The Growth Versus Fixed Mindset

Title: The One You Feed | Carol Dweck
Date: April 14, 2015
Podcast length: 0:26:43

Carol Dweck is a leading researcher in the science of motivation affiliated with Stanford and also taught at Harvard and Columbia.

Her book Mindset is considered a seminal book in the psychology of motivation.

This podcast’s title is based on a parable that goes something like this:

A grandfather once spoke to his grandson saying that there are two wolves that always guide us. One wolf is the good wolf, which represents kindness, bravery, and love. The other wolf is the bad wolf, which represents greed, hatred and fear. The grandson asked, “Which one wins?" The grandfather responded, “The one you feed."

The growth vs. fixed mindsets

This parable really applies to Carol’s work. She has identified two different mindsets: fixed and growth mindsets. The growth mindset presupposes that you can develop in a lifelong way, whereas the fixed mindset presupposes the opposite. In a fixed mindset, the bad wolf is fed. A common method of feeding the bad wolf is exemplified at times when a person is worried about what others are saying about them (that they have X capacity to succeed, that they are too old to do Y, etc.). At times like this, when the bad wolf is fed, a person can become greedy because they wonder if they will ever be good enough.

In a growth mindset, nothing is carved in stone. Everything can be expanded and developed. (Carol Dweck)

People with a growth mindset love collaboration and kindness. They note that failures aren’t inherently negative. Carol became a much more courageous person when she developed her growth mindset. She had grown up with a fixed mindset, which resulted in her playing it safe. But when she started throwing herself into things, it usually took her to a good place. With a growth mindset, she discovered a bravery and expansiveness that she hadn’t felt before.

In a fixed mindset, whatever quality is being judged — whether it be intelligence, musical ability, etc. — is thought to be fixed. This mindset tends to have the view that people have a “natural talent” or not. In a growth mindset, these qualities aren’t fixed and can change with the right approach.

How do we change our mindsets?

We should acknowledge the fixed mindset in all of us. We’re a mixture of mindsets. It shouldn’t be shameful to have a fixed mindset because it’s part of who we are. There are both mindsets within us. Pay attention to the voice that says “You aren’t good at this” or “Don’t try this because you’ll humiliate yourself” or “I won’t ever be as good as this other person because they have a natural talent.” Acknowledge this voice.

After a while, start talking back to this voice with a growth mindset. “I can get better at that hard thing” and “Even if I failed that time, I’m going to try again” or “That person that’s better than me, maybe they can mentor me.” Any setbacks don’t mean you aren’t good. They just mean that you have work to do. Also, recognize you have a choice where we can live in a fixed world or a world where anything is possible.

When you throw yourself into something deeply and passionately, you don’t know how good you could become at this thing. During her research, she discovered that so many people who were incredible in her field started off horribly. These people would have stopped if they had compared themselves to others.

The behavior & personality of people with different mindsets

Fixed mindset people tend to be jealous of others and often are not inspired by role models. The opposite is true for those with growth mindsets. People with growth mindsets who see someone better than them will think “maybe they will inspire me” or “maybe they can mentor me.” The fixed mindset person will just see the gap and fill disinspired.

There’s a field of research around fixed and growth personalties as well. When people think their personality is fixed, they react poorly in social situations. When they think that personality can be developed, they keep trying and put themselves in challenging social situations to learn from them. This is true with children too. The kids who feel ‘you can change, we can change, i can change’ are often more social and less likely to get depressed too. Dweck suggests that when kids are taught about the growth mindset, they have new neurons growing after coming up against hard problems.

Often we have to remind ourselves that we can have a growth mindset when we feel like we’re moving towards a fixed mindset. We can make dramatic change with a growth mindset.

Once you put a fixed label on yourself, its so powerful it’s like a prison. You don’t think you can break out of that. It dogs you. (Carol Dweck)

How growth and fixed mindsets handle criticism and communication

Fixed mindset people are labeled by criticism. They won’t say “I want to make it better.” In a relationship, they fight to be right rather than grow. On the other hand, people with a growth mindset realize that things can only get better with good feedback. Growth mindset people tend to try to make the best possible outcome for everyone.

You need to be reminded of all this regularly. You will keep slipping back and as that happens, you have to realize that and catch yourself.