How to Move from a Fixed Mindset to a Growth Mindset

When I started college, I had a fixed mindset about my abilities. Science was my thing, I was an average writer, and under no circumstances did I want to talk to anyone about their feelings. I had a goal to become a physician and had outlined my life for the next 12 years. Little room was left for adjustment. Much to my chagrin, the university I attended understood that 18-year-olds need exposure to a variety of disciplines to know that multiple perspectives exist.

I signed up for “easy” courses to meet the university requirements, but I was surprised by my experience in anthropology. I found the material challenging and interesting and realized it supported one of my favorite pastimes, people watching. Initially I resisted this interest and continued to pursue my goal to be a physician. But over time, I found myself most energized by the social sciences. With some support from my advisor, I made the switch to being an anthropology major. 

By paying attention to what challenged and inspired me, I eventually found myself completing graduate studies to become a therapist. Apparently talking about feelings actually was my thing. Unbeknownst to me, I had switched from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset in the pursuit of my goals. What does it mean to have a fixed or growth mindset?

growth mindset

What is a fixed mindset?

According to Jennifer Smith, those with a fixed mindset believe that their intelligence and talents are fixed and cannot be changed. This essentially would mean that each of us has a peak that we cannot surpass.

A fixed mindset is characterized by a handful of qualities. Someone with a fixed mindset is more likely to avoid something challenging as they may not believe they will succeed. Additionally, they may believe that putting forth effort or overcoming obstacles is an unnecessary expenditure of energy. If someone with a fixed mindset experiences a setback, they’re likely to perceive it as an overall failure instead of a bump in the road. Witnessing success of others may induce feelings of insecurity and jealousy. Lastly, a fixed mindset can often make feedback difficult to receive or feel like a personal attack. 

What is a growth mindset?

Someone with a growth mindset believes that intelligence and talents can be developed via learning and putting forth effort. A growth mindset reflects certain attributes. One attribute of a growth mindset is to continue pursuing a goal, even when it becomes challenging. Additionally, those with a growth mindset are able to view feedback as an opportunity to improve. They view failure as information for future success, and they’re inspired by those who are successful.

Benefits of a growth mindset

It’s clear that there are certain benefits to adopting a growth mindset. Some benefits of a growth mindset include:

  • Build comfort with imperfections

No person is perfect. We are all flawed in our own ways. If we’re able to embrace our flaws, we can often use them to our advantage or plan for them when we are working towards a goal.

  • Increase creativity

With a fixed mindset, someone may believe there is only one way of approaching a task. With a growth mindset, a person can try a variety of tactics that are more suited to their strengths. 

  • Experience more achievement

Remember, someone with a fixed mindset believes they have limitations on their abilities. So, when they believe they’ve hit their peak, they no longer pursue higher goals. Someone with a growth mindset is more able to push past what they think is possible and thus experiences more achievement. 

  • Develop grit

According to the Oxford dictionary, grit is, “courage and resolve” and “strength of character.” Grit is developed by pushing through challenges that put us on the edges of our boundaries. A fixed mindset would discourage this kind of effort, but a growth mindset embraces it.

  • Take more risks

By embracing failure and feedback, we are able to free ourselves from the shame of experiencing setbacks. Eliminating these concerns creates more willingness to take risks as we work towards a goal. 

How to foster a growth mindset

As with most productive change, making the switch can often be easier said than done. Here are some tips for how to make the change from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset:

  • Seek out challenges that push you outside of your comfort zone. 

While I was training for the Chicago marathon, I often reflected on the quote, “You are stronger than you think you are and you can go farther than you think you can,” by Ken Chlouber. It is a reminder that we are capable of far more than we think. 

  • Pay attention to your language.

One technique in therapy that I use often with client’s is turning coulds into cans and shoulds into wills. Instead of saying, “I should walk in the morning,” say, “I will walk in the morning.” When we speak with solution focused language, we are more likely to experience growth. Additionally, growth is more likely to occur if self-talk is encouraging, not demeaning.

  • Connect with your values

It is much more fulfilling to pursue a goal if it is aligned with your values. Additionally, if your values are represented in your goal, it is more challenging to quit. 

  • Learn from your mistakes and the mistakes of others

If you experience a setback or witness a setback of someone else, use that time as an opportunity to reflect on how the task could be approached differently. 

Switching to a growth mindset may be challenging, and we may find ourselves reverting to a fixed thought pattern. However, the change is a valuable gift to yourself in the pursuit of your dreams.

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Mental Health Think & Feel

About Sarah Kelly

Sarah Kelly is a licensed social worker and certified alcohol and drug counselor. Sarah received her MSW from Loyola University and Chicago and currently works as an individual and group therapist for Clarity Clinic Chicago with an emphasis in addiction and trauma work. While Sarah believes that therapy is a significant and often necessary tool to foster personal and community wellness, Sarah believes in caring for the whole person and whole community. Sarah works towards this value by engaging in Chicago’s running and yoga communities, tapping into several book clubs and indulging in the bachelor. Sarah hopes to support you in the process in discovering what brings you value in yourself and your community.