Your talents, abilities, and intelligence aren’t fixed traits — they can be expanded and improved at any age with a mindset motivated toward growth.
“It’s exciting to be progressing and doing things you never thought you could do; it’s less exciting to just keep proving yourself over and over — often by staying in your comfort zone.” -Dr. Carol Dweck
The Cheat Sheet:
- Learn the differences between the fixed mindset and the growth mindset. (02:31)
- What’s the first step toward breaking out of a fixed mindset once you’ve identified it within yourself? (08:05)
- How you define success helps pinpoint your dominant mindset. (10:24)
- By the same token, mindsets change the very meaning of failure. (16:58)
- How can we raise children to lean more toward a growth mindset than a fixed mindset? (24:48)
- And so much more…
Do you believe that your capacity for learning and doing new things is fixed — especially once you reach a certain age — or does the idea of stepping out of your comfort zone to accept ever-greater challenges excite you with possibilities for personal growth? As Henry Ford was known to say, “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t — you’re right.”
On episode 445 of The Art of Charm, we talk to Dr. Carol Dweck, the Lewis and Virginia Eaton Professor of Psychology at Stanford University and author of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success about the fixed mindset vs. the growth mindset — and what you can do to switch to the one that serves you best (hint: it’s growth).
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Some people treat learning like it’s something they’re glad they got out of the way early in life. Once they graduate from high school or college (if they make it that far), they feel properly equipped to deal with “real” life; they remain happily frozen in a fixed mindset, with their body of knowledge remaining more or less static for the remainder of their days.
This is fine for some people — but are you one of them?
Or are you a lifelong learner who welcomes new opportunities to expand your repertoire of knowledge? Do you sadly shake your head at people who tell you it’s impossible to really learn anything new, and you should just accept the “fact” that everything’s downhill from here? Do you have a growth mindset that sees a future of goals just waiting to be conquered?
If this sounds more like you — or you wish it did — then this episode’s for you.
There’s power behind believing we can improve, and psychology professor Dr. Carol Dweck’s book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success aims to motivate us toward understanding and accepting this fact.
“Some people tend to believe that their talents and abilities are these fixed traits. You have a certain amount and that’s it,” says Carol. “And what we find is that if you think your talents or intelligence are just fixed, then you worry about them. Are they high? Are they low? Will I look stupid? Will people judge me? Will I feel bad about myself if I make a mistake or fail? So in this fixed mindset, your motivation is fragile. You don’t want to go for something unless you’re really sure you can achieve it. First signs of difficulty, you worry. A real setback, you’re out of there.”
“But other people,” she says, “are more often in a growth mindset. Where they feel, hey, these abilities, these talents, you can develop them. It’s not that some people don’t come with more or less of a talent, but everyone, they believe, can develop their talents through hard work, good strategies, mentoring, and input from others. And when people are more often in this mindset, they go for it! They take on hard things.”
“They don’t expect to be able to do everything right away. They cut themselves the slack to learn over time. When they’re sweating and really working hard, they don’t feel stupid. They feel, hey, this is part of doing something difficult. And when they have a setback, again, that’s part of learning something really hard. They retrench. They try new strategies. They get input from others. And they go at it again. These people are more likely to be successful in school, careers, sports, and life.”
People who can channel the growth mindset are excited by the opportunity to learn new things, whereas those who are stuck in the fixed mindset are happy enough with the status quo that they don’t seek to leave their comfort zone. But before you go assigning (or resigning) yourself to one mindset or the other, understand that we’re all a mixture of both.
“Give up that idea that you’re pure growth mindset,” says Carol. “A lot of people have said that when they started reading my book, they thought they had a tremendous growth mindset. But as they read about relationships, as they read about sports, as they read about business, they realized, ‘Uh, oh! I recognize myself in some of these fixed mindset characters.'”
“I think what people need to do is get real. Think about what triggers your fixed mindset. We all have it. So when you think of going way outside your comfort zone, do you start worrying about that? When you get criticized or mess up on something, do you get defensive? That’s coming from a fixed mindset. If you see someone who’s really great at something that you value — they’re a lot better than you — are you jealous and resentful, or do you think, ‘Hey, maybe they can teach me something?’ Or, ‘Maybe I can ask them how they develop these skills?'”
Keep these trigger points in mind and pay attention to how you react to them; you’ll quickly be able to gauge which mindset tends to surface. If you find that the fixed mindset manifests itself more often than you’d like, you’re not alone — it happens to all of us (present company included). “That’s when you have to start acknowledging it and working with it,” says Carol.
When taking a hard and honest look at your own tendencies, the first real step upon acknowledging how and when the fixed mindset appears is believing that you can overcome it. It’s not about being unrealistically delusional, but about accepting that the road ahead is going to be difficult and choosing to take it anyway.
Triggers or no triggers, you should be constantly asking yourself these questions every day: Are you taking on challenges? Are you being resilient when there are setbacks? Are there things wrong that you’re not facing up to? Who is better than you? Who is a person you can learn from? What does success mean?
If you feel like you already have all the answers, then you might be inadvertently gravitating toward a fixed mindset. As Carol explains it: “Success in a fixed mindset is being King of the Hill — the smartest person in the room — and in staying that way, often by putting down others, browbeating other people. Anything it takes. Hoarding information. Keeping secrets.”
Carol took part in a study of Fortune 500 companies that illustrates how fixed mindsets vs. growth mindsets operate on a larger scale. “We found that, within the fixed mindset companies, the employees were saying a lot of cheating and cutting corners goes on here because people want to be the big shot. The big cheese. The genius.” Carol says. “But in the growth mindset companies, people talked much more about collaboration…and teamwork for innovation. For creativity. And that the company was really supporting creative efforts, not just talking about it and then rewarding the ‘geniuses,’ so to speak.”
It’s probably obvious by now that most of us would choose to lean more toward the growth mindset than the fixed mindset. But how does one get stuck in the rut of the fixed mindset in the first place? Often, the seed is planted when we’re young.
“When people are in a fixed mindset,” says Carol, “hard work means you’re just not good at this. Because people who are really smart or talented, they don’t have to sweat. And when we’re told we’re so smart as kids, we come to equate that with not having to work hard like these ‘lesser’ people. But, wow, does that curtail your chances in life!”
If you expect to coast from cradle to grave on whatever “natural” intelligence was gifted upon you at birth, can you guess what mindset governs your general outlook? And can you predict what will happen when you encounter an obstacle that you expect to easily hurdle but it winds up figuratively knocking you face-first to the ground?
If your fixed mindset is allowed to call the shots, this is probably where you give up and grudgingly decide that the people who didn’t falter are just somehow “better” than you. You tried and you failed; you never really had a chance, you reason, because the challenge was obviously beyond your capability. But if you can see this failure as a learning experience and your brain begins piecing together a strategy for how you can better tackle this challenge the next time — perhaps by studying the people who made it to the finish line instead of seeing them as indomitable reminders of your impotence — then there’s hope for your growth mindset to prevail, yet.
“When you’re in a growth mindset and it’s hard,” says Carol, “you just get your butt in gear! But when you’re in a fixed mindset, you say, ‘Oh, my God. This is a catastrophe! Maybe I’m not smart! I guess I won’t care about this.’ And you don’t come back from it.”
Even relationships are affected by mindsets. “If something goes wrong, who’s to blame? Am I the deficient, bad person, or are you the deficient, bad person?” says Carol. “Every relationship has its ups and downs, so when you’re having a down, does this mean the relationship is inherently bad vs. good? In a fixed mindset, we’re always judging. Who’s good? Who’s bad? Who’s right? Who’s wrong? Who’s to blame? Is the relationship good or bad? This is not the optimal way to be. Instead, in a growth mindset, you understand that if you face and discuss an issue, then the relationship can get even stronger.”
When Carol and her husband found a snag in their relationship due to a fixed mindset tailspin, they made a game of it. They invented a character named “Maurice” who acted as the scapegoat for whatever blaming needed to be done. “Then we could just get on with it,” says Carol, “discuss the issue, and solve it.”
It sounds irrational, but it’s a way of coping with the inherent irrationality of the fixed mindset that has proven to be surprisingly effective. In fact, it’s a way of giving the fixed mindset its own identity that you can separate from the desired growth mindset. “The idea is name it and claim it,” says Carol. “Give your fixed mindset persona a name…if you and your partner both do that…you can talk about it.”
How contagious is the fixed mindset? Is the growth mindset equally contagious? In what other ways can we stave off the fixed mindset when we find it creeping into our routine? What’s the relationship between willpower and mindset? Who would win a battle of incompetence between Maurice, Yanni, and Jonathan? We discuss most of this and more in this episode of The Art of Charm!
THANKS, DR. CAROL DWECK!
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