If you had asked me five years ago – hell, even one year ago, if I had a growth or a fixed mindset, I’d have told you:
“Of course I have a growth mindset! I love to learn!”
And the truth is, I couldn’t have been more wrong.
It wasn’t until I started learning about mindset through The Flourishing Center’s Certificate in Applied Positive Psychology program AND read Dr. Carol Dweck’s book called Mindset: The New Psychology of Success that I realized I was living in the throes of a fixed mindset and that it was directly impacting my life in some really profound ways.
While learning and growing are critical components of having a growth mindset, they aren’t the only components. So I’m breaking down 5 signs that, had I not spent the time dissecting my mindset, I would have never realized were contributing to a fixed mindset that was keeping me stuck and unable to move forward in my life.
But first, let’s briefly look at what the different mindsets are.
Fixed mindset. Dweck says that people with a fixed mindset believe that qualities like intelligence or ability cannot be changed. You are born with a set amount, and no amount of effort can change it.
Growth mindset. Dweck describes someone with a growth mindset as believing that, while a person is born with a baseline of intelligence or ability, it can also be developed through effort and hard work. One hallmark of a growth mindset is a willingness and desire to learn.
I clung to the “learning” part for a long time, which is why I pegged myself as having a growth mindset without much additional thought.
But there is so much more to it than that. Here are 5 areas my fixed mindset was (who am I kidding – in some cases still is! Hey, I’m a work in progress!) making a presence in my life.
#1 – I’m constantly trying to prove myself.
In her book, Dweck says that people with a fixed mindset believe they only have a certain amount of ability. Because they operate from that mindset, they are always trying to prove the ability they do have. What’s more, after every interaction, people with a fixed mindset believe that the interaction needs to be measured and labeled:
Was this a success or a failure?
Do they think I’m smart or dumb?
How did I measure up? What did they think of me?
Was this a win or a loss?
Because people with a fixed mindset believe that ability is a finite resource, they spend all their time showing off the ability they do have. They do this by seeking out situations where they will shine and actively avoid situations where they know they will fall short. They keep busy ‘playing small’ in arenas that never push them outside their comfort zone for fear they will not measure up.
#2 – I let other people define me.
Because I’m always trying to prove myself – specifically, prove myself to other people – that means I’m also concerned with what those people think of me.
If I’m worried about whether or not someone thinks I’m smart or dumb, then I’m making what they think mean something about me.
Why can’t an interaction just be an interaction? Why do I always have to walk away from it thinking “What did they think of me?”
Letting other people define you is a dangerous space to be in for a few reasons. One – every person is bringing his or her own lense with which they view the world (their own set of beliefs, values, thoughts, and stories). You will not impress everyone. Second – If you let other people define you, then who are you really? Feeling like I’m solely the product of what other people think feels discouraging because at that point, it’s out of my control.
#3 – My inner self talk says things like “I’m a failure” or “I suck”.
If there is one thing you take away from reading this, it is to start paying attention to the way you talk to yourself. The way you talk to yourself might be fraught with examples of where your fixed mindset shows itself.
I have let failures and setbacks define me for so long. When it became apparent that a job wasn’t going to work out, I made it mean something about me – that I am a failure or that there was something wrong with me. I made rejection mean something about me.
I would say things like “I’m a failure” instead of “I failed at that” or even more accurate: “I outgrew that”. The failure defined me instead of it just being a circumstance to learn something from.
So pay attention to how you talk to yourself. You might not even know you are doing it. Or worse, you might think it’s no big deal. But it is a big deal. Words create worlds (see note below). And our thoughts, left unchecked, can be more destructive than anything we’d ever say out loud to someone else.
#4 – I give up before it even gets hard.
People with a fixed mindset give up when it gets hard. And I used to give up before it even got hard! (And I still have to fight this urge today!)
I wouldn’t stick with something long enough for it to even get hard.
For me, it was easier to jump from thing to thing because when it failed, I could say “Well, that wasn’t really my thing.” Or, “I decided to go a different route.”
In her book, Dweck says: “The idea of trying and still failing – of leaving yourself without excuses – is the worst fear within the fixed mindset.” Why? Because they make it mean something about them. To someone with a fixed mindset, failure means “I’m exposed. I’m a failure.”
There is real vulnerability in putting everything you’ve got into something and it not working out. But someone with a growth mindset wouldn’t even look at it that way. That person would say “I haven’t figured it out…yet”. Yet is a very important word in developing a growth mindset.
Remember, people with a fixed mindset think they have limited ability. So risk and effort could potentially reveal their inadequacies so it is better not to try at all (to protect yourself from failure). Failure is devastating to someone with a fixed mindset. There is no recovering, because they either had the ability to get it done or they didn’t. And failure means, well, that they didn’t.
#5 – I love to learn. But applying what I’m learning is harder for me.
People with a fixed mindset love to prove how smart they are. So learning is great, because you can show how smart you are!
But learning just to learn feels really safe. And learning from a place of fear (“Will they find me out?!”) vs. learning from a place of curiosity (“I wonder…”) are two very different motivations.
Applying what you are learning is the messy, hard part. It’s where the rubber hits the road. It requires action, which requires effort. People with a fixed mindset don’t like effort because they think it should come easy or that if it was meant for them, they would be a natural at it.
Wrapping it Up
Mindset matters folks. And it is worth the effort to dig in to our mindsets to see where it might be holding us back or tripping us up. Dweck says the first step in moving from a fixed to a growth mindset is awareness.
After seeing where my fixed mindset has held me back, I’m wondering if you can see where a fixed mindset might be holding you back. Keep an open mind if something is coming up for you. If you feel comfortable, tell me about it in the comments below. I’d love to hear from you!
(Author Note: I’d love to give credit for whoever originally said “Words Create Worlds”, but it is unclear, so I just leave this here to say – I didn’t say it, and I don’t know who did).