Fixed vs. Growth Mindset

Although we make great strides to academic success for our students each day, one of the issues that we come across most often at the TECHniques Center is the “fixed mindset.” Too often, individuals believe that their mental capacity is fixed, that they will not be able to improve in an area that has been limiting their potential.

Students often come into my office saying things like “Well, I’m just not creative” or “I’ve never been a math person” as a response to why they did not perform as well as they would have liked on an exam, project, or other assignment. This is evidence that they have gotten stuck in a fixed mindset, which greatly hinders their productivity, motivation, and potential. The solution for this problem is to develop a growth mindset that will help them bounce back, “fail up,” and succeed in their future goals.

fixed mindset can be defined as someone believing that their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits. They spend their time trying to prove their intelligence or talent instead of developing as learners. Individuals who are stuck in a fixed mindset also believe that talent alone creates success—without effort. They frequently see hard work as something only those without talent have to bear. They’re wrong.

Hard work is not something reserved for those without intelligence or talent; it is a necessary precursor to success and growth.

Someone with a growth mindset believes that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work. Brains and talent are just the beginning of success in any field. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for success in college and beyond. Hard work is not something that is reserved for those of lesser talent or intelligence, but a necessary prerequisite for success. Virtually all great people have had these qualities.

The fixed mindset is unfortunately reinforced almost every day in the way that we speak to one another, and the way that we speak to ourselves. When a student performs well on an exam or assignment, we often compliment them by saying “Wow, you must be smart”, or “It looks like you are great at History.” What this subtly creates though, is the idea that success was linked to a pre-existing factor within the other person. When results do not turn up as well as hoped on future assignments, the only thing left to assume for that person is that they are not smart, or not good at whatever it is that they were doing. If, on the other hand, we consciously remember to praise others (and ourselves!) with process praise such as “Wow, you must have worked hard” or “Looks like you prepared well for this exam” we subtly reinforce the idea that success is linked to effort not simply intrinsic ability.

Success is linked to effort not simply intrinsic ability.

Some Steps to Move to a Growth Mindset

  1. Recognize when you are thinking in a fixed mindset.
    1. Do you find yourself doubting yourself or your abilities before you take an exam?
    2. When you face criticism or failure, do you blame others, your environment, or your disability?
    3. When you are faced with a setback, do you give up quickly, or think that the face that you have to work hard means that you are not talented or intelligent?
  2. Recognize that you have a choice in the way that you approach the situation – You can choose to see exams, assignments, or other tasks as only measures of your abilities and talents, or you can see them as signs that you need to increase your effort, utilize more resources, and stretch yourself.
  3. Talk to yourself, don’t listen to yourself – In order to avoid strange looks in the library, maybe don’t do this out loud, but whenever you hear yourself speaking in a fixed manner, remind yourself that your abilities are not finite, and that hard work is not a negative thing.
    1. Tell yourself “This (test/assignment/project) is a measure of the work that I put into it, not my reserves of talent or intelligence.
    2. Tell yourself “My success or failure is my responsibility, not my professor’s/tutor’s/mom’s/dad’s/etc.”
    3. Tell yourself “The fact that this is hard does not mean that i’m not cut out for it.”
    4. When you hear yourself say “I’m not good at ____” simply add the word “yet.”
  4. Take the growth action.
    1. Take on the challenge. Jump in with both feet!
    2. Learn from your mistakes, and “fail up.” (Use knowledge and experience gained from failure to give yourself a leg up the next time around.)
    3. Hear criticism and use it to inform and motivate you for future success.
Have you noticed yourself thinking with a fixed mindset?
Why should we focus on process praise with ourselves and our peers?
Where are some areas where you could use your past experiences to “fail up”?

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