When we hear the term ‘growth mindset,’ it can be easy to lump the idea into the category of “think positive and manifest.” And while that is part of it, there’s a lot more to it than that. And understanding how being growth-minded applies at work and at home can help you be more successful and avoid common pitfalls. Here’s what having a growth mindset means, how it’s different from a fixed mindset, and everyday tips to help you lean towards growth.
What does having a growth mindset mean?
Having a growth mindset basically means believing you can grow and develop. Psychologist and leading growth mindset expert Carol Dweck defines it this way:
“Individuals who believe their talents can be developed—through hard work, good strategies, and input from others—have a growth mindset (1).”
According to Dweck, there are a lot of benefits to having a growth mindset over a fixed mindset. People with a fixed mindset tend to believe talents, intelligence and personality are all innate or fixed, and you either have them or you don’t. But those with a growth mindset believe that these traits and skills are not immutable and that you can, in fact, grow and evolve them with the right mindset.
Those with a growth mindset achieve more because they tend to worry less about looking smart or upholding an image, and instead put their focus on learning. They view challenges as an opportunity to grow, rather than a potential setback waiting to happen (2).
Some high-profile people who showcase a growth mindset, according to Dweck, are Michael Jordan (watch The Last Dance) Charles Darwin, and Lou Gerstner, who rescued IBM. They’re individuals who transformed their respective fields through incredible performance and breakthroughs, which stemmed from their belief that they could achieve anything they put their mind to—their growth mindset.
And our brains are designed to support this mindset. Thanks to neuroplasticity—how our brains change in response to learning—we’re actually wired to continue to evolve and develop our skills and talents at any age, not just in our formative early years. Neuroplasticity means we’re not stuck with the brain structure we were born with, and that everyday experiences keep our brain in a constant state of change.
Growth mindset vs. fixed mindset
In contrast to a growth mindset, those with a fixed mindset believe they’re born with certain aptitudes but not others. As mentioned earlier, a fixed mindset is often used when talking about talent—either you have it or you don’t. Maybe we were told that we’re just not as smart as others, or that we “don’t belong in engineering” or that we “just weren’t meant to sing.” It’s a more limiting mindset that leaves less room for learning and growth.
When can see how a growth mindset differs from a fixed mindset when looking at how the two types view effort, challenge, and mistakes. When faced with hard work, for example, the fixed mindset person might outsource the hardest parts of the job to others so they can spend as little effort as possible. The growth mindset person, on the other hand, views effort as a part of the process and necessary to get closer to their goals (3).
When it comes to new challenges, a fixed mindset person is more likely to shy away from them in favor of more familiar tasks they know they can do well. In contrast, a growth-minded person will lean into challenges, seeing them as exciting new opportunities to learn and grow (3). For this reason, holding a fixed mindset can lead you to avoid pursuing passion projects or careers you might enjoy more due to the fear of failing.
For a fixed mindset, mistakes are devastating and embarrassing. The growth-minded person instead sees mistakes as valuable lessons that offer an opportunity to grow. Research shows that this openness to feedback and criticism helps the growth-minded “bounce back” quicker and find ways to keep moving forward (4).
In these examples, you might have found some of yourself in both mindsets. It’s important to note that this all exists on a spectrum. You may be more growth-minded in certain areas of your life than others. What’s important is first becoming aware of your tendencies so that you can grow in the way you choose.
Tips for adopting a growth mindset
Keeping a growth mindset isn’t necessarily easy, especially since most of us have our own fixed mindset triggers. When we face challenges or receive criticism, for example, it can be easy to fall into insecurity and tell ourselves things like, “See you knew you couldn’t do it.” It’s a process that gets easier with consistency. Here are five everyday tips to help you keep leaning towards growth.
Pay attention to your self-talk.
Notice the words you choose, both in your mind and outwardly with others. By replacing negative thoughts with more positive ones you can become more growth-minded (3). For example, if you notice you’re judging yourself or someone else, can you replace that with acceptance instead? Or if you find you’re being overly self-critical, can you practice self-compassion?
Connect with others who are growth-minded.
Whether you’re trying to learn how to sing or are taking a new job-related skill course, having at least one other person who supports your learning can help. In her research, Dweck discovered that also being in an environment that supports learning and progress is as important to developing—and sticking to—a growth mindset (5).
Embrace challenges and mistakes.
Even though it can feel good to keep doing the things we’re good at, and being right or always winning, research actually shows that when we do difficult things—those just out of our reach—we learn more because our brain has to work harder to imprint the learnings (6). This imprinting also makes the knowledge more accessible later on.
Remember that your brain is always changing.
Every time you learn something new, your brain is creating new neural pathways (7). That isn’t a belief, it’s science. And just like a muscle, your brain can grow or atrophy depending on how much you exercise it.
When it comes to fixed and growth mindsets, research shows that you can, in fact, choose which you employ in each moment. By paying attention to how you view effort, challenge, and mistakes, you can start to see where you’re more growth-oriented and where your mindset is more fixed. So whether you have a goal of learning the guitar, becoming fluent in a foreign language, or leading a little more at work, adopting a growth mindset can help you get there quicker. It starts with telling yourself you can and then getting to work. Listen to Muse’s Mindset Talks Collection to help you find your flow, boost your resilience, and optimize your performance in five minutes or less. Learn how to ditch the drama, banish burnout, reach your highest potential, and so much more!
- Read “What Having a ‘Growth Mindset’ Actually Means by Carol Dweck via Harvard Business Review here.
- Read the study “A national experiment reveals where a growth mindset improves achievement” via Nature here.
- Learn “15 Ways to Build a Growth Mindset” in Psychology Today here.
- Read the study “Mindsets That Promote Resilience: When Students Believe That Personal Characteristics Can Be Developed” here.
- Read “Debate Arises over Teaching “Growth Mindsets” to Motivate Students” in Scientific American here.
- Read the study “Making things hard on yourself, but in a good way: Creating desirable difficulties to enhance learning” here.
- Read “Neuroplasticity” from the American Association of the Advancement of Science here.