway. I swam across the pond (in a wet suit to keep out the cold!) I saw life from a completely new angle as the water line was level with my eyes. I experienced swifts diving down to catch flies on the dazzling surface. It was beautiful - and surprisingly - not muddy!

What are you willing to try now that you can’t do yet?