A Fixed Mindset Versus a Growth Mindset

Mindsets are like the story that many of us have heard multiple times: the two fighting wolves.

“A fight is going on inside me,” a man said to a boy. “It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.” He continued, “The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.”

The boy thought about it for a minute and then asked the man, “Which wolf will win?”

The man simply replied, “The one you feed.”

A less common but possibly even more relevant battle inside each of us is: the fixed versus the growth mindset.

Fixed versus Growth MindsetYou might think this dichotomy has the same outcome as the parable of the wolves. The answer, however, depends almost entirely on which mindset you personally hold. 

Do you believe that the mindset you cultivate (feed) is the one that guides your life (wins)?

What is a fixed mindset versus a growth mindset?

A fixed mindset essentially assumes that our traits like intelligence, personality, creativity, and skills are static and a “given.” A growth mindset on the other hand, believes that these things can and do change throughout the course of a human life. As Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck explains in her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success—people with a fixed mindset think that we humans can’t change things like our skill level or intelligence in any real way, while people with a growth mindset see skill and intelligence as ever-changing and malleable.

If you’re a visual learner, this video illustrates the two mindsets in an easy-to-follow way.

How fixed and growth mindsets respond to challenges.

Whether you subscribe to a fixed or growth mindset is not situational. Your outlook applies in all situations, times, places and relationships.

So, why does the distinction between fixed and growth mindsets especially matter in a challenging situation? That is one place our mindset tends to express itself very clearly. 

In a fixed mindset, success proves your inherent talent and ability, while struggles affirm your natural pitfalls and weaknesses. In this view, you can work for success and against struggles, but your abilities are ultimately fixed and you cannot really change the outcome. People with a fixed mindset often seek success and avoid all failures. After all, if you fail there’s nothing you can do about it, learn from it, or change in yourself to avoid that failure in the future.

In a growth mindset, success is not necessarily indicative of inherent talent and neither is failure proof of inbred weakness. Instead, challenges and failures give you information on how to change, improve and grow. Success does not mean you will always succeed, even in those same circumstances again...but neither does failure. In short, a growth mindset never stops trying.

Mindset is not an absolute.

It’s important to note that, while these mindsets are very different, this is not a completely black-and-white issue. A fixed mindset doesn't mean you believe that nothing about you will ever change. And a growth mindset does not mean that you can build yourself from scratch into anything you want.

“Do people with this mindset believe that anyone can be anything, that anyone with proper motivation or education can become Einstein or Beethoven?” writes Dweck. “No, but they believe that a person’s true potential is unknown (and unknowable); that it’s impossible to foresee what can be accomplished with years of passion, toil, and training.”

Why mindset makes a difference in your life.

“For twenty years, my research has shown that the view you adopt for yourself profoundly affects the way you lead your life,” writes Dweck.

She goes on: “It can determine whether you become the person you want to be and whether you accomplish the things you value.”

One of the most powerful ways that mindset impacts your daily life is in how you approach challenges. Like we mentioned above, fixed and growth mindsets have very different views of adversity and struggle. In professional lives, personal relationships, work and play—how we react to problems (or perceived problems) makes up a majority of our internal and external dialogue.

As Dweck says, people adopt a mindset for themselves. This normally happens at an early age. Throughout their lives, people then operate based on their mindset when they encounter everything from struggles with children, dating squabbles, workplace miscommunications and difficulty in school. Depending on your mindset, you tend to live with either “a passion for learning” or “a hunger for approval,” as author Maria Popova put it. Our personal growth springs from mindset, she says, and “ultimately our capacity for happiness.”

Companies can benefit from growth mindsets, too, if they are mindful about implementing its beliefs into their business culture.

One important question to ask yourself about your mindset.

Let’s revisit the story about the wolves. Do you believe that the wolf who is naturally stronger, smarter and more agile should win or that the right preparation matters as much as natural ability?

Since Carol Dweck began her research in the early 1970s, the ideas of fixed and growth mindset have spread and become more overt in personal and professional life. Companies like GE and Chrysler are discussing the mindset of their companies and CEOs.

The question for each of us becomes: Are you choosing to see struggles as opportunities for learning and growth, or as a judgement of your innate ability?

Here at Heartmanity, where we highly value Emotional Intelligence, I’d add to that. How does this outlook affect the way you treat others?

For a greater understanding of the fixed and growth mindset or to cultivate emotional fitness, contact us today at Heartmanity.

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Enid R. Spitz / Heartmanity ContributorEnid R. Spitz / Heartmanity Contributor
Enid Spitz is a writer and yoga instructor based in Charleston, SC. She previously lived in Portland, OR and Seattle, WA, where she was a newspaper editor and researched yoga for Traumatic Brain Injury. Heartmanity combines Enid's passions for social wellbeing, neuroscience and yoga. When not writing or on the yoga mat, she is an avid traveller, enjoys a good whiskey, and loves being outdoors. Twitter: @enidrosalyn, Instagram: @littleyogibird.

Posted in Emotional Intelligence & Fitness

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