Fixed Mindset vs. Growth Mindset by Vicky Zhang, Learnhall Contributor

Exploring Both Mindsets

A mindset is a group of beliefs you develop to understand yourself and perceive the world, shaping your emotions and actions toward life’s happiness and challenges.  The term mindset was made well-known by Dr. Dweck, an American psychologist and Psychology Professor at Stanford University.   Dr. Dweck’s pioneering research on motivation and success discovered that the determining factor setting people onto  different paths in life with regards to trajectory is their mindset which consists of 2 binaries:

One is a fixed mindset where people believe that intelligence and talent are innate and unchangeable traits that may or may not decide success.  Consequently, people with this mindset can sometimes go down a negative spiral of avoiding problems, viewing failures as results of dumbness, dwelling on past achievements, and only sticking to what they already know.  Moreover, people with this mindset sometimes take criticism personally, seeing it as a way to unmask one’s deficiencies.  Eventually people with this fixed mindset may give up on going after goals that have challenging obstacles and instead choose tasks and goals that require minimal effort, perpetuating the condition of overall complacency and stasis.  

Common expressions from people with a fixed mindset are:

  • “I can’t do this.”
  • “It’s good enough.”
  • “It’s too hard.”
  • “I can’t afford to make mistakes.”

On the contrary, a growth mindset allows people to understand that hard work, effective strategies, and constructive feedback can help build abilities while also helping people identify setbacks as learning opportunities.  More importantly, people with this mindset appreciate the help of others and provide generous support to those in need.  When talking about stepping out of your comfort zone, the underlying theme is to expand your reach to become fluent in many skills and adapt to various environments.  Things that make you uncomfortable like, for example, rude comments, setbacks, and struggles are merely transitional phases to success.

Common expressions from people with a growth mindset are:

  • “I’m still learning and I’ll keep trying!”
  • “Is this all I’ve got?”
  • “It’ll be easier with more practice.”
  • “Mistakes make me grow.”

After realizing the limitations of a fixed mindset and the advantages of a growth mindset, let’s dive deeper into applying what we discussed above to promote a healthy and enthusiastic learning environment.

Developing a Growth Mindset

As Educators

Dr. Dweck, the person who coined the term “growth mindset,” went to a high school where students needed to complete 84 academic units to graduate; if they didn’t pass, they would get the grade “not yet” instead of “fail.”  The power of “not yet” is to acknowledge that students are on a learning curve and exploring a journey, which is the core value and exact reason for changing the perspective on competence, achievements, and failure.

A student’s confident attitude towards studying and difficulties is a direct response to the environment, which builds on the effort of educators, specifically education professionals and parents, people shouldering the appreciation, empathy and responsibility to care for more than oneself.  Indeed, academic learning is a crucial element of education; however, family plays an equally significant part because it’s the first exposure to life experience for children to observe, comprehend, and imitate.  Throughout a person’s life, family often continues to impact and shape his/her personality and behaviors.

After digesting the meaning and importance of a growth mindset, the first step is to share this knowledge with students and motivate them to unfix the fixed point of view, celebrating the strategies, perseverance, and progress, in addition to achievements.  Meanwhile, it’s critical to realize that fostering an encouraging environment doesn’t mean loading the air with praise; instead, educators provide genuine and constructive feedback, pointing out areas of improvement with actionable suggestions.  As a delightful result, students become more receptive to feedback, resilient to mistakes and persistent in undertaking challenges.

The proverb “where there’s a will, there’s a way” sounds corny, but it fits perfectly with the growth mindset, especially with educators.  Although people consciously and unconsciously carry prejudices towards struggling students, when determined to be mentors instead of authorities, educators become approachable for students to seek help, understand student needs, and find the way to bring prosperity.  During Dr. Dweck’s speech, she shared the story of a kindergarten teacher working with children who initially could not hold pencils and had daily tantrums.  Unsurprisingly, with the will to bring growth and find the right way to educate, the teacher took her class to the 95th percentile on a nationwide standardized test (Dr. Dweck’s full speech).

As Students 

The common misunderstanding of the growth mindset is that everyone has equal capability in all aspects; instead, the central meaning is that everyone can improve and be a better self.  On the individual level, the 2 must-have ingredients of improvement are mistakes and criticism, which are also the most painful to accept, comprising a challenging lesson to learn in academia, career, and life.  The fundamental step is to share your work with others and seek honest opinions.  At the same time, remember that failures or judgements aren’t personal because they are hints about how to do better the next time.  Don’t forget to pat yourself on the back for the achievements you earned through hard work.

Furthermore, being a student that observes your own growth enables you to share experiences and help your peers improve.  In study groups, I met many of my trusted and dearest friends, and we ignited exciting discussions, critical thinking, and clashing ideas.  With mutual respect, open minds, and diverse perspectives, a debate is about the topic instead of judging a person, helping people to better understand each other and become continuous learners.  Last but not least, we support each other in difficult times, whether an overloaded exam period, uncertainty in career path, or heartbreak.

Final Thoughts

People’s ability to succeed depends not on innate intelligence or talent, but on a mindset of acquiring improvements: we all can grow, regardless of our responsibilities in school, at home or during work.  That said, the growth mindset will not change us if it stays a belief.  We make real impacts by embracing mistakes, failures, and feedback, learning from our past, and appreciating a process-oriented learning experience.  The achievements are valuable; however, we can be more strategic and efficient on our way to becoming the person we want to be.  Better yet, we create positive changes that are bigger than ourselves.

I’ll leave you with a passage from a Samuel Beckett novella: “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”

Leave a Reply