Your mindset for different situations

A few months ago, I read a fascinating book called Mindset by Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck. The gist of the book is that people have two mindsets: a fixed mindset or a growth mindset. People with a fixed mindset believe that any talent is something that’s innate or something that they have or don’t. On the other hand, people with a growth mindset believe that talent is not innate but something that can be learned.

It seems simple enough but if you think about it, the implications are staggering. As Dweck mentions in her book, people with fixed mindsets will tend not to attempt stuff because of the fear of failure or or making mistakes or simply because they can’t. People with growth mindsets on the other hand look at anything as a learning opportunity and don’t worry about making mistakes or about failure but frame this as part of the learning process. [1]

So, if you have a fixed mindset about something, you may believe that you can’t draw (no talent for drawing), can’t sing (can’t carry a tune), can’t speak in public, can’t dance (two left feet), and so on. The problem is that none of the examples that I gave are innate. I used to think that I couldn’t draw until I *really* wanted to and started learning how to and I realized that it is a skill that can be learned. Singing too is something that you can learn, the same goes for public speaking (see Toastmasters), and so on.

If you think about this though, it is strange that we have fixed mindsets because if there’s one thing our brain is terrific at doing it is learning new things. If we didn’t have that capability, we would never have rolled, crawled, sat up, stood up, walked, run, learned to grasp things, talk, and so on. If you notice how a baby or a child learns new things, you’ll see how they experiment without realizing that they are experimenting.

So, where does this experimental behavior go and why do people start having fixed mindsets? Dweck believes that it’s because of the tendency for parents and teachers to praise only achievements or outcomes and not the effort that leads to the outcome. If you do the former, what happens is that children start (unconsciously) focusing only on the outcome and will try to avoid making mistakes and even stop attempting difficult things because they “fail” at them.

This is not just limited to children; adults too have fixed mindsets about intelligence, creativity, and so many things. I point out intelligence and creativity because those are the things you hear so much–he’s so smart, she’s so creative–, which sub-consciously is “I’m not that smart” or “I can’t be creative” or something equivalent.

Note that having a growth mindset is not about saying that you can be the best at anything if you try but about opening yourself up to the possibility of trying. If you read this and started feeling that you have a fixed mindset about some things, that’s normal–we can have growth mindsets about certain things and fixed mindsets about other things. What you have to realize though is that you can change your mindset and approach things with a different mindset.

So, what are the fixed mindset areas in your life? Think about them and think about why they elicit that mindset in your mind. Maybe it’s because of something you were told as a kid (or an adult) or because you’ve developed a fear of making mistakes and/or failure. Whatever the reason, it doesn’t matter; what matters is that you can change that mindset and break that mental block that keeps you from even trying or learning or getting better.

To paraphrase a popular quote, It is better to have tried and made mistakes than to have never tried at all.

If you want to learn more (hey “growth mindset”), here are some interesting articles about mindsets:

  1. Fixed vs. Growth: The Two Basic Mindsets That Shape Our Lives
  2. What Having a Growth Mindset Actually Means (article by Carol Dweck)
  3. The Stanford professor who pioneered praising kids for effort says we’ve totally missed the point

[1] – Obviously, this is a brief summary of the book and the argument is much more nuanced and the experiments and research are fascinating to read. But, this is not meant to be a book review, so I’m keeping this short. If you liked this post, consider reading the book–it really is worth it.


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