How to Change Your Mindset for Growth

growth mindset

Pop quiz. Which of these do you agree with?

  1. Intelligence is fixed at birth.
  2. Some people are creative, others aren’t.
  3. You can become a world-class expert through enough practice, whatever your starting point.
  4. You can change your personality.

If you agreed with the first two statements, you’re coming from a fixed mindset. If you agreed with the second two, you’ve got a growth mindset.

Just knowing that probably isn’t very useful. What does it mean for you?

The Fixed Mindset

Having a fixed mindset means that you believe that your personality, skills and traits are pretty much set. They’re in your genes. You might think back to the way parents or teachers labeled you as a kid – perhaps “bright” or “lazy” or “clumsy” or “sporty”.

If you’re stuck in the fixed mindset, you want to keep proving yourself. “Success” means living up to what you believe yourself to be.

  • If you believe you’re intelligent, you avoid taking on anything too hard – anything which might make you look stupid.
  • If you believe you’re creative, you stick with the tried-and-trusted techniques which you already know – you don’t want to produce something that doesn’t work.
  • If you believe you’ve got great business skills, you avoid taking risks – what if your company failed?

The fixed mindset can hold you back in other ways, too. It can lead you to focus on appearances over reality (so you cover up mistakes, for instance, rather than learning from them). It stops you taking on new challenges – perhaps playing a sport or learning a musical instrument – because you think you don’t have the innate talent in those areas.

The Growth Mindset

Having a growth mindset means that you believe your personality, skills, and traits can be changed. You believe that experience and practice count for a lot more than your genetics. You might think about all the things you’ve learned during your life – and all the times you’ve started off as a total beginner only to become really good at something.

In the growth mindset, you stop worrying so much about failure. “Success” means that you learned something – even if the outcome wasn’t perfect.

  • You want to become more intelligent, so you take on harder challenges which really stretch you. Sometimes you fail – but you always learn something.
  • You want to become more creative, so you try out new mediums and take courses to improve your skills. Maybe you come up with something that doesn’t quite work – but you know what to do differently next time.
  • You want to be better at business, so you take risks and try something new. Not everything you do succeeds and sometimes you lose a bit of money – but you quickly learn what does and doesn’t work.

The growth mindset isn’t about positive thinking or kidding yourself. It’s a recognition of how the brain really works – how new connections are being made all the time, new pathways forged, new memories stored. It means understanding that people aren’t born as great athletes or musicians or business gurus – they become that way through constantly challenging themselves to go a step further.

How Can You Change Your Mindset for Growth?

It’s pretty obvious that a fixed mindset doesn’t serve you too well. It’s a hard habit to break, though – I know that I’m still tempted to see intelligence, creativity and even ability to focus as innate traits rather than things we can develop.

It’s definitely possible to change your mindset for growth, though. You could:

  • Read more about fixed verses growth mindsets, and the structure of the brain. Try Carol S. Dweck’s “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success” and read the truth about some brain myths (particularly the section about brain damage).
  • Spend fifteen minutes writing down a list of things you’ve learned during your life. You weren’t born able to walk, talk, read, ride a bike, do math… And as a teen or adult, you’ll have developed lots of complex skills – perhaps playing an instrument or using a particular bit of technology.
  • Pick something you think you’re bad at, and give it a go. Singing, drawing, writing, whatever it is … look for a beginner’s guide or class and work through it. (There’s a great example of how drawing can be learned in Hunter Nuttall’s post on Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain.)
  • Look for success stories from people who seem “ordinary” – but who achieved extraordinary things through the effort they put in.
  • Stop focusing on what you achieve; praise and reward yourself for effort. Don’t shy away from challenges – take a step outside your comfort zone.
  • If you accomplish something perfectly, don’t get too smug. It was too easy a challenge. Find something harder to try next time!

I’d love to hear your own thoughts on fixed vs growth mindsets – and if you have any stories to share of times when you learned a great deal through putting in time and effort, let us know in the comments!

34 thoughts on “How to Change Your Mindset for Growth”

  1. It is very important to have a growth mindset. Well, after an age, when we stop learning new things we seem to go into fixed mindsets. This is natural and purposeful. Then, we find that we know enough to be answerable to everything, which is totally obsolete.

  2. I agree with the first two, and disagree with the second two.
    But I believe that the statements in your quiz are too general.
    My tech-nerd brother-in-law is unable to comprehend or appreciate visual art, industrial design, etc. But he does enjoy a good sunset, and a good drum-and-guitar jam. So what is creativity?
    And regarding #4 , in watching children grow, I have seen personalities so unique, from birth, that react to the environment and to experiences, but the personality remains what it is.
    So. What is personality?
    Of course I’m in the “fixed” category, but I am very pleased with my continued personal and creative growth and with everything I learn as life throws me its punches and its prizes.
    So.. I think maybe this particular post is more about contentedness.
    If one does not feel content, then what you’ve written is a good recipe for change.
    Thanks for the food for thought!

    1. They are very general, and I wouldn’t expect anyone to agree 100% with any of them — but I’m sure most of us lean more one way or the other.

      Interesting take on this with contentedness — that’s not quite how I saw it, but I can see what you’re getting at. It sounds like you *are* growing though? Certainly we don’t all need to grow in all directions at once!

    2. @ lauren, the problem with being fixed in your mindset is that you remain content with everything including your failures because you are too afraid to step out of your comfort zone to try again. You become content with your undercommitment to yourself and to those looking up to you.

      It’s sheer waste of humanity to remain fixed in one’s mindset.

  3. The growth mindset is definitely right!

    I remember reading some studies on children who were identified as gifted. Very few of them actually became successful adults, the children who did become successful were the ones who had to work hard to get there.

    1. I like that. I think that hard work makes one feel good about oneself and want to keep growing and improving.
      Not only true with gifted people, but with those who start out with a comfortable life. If there’s no motivation to grow, change, think, earn a living, improve on ones outlook, overcome obstacles, then it’s most likely not going to happen.

  4. Hi Ali,

    I definitely believe in the growth mindset over the fixed mindset. After all, nobody was born with talent. They had to pick up each and every skill they have and practice at it until they reached their current level of proficiency. If a person is willing to invest the time and effort into any skill of his or her choosing, they can become pretty good at it too. Only by challenging ourselves to go the extra mile or lift that extra rep can we force our muscles and endurance to grow. So it is the same with life itself. Only by handling greater adversity do we gain the capacity to handle even greater adversity in the future. And it is through this process of going through the mill that we grow.

    I think you have given us great ideas for changing our mindsets from fixed to growth. One suggestion I would like to make is to focus on the solution and not the problem. If we focus on finding ways and means to improve at a skill, we can end up channeling our energy in a more constructive manner and grow as a result.

    Thank you for sharing this article!

    Irving the Vizier

  5. To change your mindset, don’t buy into this untruth: “To do two things at once is to do neither”, as Publius declared in 42 B.C. turns out to be inaccurate.

    Your brain is not a fixed mass that shapes your behavior. Your behavior can actually shape your brain. Like walking on the beach, where every time you do it you change the sand, but you have to keep doing it over and over to make a permanent path (strengthening the neural pathways).

    The renaissance man or a “polymath” is someone known to be skillful or to excel in a broad range of intellectual fields.

    We can all become renaissance men and women if we cross train our brain. The benefits of practicing one skill are not limited to that skill alone; they transfer. If you have twin pursuits and practice multiple things you actually get better at all of them. What is learned in the pursuit of the arts transfer to dissimilar fields, i.e. business, where you can become more intuitive, peaceful and insightful.

    To have plasticity also adds great texture to your life vs. following a single path.

    – Contrarianism

    1. I always saw that quote as being about multitasking? But interesting take on it! I certainly think that it’s good to grow in different areas — for instance in writing, I don’t only write blog posts or only write fiction … I work in a whole range of styles.

  6. Reading is a great way to combat the fixed mindset. Continuing education is easy, cheap, and you can do it on your own time. There are tons of books out there designed to get you familiar with something new.

    I had a buddy in high school who was a rockstar cross country runner (I was a runner, too, but a decidedly average one). People talked about how much “talent” he had. But I practiced with him every day, and I knew: the guy was just a workhorse. Flat-out. He pushed himself harder every day than anybody else, and that’s how he got where he is. That’s also why he’s in med school now. You don’t have to have a propensity for doing something, you just need to work at it.

    1. I had a friend like that in school – I really admired her determination and hard work. She was someone with natural talent, sure, but you could see that she made so much more of it than almost everyone else, just by working darn hard!

  7. Great article !

    The growth mindset is very important in sport and education. As a Coach (CrossFit) and teacher (High School), I try everyday to teach that mindset.
    Most people are in the fixed mindset and believe that they won’t be able to learn that competency, that it’s impossible for them to loose weight or to do pull-ups, or run 5K…
    So, i really believe that teaching the growth mindset is an important part of the job of teacher or coach (maybe the most important part).

    I’ve published an article about the growth mindset in CrossFit here, but it’s in French :

  8. hmm… checking in again and reading all these wonderful comments that were posted after mine…
    I guess I’m in the minority.
    But who knows… maybe I’ll change!

  9. Hi Ali,
    I believe that improving yourself or educating yourself is a choice. We can choose to remain right where we are and not experience anything new or we can be students throughout our lives, seeking more skill, talent, and intellegence. Thanks for the thought provoking post Ali!

  10. I definitely have a growth mindset!
    I have never heard these 2 phrases before but it seems that having a fixed mindset could create a viscious circle as it is difficult to change thinking and attitudes to things.
    The suggestions are great ways to start, I particularly like trying something you are bad at – the more you do it the better you become and that should start to change mindset. And anything which takes you out of the comfort zone is fab!

  11. I have alot to say on the matter, all I can say though now is, that if you can believe that you are worth more than where you are and you can see that there is a very strong need for your skills in this world, you will always accomplish. You will PUT yourself into difficult situations just so you know how they work…its your natural interest.

    Your blogs have helped me keep strong that my mind set is something to admire.

    Thankyou as always

  12. Ali,
    I think the problem many of us have is that we allow a label to be superimposed upon us, either by ourselves or by others. Then we become identified with that label. “I stink at Math” for example. Well, yeah if you believe and say that, it becomes your reality….it’s the law of attraction at it’s finest (or worst).

    The fact is that maybe Math is a little harder for you than others, but by making it a priority and embracing a growth mindset you’ll be willing to do whatever’s necessary to develop the necessary skills. Then one day you wake up and realize you’ve become a great Mathematician.

    1. Hey Jason, I think you are right, we cannot listen to the labels we give ourselves or let others give us. I was told I was hopeless at art in high school and I stopped drawing. When I was 40 i had to do some art for another reason and found I could draw so well that my drawings look like photos!! I exhibited and sold with in the first few months of taking up a pencil! Silly me for believing someone else and agreeing with their take.

  13. @ Jason : The school system is a big “labelling machine” : “you’re good in that, you’re bad in that…”

    But actually, every year, i know students who stink in math for example since years… and at the end of the year, they are the best students in math…

    Just working on their mindset ;-)

  14. Hi Ali. I love your points on maintaining a growth mindset. When we let negative circumstances and limiting beliefs define us, we inhibit our own growth. For me, it’s all about making a conscious decision to see opportunities and potential, even when others see cause for despair.

  15. Very nicely differentiated between ‘ The fixed mindset ‘ and ‘ The growth mindset ‘.
    Ya i completely agree with you. We should always walk on that road which takes us to reach our goal. Ya do agree that hard work and dedication about what we are doing is also very important.


  16. Thanks for a great post. very informative. I totally agree with you, having is the right mindset is most important of all. I Have already shared this post with a few of my friends and they loved it.

  17. I am totally into this article. I’m a growth mindset person. I am ready to take all challenges and step out from comfort zone. No harm right? But yet, I received lot’s of comment from friends that I am extreme? I hate this word.. how can we set that it’s growth mindset instead of “extreme”??

  18. Hi Ali

    I certainly enjoyed this article and the responses and I want to comment about some of them – they have all stimulated my growth!!

    First. re Lauren’s comment (no. 2) – on the other side, people can be too content so it may contribute to ‘fixed mindset’.

    @ Life Exceptional – I agree that the labelled ‘gifted’ may not be as valuable as those who need to work for success. I know a family where there are two sons – one labelled as gifted as his parents valued his ability to sing – he got supported and bankrolled by the bank of Mummy & Daddy all his life. The other was simply left to it referred to as dependable and independent. Now the bank of M&D has run dry due to retirement etc and the quality of life has dropped – less demand for his services in a recession and less income. Mr Independent on the other hand, went to university to Masters level and has continually developed himself throughout his working life. Now they are both in their mid – late thirties and the dependable son who had to work hard has actually significantly increased his income in the recession, while the ‘gifted’ brother struggles. I know the definition of gifted might be different but the story for me rings true.

    I dont think we can simply develop any talent we want to. For example, I dont believe that I could ever be a good dancer no matter what and it is not about my beliefs. It is about two big heavy flat feet, a lack of rythm etc!! I think we are attracted to certain talents that we can develop and become good at.

    Thanks for the ‘growth’ opportunity everyone!!


  19. I love this though i guess i fall in the fixed mindset category,there is only one thing i want to ask,supposing you try everday to change something and it never works out what do you do about it?I am asking because when i was in college i would spend most of my time reading really hard,working with teachers and fellow students to improve my grades,i graduated yes,but with a lower grade.What does that mean yet i know for sure i did my best?This left me wondering how hard can someone work to become better or best.

  20. This is a great piece although I for sure find myself with a fixe mind set. I always feel like I am never doing it right or good enough and that my peers will think I’m some weirdo for hating myself when I don’t get it right I never want to fail because I excpect the impossible out of myself… Perfection. I now understand that people do fail no one can be perfect at anything it is impossible. I always thought my dad was perfect because he was so good at sports he was really popular in high school and that he always ” got the girl ” if u will and my mom I always thought she was perfect to because she is so good at cooking and art and she is just plain nice to everyone even her enemies. I always tried to be like them but it never worked out I try to be the best I can at sports for my dad but I always failed I tried to be the nicest person ever but I always failed. So it is hard for me to find where I belong and I understand that it’s all just in my head.

  21. This is such a great article. We need more people like you in this world that can stimulate people’s minds. These people wouldn’t have had something to say if this article didn’t exist. I love the psychology in this and the descriptions. I really enjoyed reading this! I’m always happy to read information that will help me grow and become a better thinker. Expanding my mind to new ideas and seeing the world in more than one perspective is always exhilarating for me!

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