Fixed or Growth? You Decide
It would seem things are moving again. Slowly – but hopefully surely – we are being encouraged to form ‘support bubbles’ with close friends and relatives, return to work if we cannot work from home and shop for non-essential items on the high street. Something we have been looking forward to for months is finally happening. There is indeed a light at the end of the tunnel.
But are we viewing the easing of lockdown as a re-birth or a threat? The answer may lie in our individual mindsets. The term ‘mindset’ may be a familiar one but perhaps many of us have never stopped to think how it impacts our lives. “I’m in a positive mindset” you might have thought to yourself, or “I’m in an anxious mindset”. But where do mindsets come from in the first place and can we adapt them to new situations?
Two types of Mindset
A mindset is the collection of beliefs and thoughts that make up the mental attitude or disposition that predetermines our interpretations and responses to events. It refers to whether we believe qualities such as intelligence and talent are fixed or changeable traits. There are two types:
The belief that qualities are inborn, fixed, and unchangeable. Every situation in this mindset calls for a confirmation of these qualities. Every situation is evaluated as: “Will I succeed or fail? Will I look competent or incompetent? Will I be accepted or rejected?”
The belief that qualities can be developed and strengthened by way of commitment and hard work. When people with this mindset try and fail, they tend not to view it as a failure or disappointment. Instead, it is a learning experience that can lead to growth and change.
Whichever mindset we have, it plays a critical role in how we cope with life’s challenges. A growth mindset can contribute to increased efforts to overcome adversity. When facing a problem such as adapting to the new normal of our post-lockdown world, this mindset helps us to demonstrate greater resilience – we are more likely to persevere in the face of setbacks. Conversely, a fixed mindset means we are more liable to give up when confronting the new challenges ahead.
The effect of our early experience
Without being aware of it, the mindset that we go through life with can be ingrained in us from our earliest years. Psychologists have analysed what happens if you give children a difficult problem to solve. They noticed some children viewed the problem as a challenge and learning experience, while others felt that it was impossible to solve and that their intelligence was being held up for scrutiny and judgment.
The children in the first group had growth mindsets – when faced with something difficult, they believed that they could learn and develop the skills needed to solve it. The second group of children had fixed mindsets – they believed that there was nothing they could do to tackle a problem that was out of the reach of their knowledge and abilities.
This has led psychologists to conclude that many of us are trained into the two types of mindset early in life, through the way we are raised or our experiences in school.
- Children who are taught that they should look smart instead of loving learning tend to develop a fixed mindset. They can become more concerned with how they are being judged and fear that they might not live up to expectations.
- Children who are taught to explore, embrace new experiences and enjoy challenges are more likely to develop a growth mindset. Rather than seeing mistakes as setbacks, they are willing to try new things and make errors all in the name of learning and achieving their potential.
Changing our mindset
If this all seems rather unfair – that the decisions made for us early in our lives have moulded our minds in ways that are now impacting our lives – all is not lost. There is hope – because we can actually change our mindset.
Both growth mindsets and fixed mindsets are self-reinforcing. People who have a growth mindset will tend to improve, which will reinforce the idea that ability is learnable. People who have a fixed mindset will tend to stagnate, which will reinforce the idea that they are stuck with whatever ability level they have. Which means that to some extent, we can get out of this just by deciding to have the other mindset – by recognizing that all of the evidence we currently have is determined by the mindset we currently have and is untrustworthy as evidence of ‘how things actually are’.
However, it takes commitment and practise to actually develop a different mindset, rather than just understanding that it’s a good idea to do so. So, read on to discover how you can change your mindset from a ‘fixed’ perspective to a ‘growth’ perspective.