Growth vs Fixed Mindset

Psychologist Carol Dweck’s theories about mindset have been widely used in education and parenting but are now funneling into the business and leadership sector. Mindset has become such a buzzword that companies have started using the term “growth mindset” in their mission statements. But what is a growth mindset, and how can we develop one?

People with growth mindsets believe that change is possible

The major distinction between a growth and fixed mindset is in the way we view change. People with a fixed mindset believe that we are born with certain inherent abilities, intelligence, and talents. To them, who we are today is the same as yesterday and tomorrow. Those with a growth mindset, on the other hand, are more able to see potential in themselves and others. Feedback gives them motivation to improve, and they seek to develop themselves via hard work, learning new strategies, and asking for input from others. It’s not surprising that people with a growth mindset tend to be more motivated and satisfied with their performance because they are focused on the process.

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Where does self-compassion fit in?

People are actually a mixture of fixed and growth mindsets. Experiences and practice help us to develop our growth mindset, and self-compassion aids with that practice. Remember that self-compassion is made up of loving kindness towards ourselves, a sense of common humanity, and the ability to look mindfully at situations and emotions. Staying mindful allows us to be aware of our areas of weakness, and if we believe that our skills and personality are changeable, we can be kind to ourselves and seek out strategies for improvement. 

Encouraging a growth mindset is not just about praising effort

When theories go mainstream, pop culture has a tendency to iron them out into blanket statements. One of the most common misconceptions about fostering a growth mindset is that we should pass out praise like candy at Halloween. We can’t just say, “I tried hard. Give me a cookie.” Having a growth mindset isn’t about unwarranted praise. It’s about looking at our areas that need improvement with compassion and pushing through our setbacks. Through common humanity and a growth mindset, we also realize that all people have the capacity to grow and learn, so we can be more encouraging to others. In fact, research shows that individuals with a growth mindset (e.g. teachers, parents, leaders) pay more attention to subtle changes in the performance process and are able to give compassionate and helpful feedback for improvement. Plus, because they are self-compassionate, they are able to lead by example. Mindfulness helps us pay attention to our “fixed mindset triggers,” and self-compassion can help us keep defensiveness at bay so that we can grow and thrive.