What Is a Growth Mindset vs. Fixed Mindset?

UPDATED: February 1, 2023
PUBLISHED: December 14, 2022
What Is a Growth Mindset vs. Fixed Mindset?

A fixed mindset is one that assumes a person’s habits, preferences, skills and even longings are fixed, perhaps even innate. This mindset restrictively inhibits people from self-improvement and learning new skills.

Someone with a fixed mindset:

  • Takes criticism as a personal failure or critique
  • Avoids new challenges personally and professionally
  • Sees their skills as fixed by nature
  • Feels threatened by the success of others
  • Views ideological differences as threatening to their worldview

What is a growth mindset?

Through her 2006 book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Carol Dweck, Ph.D., popularized the theory of a growth mindset. The willingness to improve and grow daily, she says, contributes as a key factor for personal, professional and educational success. As a practice, it entails effort toward constant, never-ending improvement in any chosen areas, whether learning new skills, improving one’s health or even moral improvement.

Someone with a growth mindset:

  • Accepts criticism as an opportunity to grow
  • Embraces new challenges
  • Sees their skills and knowledge as dynamic
  • Enjoys and learn from the success of others
  • Sees differences in others as learning opportunities

What are the benefits of a growth mindset?

Our mindset impacts how we perceive ourselves, our world and our place in it. That is, mindset is pivotal to just about everything in our lives including our career and personal relationships. And a fixed mindset often limits both. A fixed mindset can even serve as an excuse to avoid responsibility or to embrace gluttony, immorality and laziness. After all, if our skills and intelligence are fixed, then why even try to improve?

A growth mindset frees you from this self-imposed prison. It means embracing the simple concept that you can be a better person today than you were yesterday. By accepting improvement as a gradual process, a growth mindset allows you to embrace challenges as opportunities and grow by facing fears. The primary benefit can simply be growth and learning for their own sake. But the accomplishments soon manifest as true confidence.

With this increasing confidence, someone with a growth mindset will experience a decrease in their self-limiting risk aversion. Negative self-talk becomes more positive and self-affirming. Results may take the form of continually improving their health and well-being, taking difficult work roles that lead to advancement, and embracing spiritual or romantic relationship opportunities.

Perhaps the most surprising positive outcome of a growth mindset is an overall reduction in stress. A growth mindset frees you from the misguided belief that perfection is necessary when learning a new skill or trade. You will become willing to accept new challenges, but also with the acceptance that you have weaknesses you can improve on daily.

What personal traits distinguish a fixed from a growth mindset?

1. How we learn

Those with a growth mindset are often tinkerers. When anything from a website to a radiator hose needs fixed, they consult Google, YouTube or simply try to “figure it out” on their own. In fact, Psychology Today connects a growth mindset with this autodidactic—or self-teaching—approach to learning. A fixed mindset person is comfortable to learn passively in a classroom. Or they may default to leaving a garbage disposal replacement to a professional rather than fix it themselves. A growth mindset person, on the other hand, will attempt to learn, test and develop the skills they need in any reasonable situation. Famously, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk each left college to pursue learning and success in this more autodidactic form.

2. Our self-talk

Those with a fixed mindset more often engage in negative self-perception. Much of how we perceive ourselves involves how we talk to ourselves. We constantly evaluate our situations and our responses in a sort of internal dialog. This self-talk can be inspirational, or it can be self-defeating. For instance, the negative self-talk of a fixed mindset may include, “I can’t do this because I’m terrible at math” or “I’ll never get through this day.” Someone with a growth mindset engages in more positive self-talk even when facing failure. They will say, “I’ll need to learn a new skill to accomplish this” and “This will be a day to remember and grow from.”

3. The ways we interact with others

Those with a fixed mindset so “no” a lot. For instance, they may decline a new challenge because out of six skills needed for success, they only feel comfortable with five of them. Rather than learn the sixth, they start with a rigid, “I can’t” attitude that limits growth. 

This self-limiting approach to life can even lead to missed opportunities of joy and socialization. At a more destructive level, those with a fixed mindset may project these self-perceived strengths and weaknesses onto others. Someone with a growth mindset, on the other hand, will more likely see how subordinates and peers can grow into new roles and challenges.

4. Greater resilience

Those with a growth mindset face adversity with greater resilience. This in no small part feeds from the attributes previously mentioned. Those with greater self-reliance, nurturing self-talk and more positive social interactions already have built the habits necessary to build resilience. Those with a growth mindset also tend to live in the moment. That is, they practice mindfulness in their work lives and in personal lives. Each of these factors plays a role in developing an overall positive mindset that leads to greater positivity and performance.

Importantly, avoid seeing these personal attributes as fixed. To do so is, in itself, a characteristic of a fixed mindset. How we learn, our self-care habits, social interactions and resilience level can each be improved. In that self-awareness and gradual building of strengths, we develop a more positive growth mindset.

Are there benefits to a fixed mindset?

A fixed mindset can yield limited rewards. First, don’t think of fixed and rigid mindsets as a binary, like a light that is either off or on. Rather, imagine them on a continuum, like a thermostat. Fixed versus growth mindsets vary by degrees. They can even vary within the individual depending on subject or context.

Second, time is not unlimited. If someone with a fixed mindset excels at sales but considers themselves poor at bookkeeping, they may accept this weakness as fact and move on. That is, someone with a fixed mindset may persist dutifully in an approach they know yields results in the long run. The challenge for those with a fixed mindset lies in avoiding stubbornness and adjusting to changes necessary in dynamic environments.

Lastly, even risk-aversion itself can benefit someone with a fixed mindset. After all, embracing risks comes with… risks! Those with a fixed mindset take the slow and steady approach to personal and career growth. The person hired part time to write code may become the department head one day with unwavering, play-by-the-rules commitment.

Just don’t be too rigid in your thinking and openness. To accept opportunities, even those comfortable with a fixed mindset need some self-awareness and flexibility to grow along the way!

Bryan Lindenberger

Bryan enjoys the digital space where arts and technology meet. As a writer, he has worked in education, health and wellbeing, and manufacturing. He also assists smaller businesses in web development including accessibility and content development. In his free time, he hikes trails in central Florida.