What Is a Growth Mindset?

What Is a Growth Mindset?

We like growth. Reflexively, a “growth mindset” just sounds good. Having a static or a fixed mindset just doesn’t have the same appeal.

But what does it really mean? Who came up with the idea of growth mindsets? Are they really that good? And if so, how do we go about having one? Additionally, what’s the evidence that a growth mindset actually works?

We’ll answer each of those questions. But first, take a moment to know that your mindset impacts you, your family, your work culture and your future success. That’s because perception affects your reality… and how you respond to it.

Now, let’s look at what a growth mindset is, and what it is not.

What does it mean to have a growth mindset?

Growth mindset defined

A growth mindset is the understanding that you can change, grow and learn. It entails the ideal of constant and neverending improvement. That is, you can change. You can learn to become a better leader, influencer and even strengthen and change your moral character. With effort, you can achieve more tomorrow than you can today. In fact, with a growth mindset, you can become an overall better person.

What a growth mindset is not is a quick fix to adversity or challenges. Rather, it defines how we perceive and cope with them.

Growth vs. fixed mindset

A fixed mindset places higher weight on existing skills, intelligence, proclivities and specific skills. Someone with a fixed mindset sees these tendencies as fixed. For example, a fixed mindset person might say, “I am not good at personal branding.” They accept this self-judgment not only as current fact, but as destiny. Someone with a growth mindset, on the other hand, will seek means to improve through growth and learning.

The task of those with a growth mindset is building greater resilience. That is because those who learn new skills and take risks will inevitably face setbacks along the way. Those with a fixed mindset, by accepting things as they are and avoiding risks may face fewer short-term setbacks.

What are the origins of a growth mindset philosophy?

Renowned psychologist and Yale graduate Carol Dweck, Ph.D., popularized the philosophy of a growth mindset in her 2006 book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.

As the Lewis and Virginia Eaton Professor of Psychology at Stanford University, Dweck’s research led her to explore how self-perception influences success. It affects every aspect of achievement from school and business to sports and parenting. She found that those with a fixed mindset set limits on themselves. Those with a growth mindset, however, are more apt to flourish. The success of those with a growth mindset, in large part, requires defeating self-limiting thoughts.

Dweck’s understanding that traits such as intelligence and skill are not “inherent” or “fixed” has far-reaching implications. Beyond personal success, she has taken her findings as a call to broader societal reform. Public education, in particular, has caught her eye. Rather than deem struggling students as inherently less capable or intelligent, she seeks opportunities for the students to apply themselves and continually improve in the lagging area.

Can I develop a growth mindset?

Yes. In fact, this is the elephant in the room that needs to be immediately addressed. Saying, “That person is more successful because they have a growth mindset and I don’t” is, itself, self-limiting. It’s a cop-out. The core point, the very marrow, of the growth mindset philosophy centers around the principle that you can change. You can improve. The first step in that daily improvement lies in moving from a fixed to a growth mindset.

Best practices

If you feel that you have a fixed mindset, congratulations! It means that you have opened yourself to change. Anyone who accuses you of being fixed, less capable, less astute or less moral are themselves operating from a fixed mindset. You already hold the advantage. So let’s get to work.

Best practices for developing a growth mindset are, in themselves, surprisingly simple. In fact, they’re almost the stuff of platitudes. Don’t be dismissive. The truths are real, but they take work, commitment and energy on your part. When cultivating a growth mindset, keep work on the following constantly:

  1. Embrace challenges.
    Say “yes” to the next difficult task offered to you, even if you’re not confident you are the right person for the job.
  2. Acknowledge your weaknesses.
    Know them, but with the commitment to either improve upon them, use them to your advantage or go around them.
  3. Transform negative self-talk.
    How we talk to ourselves impacts our self-perception and, ultimately, what we say to others. Start small and grow. “I failed at an important task” becomes “I see where I went wrong and what I can fix next time.”
  4. Learn from criticism while never seeking personal approval.
    Analyze criticism as objectively as possible. Learn from what is useful while dismissing the rest. Don’t dwell on things for days that your critics likely forgot within minutes.

Media to assist in your journey

An example of a fixed mindset might be: “I’m just kind of a sad person.” It’s an acceptance, and a belief that sadness is inevitable. People will jump through virtual hoops to make alcohol dependence, lack of exercise or depression just a part of their nature – a cornerstone of their personality. That fixed mindset needs to change.

But at the same time, telling a person facing stress-induced depression to “just cheer up” is far too cute, far too dismissive. Positive change takes work. It sometimes requires outside guidance and assistance. Thankfully, you can find an abundance of books to assist you on your journey to developing a growth mindset.

Recommended growth mindset books

Mindset: The New Psychology of Success (2006) by Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D. stands as the seminal work exploring the power and utility of a growth mindset. Useful and accessible to any reader seeking to grow from a fixed mindset, Dweck explores how mindset can positively or negatively impact our lives and our every pursuit. 

The Upside of Uncertainty: A Guide to Finding Possibility in the Unknown (2022) by Nathan Furr and Susannah Harmon Furr explores the upside of uncertainty by drawing from interviews with hundreds of subjects across professional fields. The article “Embracing Uncertainty Helps You Develop a Growth Mindset” provides an enlightening excerpt.

The Growth Mindset Playbook: A Teacher’s Guide to Promoting Student Success (2016) by Annie Brock and Heather Handley is made for educators. While we highly recommend it for teachers, the tips, strategies and exercises provided in this wonderful book provide insight for anyone seeking to adapt a growth mindset for themselves or for their kids.

Recommended self-affirming apps

Guided meditations on such apps such as Headspace, Calm and Breethe go further than teaching us to relax and let go of stress. By design, they assist in helping us build resilience and let go of negative, self-defeating thoughts. In that process, they provide a useful tool in building a growth mindset.

Is there real evidence that a growth mindset works?

With decades of research, publication and testing of Dweck’s work, no serious person can deny the benefits of a growth mindset. The clinical evidence stands strong.

Psychology Today notes that adapting a growth mindset isn’t so much like developing a superpower as it is becoming more open to success. But such openness, with practice, is no small thing. The way we think becomes habitual. Negative or positive thoughts can literally change the structure of our brains due to our neural networks reforming over time and with practice. Consider the pianist or athlete who reacts so fast it seems to defy logic. That agility takes practice, and practice builds “shortcuts” within the brain.

The same goes for mindsets. A positive mindset takes practice. But with enough practice, it becomes our default. The payoff to positive thinking is greater personal happiness, confident leadership and professional success.

How can I promote a growth mindset in the workplace?

Like people, corporations and other institutions can develop negative mindsets. Instead of negative self-talk inside one person’s mind, self-defeating thoughts take place at the water cooler, on Zoom or in Slack. Risk-aversion and defeatism in the face of competition can metastasize downward from leadership or upward from the ranks. Building a growth mindset at all levels of operation builds confidence, trust and morale. A growth mindset is essential to business success.

To design a strong work culture—one that turns the corner from defeatism to growth—requires seemingly simple steps. But, as with an individual, each step toward a growth mindset requires daily commitment. Steps to consider include:

  • Continuing education and training programs
  • Cross-training at every opportunity
  • Employee Assistance Programs (EAPS) for addiction recovery and well-being
  • Encourage open discussion of new ideas and possibilities for growth
  • Book a motivational speaker with proven expertise in growth mindsets

Hiring a corporate speaker for your next event is often like priming a well. The potential for rapid growth already exists. You’ve put the pieces in place with investments and hiring, but you need to take that potential kinetic. Corporate speakers and leadership coaches such as Alexia Vernon and Ricky Mendez have transformed major corporations from static to dynamic mindsets.

That shift from a defeatist, fixed mindset to a powerful growth mindset often requires only a nudge. You only need to make sure that the nudge is in the best direction.

Photo by Jacob Lund/Shutterstock

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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.

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