A growth mindset is a way of thinking that starts from the belief that you can always improve upon yourself through effort over time.
The growth mindset concept was created by psychologist Carol Dweck, who conducted extensive research on the different ways people perceive intelligence and ability.
Dweck’s achievement goal theory work identified two main perspectives:
- Fixed mindset: From her research, she identified that many people have a fixed mindset. These people believe that intelligence and talent are innate and unchangeable. This mindset leads them to avoid challenges and they tend to lack resilience when faced with obstacles.
- Growth mindset: In contrast, Dweck identified people with a growth mindset, who believed they could grow their intelligence and abilities through effort, persistence, iteration (Dweck, 2006).
Below are a series of growth mindset examples that demonstrate the ways people with growth mindsets think.
Growth Mindset Examples
- Embracing challenges: A person with a growth mindset views challenges as opportunities for growth rather than obstacles to be avoided. If something hard comes up in their life, they think about what they might benefit from the experience.
- Persistence through setbacks: Those with a growth mindset understand that setbacks are a natural part of the learning process, and use these experiences to reflect, adapt, and ultimately persevere in their pursuits.
- Embracing failure as a learning opportunity: A growth mindset reframes failure as an essential component of the learning process, enabling individuals to extract valuable lessons from setbacks and apply them to future endeavors (Shechtman et al., 2013).
- Effort as a path to mastery: Growth mindsets acknowledge that hard work is necessary, but they also see that it pays off. Only with hard work and sustained effort, can you achieving mastery. A person with a growth mindset knows the importance of continuous hard work and dedication to their goals.
- Learning from critique: Too many of my students see critical feedback as a horrible thing. But the point of critique is to identify your weaknesses so you can work on them. By getting yourself in the mindset that feedback is a valuable tool for improvement, you can begin to use that constructive criticism as an opportunity to learn more about yourself and how you can get better.
- Internal locus of control: Locus of control refers to who you think is in control of your success – you, or your environment? People with an external locus of control blame external factors for their failures. People with an internal locus of control believe they’re always able to influence the outcomes for their own personal development.
- Embracing mentorship: If you’ve got a growth mindset, you’re looking for ways to improve. So, one thing you can do is seek out a mentor who can give you guidance and support along your journey. This could be a teacher, parent, peer, or someone you admire and respect. Ideally, they’ve been down the path you want to head down so they can give you good advice.
- One step at a time: Sometimes, fixed mindsets are rooted in the fact that improvement seems too hard. It’s a gigantic task. But growth mindset people don’t let that bother them. They look down and think about the first step they need to take to conquer the mountain.
- Reframing: You need to be able to reframe any negative situation by looking at things you can learn from it. If you’ve got a growth mindset, you are excellent at reframing something to find the positive such as the learning experience you can get out of it.
- Divergent Thinking: Divergent thinking refers to the ability to think about multiple possible answers or solutions. Often, a person with a fixed mindset fails to be able to see all the possibilities they have in front of them to achieve success (see: functional fixedness). They need to start using their divergent thinking skills to consider all the possibilities for achieving success in their pursuits!
- Failing fast: The concept of failing fast refers to the idea that you should take action on an idea because that’s the only way you’ll see if it works or not. This mindset is all about overcoming procrastination and being quick to implement with the idea that you can iterate on your imperfections over time.
- The power of “yet”: The growth mindset embraces the concept of “yet” – acknowledging that while a skill or understanding may not be present currently, it can be developed over time through dedication and effort.
- Curiosity-driven exploration: Individuals with a growth mindset exhibit an insatiable curiosity, seeking out new experiences and knowledge to expand their horizons and enrich their understanding of the world.
- Readiness to change your mind: A fixed mindset literally means that your mind is fixed. In other words, you’re not willing to change (and don’t think you can). But people with growth mindsets are excited about the idea of having their minds changed with new evidence or insights because that’s a sign of growth.
- Belief in the potential of others: A growth mindset involves recognizing the capacity for growth in others, fostering supportive and encouraging relationships that promote collective success.
- Journaling: Many people with growth mindsets keep daily journals to help them reflect on their work and seek improvement. By writing and reflecting on your day, you can come up with ideas for how to make a little effort and do a little better the next day.
- Flexibility in problem-solving: A growth mindset enables individuals to approach problems with a flexible mindset, considering multiple perspectives and strategies in order to identify the most effective solution.
- Commitment to lifelong learning: Embodying a growth mindset entails a lifelong commitment to learning and self-improvement, understanding that there is always room for growth and development in both personal and professional spheres.
- Emphasizing process over results: A growth mindset encourages focusing on the learning process and valuing the journey, rather than solely fixating on outcomes, fostering resilience and adaptability (Dweck, 2010).
- The first draft mindset: This is a mindset I teach to my students when writing essays. It’s about getting your first draft done then seeking formative feedback from your teacher and improving on the draft incrementally over the next few weeks. Here, you’re focused on improvement, believing that with feedback and effort, that draft can become an A+ essay in the end.
- Self-regulated learning: Zimmerman (2002) highlights the importance of self-regulated learning, which involves setting personal goals, monitoring progress, and adjusting strategies – skills that are nurtured through a growth mindset.
- High Expectations: High expectations isn’t about expecting yourself to be the best or be perfect. It’s about expecting yourself to do your best and put your best effort into it, no matter the outcome or odds.
- Valuing effort rather than ability: Research by Mueller & Dweck (1998) suggests that praising effort rather than innate ability leads to increased motivation and perseverance, fostering a growth mindset in individuals.
- Developing a sense of purpose: A growth mindset supports the cultivation of a sense of purpose, motivating individuals to align their efforts with personally meaningful objectives (Yeager & Bundick, 2009).
- Cultivating a learning-oriented culture: Organizations that promote a growth mindset create a culture where continuous learning, innovation, and experimentation are encouraged and rewarded, leading to increased adaptability (Keating & Heslin, 2015).
- Openness to interdisciplinary approaches: A growth mindset fosters a willingness to explore interdisciplinary approaches, understanding that complex problems often require the integration of knowledge and skills from multiple fields (Klein, 2008).
- Minimum viable product concept: One of my favorite growth mindset examples is that of the minimum viable product. This happens when entrepreneurs release version 1 of their product before it’s perfect for beta users. They then use feedback from those users to build on and improve their product. Here, we can see they’re not focused on perfection but on improvement through feedback.
Traits of People with Fixed Mindsets
Note that ‘intelligent’ isn’t one of the traits!
Table: Growth vs Fixed Mindsets
|Attribute||Fixed Mindset||Growth Mindset|
|Intelligence and Skill||Belief that intelligence and skill are fixed and innate. For example, a person may believe they will never get better at a task or more successful at school.||Belief that intelligence and skill are changeable and can be developed with effort. For example, a person may believe if they study regularly, they will get better grates.|
|Approach to Challenges||People with fixed mindsets avoid challenges due to fear of failure and belief they will likely fail.||People with growth mindesets embrace challenges and see them as opportunities for growth regardless of success or failure.|
|Effort||They view effort as futile or unnecessary because it won’t lead to better results.||They believe effort is the path to mastery, but they also embrace feedback and support to help them on that parth.|
|Persistence||Low persitence. Tendency to give up easily when faced with difficulties.||High persistence. Tendency to persist through setbacks and learn from them.|
|Reaction to Criticism||Tendency to become defensive against constructive criticism, disregard it, and avoid feedback.||Tendency to seek out feedback and use constructive feedback as a valuable tool for self-improvement.|
|Locus of Control||External locus of control. Tendency to believe success or failure is out of their hands.||Internal locus of control. Tendency to believe success or failure can be influenced by their effort and actions.|
|Goal Orientation||Focus on performance goals. They care more about the outcome than the process.||Focus on learning goals. They care about the process of the work, knowing that the process will affect the outcome.|
|Response to Failure||Tendency to view failure as a reflection of self-worth and identity. Has fear of failure.||Tendency to embrace failure as a learning opportunity and not fear failure.|
|Approach to Collaboration||Tendency to see the world as zero-sum. Peers are competitors. Reluctance to provide support to others or accept support form others.||Tendency to see collaboration as a mutual opportunity. Seeks out opportunities to work with others and support one another.|
|Resilience||Finds it difficult to recover from setbacks and failure.||Recovers more quickly from setbacks knowing that setbacks contain lessons.|
|Motivation||Extrinsic motivation. Tendency to rely on short-term rewards as a way to get motivated and do the work.||Intrinsic motivation. Tendency to find value in the task itself, with less concern for the reward at the end.|
Criticism of the Growth Mindset Concept
While I find this concept very valuable for personal development, there are clear limitations.
For example, in my own personal life, I have a growth mindset when it comes to academic work and entrepreneurship. I’m a very driven person from this perspective.
But when it comes to exercise and daily workouts, I struggle. I find myself blaming injuries or lack of time.
The obvious observation here is: mindsets are contextual. We may have a fixed mindset in one situation or on one day, and a growth mindset the next.
This also leads me to wonder where my mindsets come from: why do I have a fixed mindset in one situation and a growth mindset elsewhere? Is this innate in me? What would it take to develop a growth mindset when it comes to exercise, and why am I finding it so hard to develop it?
How to Start Developing a Growth Mindset
I’ve just mentioned that I struggle with fixed mindsets in some areas of my life, while I have a strong growth mindset in other areas. So, I’m no expert. But here, I’ll rely on some of the great information I’ve gleaned from books like The Gap and the Gain and Atomic Habits.
1. Look at how far you’ve come
This strategy involves looking back at your past successes to help you realize that you have the ability to grow and improve.
This idea comes from the book The Gap and the Gain. In this book, Dan Sullivan explains that you’ll never be happy if you look forward at how hard it is to reach your goals.
The best thing to do is to look back and how far you’ve already come.
This will give you perspective: you can achieve, get better, and see success. All you need is to put in the work day by day and you’ll continue down your path.
It’s a reminder that the growth mindset concept is correct: improvement is possible.
2. Failure Fridays
People with growth mindsets embrace failure. They’re not scared of it. Sadly, our society sends the wrong message about this – far too often.
As a teacher, I used to do a lesson each Friday called “Failure Fridays”. This lesson involves sitting down and talking with my class about famous people who failed multiple times before they succeeded.
A classic example is JK Rowling who submitted Harry Potter to 14 different potential publishers before her book was accepted.
These lessons teach students that failure isn’t a bad thing. We need to fail to learn lessons so we can succeed later on. We need to get back up and persist in order to succeed in life.
3. Take it One Task at a Time
This strategy involves not focusing on the overwhelming task ahead of you and, instead, focusing on the first small task in front of you.
James Clear in Atomic Habits give an ancedote of going to the gym (just what I need!). Don’t think about how hard the gym will be, or how much it will hurt.
Instead, just focus on getting out of bed. What’s the first thing to do? Pull your foot out from under the blankets. Then sit up, then put pants on. Just break it down to the simplest steps.
Then, before long, you’ll realize you’re at the gym working away.
Chunking your tasks into smaller, more manageable chunks makes it more achievable and feel less like you can’t do it – which is the fixed mindset you want to avoid!
Growth mindsets can get you a long way in life. I believe having a growth mindset it more important than having intelligence or natural talent. It’s what makes people great. Growth mindset examples can include embracing peer feedback, believing you can improve with effort, and persisting through setbacks.
Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education. [Image Descriptor: Photo of Chris]