Fixin’ to Grow: How Our Mindsets Affect Us More Than We May Think

by Kathleen Gerwin

Picture this:

You’re back in grade school and you’ve just received that oh-so-dreaded report card; this time however, you’re full of excitement because the far column reads ‘A’ all the way down. You rush home, eager to show your parents, knowing they will be so pleased. They are most likely going to say . . .

“Honey, we’re so proud of you! Look how smart you are!”

Or

“Honey, we’re so proud of you! You’ve worked so hard!”

While both responses are valid and affirming, they speak to two distinct mindsets about the relationship between our capacity and our performance. The first reaction speaks to a fixed-mindset—the belief that all of our talents and abilities are innate and unchanging. In a fixed mind-set, we believe that our intelligence, athletic ability, artistic skills or any other trait is carved in stone—we got a certain amount of it at birth and we’re going to have the same amount when we die.

The second response speaks to a growth-mindset. In a growth-mindset, an individual operates under the assumption that growth and change can happen in any area of life, with effort and experience. A growth-mindset views capacities such as intelligence, athleticism, and creativity as constantly in flux and as faculties to be cultivated over time. This type of mind-set shows up when we acknowledge the process along with the outcome and view life with elasticity.

While it is certainly true that there is a strong argument for the role of Nature when it comes to traits (no one is going to argue that Albert Einstein or Michal Jordan didn’t have a bit of a natural leg-up!) research shows that individuals who hold fixed-mindsets about their abilities are far more likely to suffer from depression, anxiety, low self-esteem and are ultimately less successful than their growth-minded peers. This is due to the fact that fixed mindset individuals view success and failure as a reflection of themselves and their abilities. On the other hand, growth-minded individuals fortify themselves against many of the side-effects of failure by viewing their capacities as ever changing, and more of a reflection of their willingness to risk rather than their core identity.

Which type of mind-set are you operating from? What type of mindsets are you encouraging in your loved ones, clients and or those you minister to?