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What is a growth mindset and how can you develop one?

Discover what it means to have a growth mindset, how they can help you, and the steps you can break away from a fixed mindset.

Growth mindset

The way we think about ourselves and our abilities can have a significant impact on our performance, at work, during studies, and in everyday life. Yet not everyone takes the time to think about the way they think and may make assumptions about their skills that can be negative. So what is a growth mindset? And how can it help us achieve our goals? 

Here, we explore the definition of a growth mindset, how it differs from a fixed mindset, and how you can work to develop a growth mindset. As well as giving some practical examples, we’ll also suggest some courses that can help you progress. 

What is a growth mindset?

A mindset is the series of beliefs people hold about themselves; their self-perception. A growth mindset is a belief that you can develop your skills and talents through hard work, the right strategies, and guidance from others

The term growth mindset was coined by American psychologist Professor Carol Dweck in her 2006 book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. Her work explored how an individual’s underlying belief about their intelligence and ability to learn could impact their performance. 

Her studies show that those who believe they can develop their talents tend to achieve more than those who feel their abilities are innate and fixed. Those with a growth mindset see opportunities instead of obstacles, choosing to challenge themselves to learn more rather than sticking in their comfort zone. 

As Professor Dweck explains it: 

This growth mindset is based on the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts. Although people may differ in every which way—in their initial talents and aptitudes, interests, or temperaments—everyone can change and grow through application and experience.

What’s clear from this quote is that each of us can develop a growth mindset and that understanding that fact is sometimes half the battle. 

Growth mindset vs a fixed mindset: what’s the difference?

The opposite of a growth mindset is a fixed mindset. While the former is focused on self-improvement and development over time, a fixed mindset is essentially the belief that abilities are innate and fixed from birth

As Dr Paula J Caproni from the University of Michigan explains in the video below, a fixed mindset means believing in nature over nurture. Those with a fixed mindset believe that each person inherits qualities such as intelligence, talents, and personality characteristics. 

Those who feel that their qualities are unique to their genetic makeup generally also feel that these characteristics stay pretty stable throughout their lives.

Such a mindset is proven to be limiting in certain settings. According to Dr Dweck’s original research, those with a fixed mindset are more likely to seek opportunities to demonstrate strengths rather than those that could expose weaknesses. 

She goes on to say that such an approach to life can backfire. Although they take fewer risks, people with a fixed mindset can miss out on opportunities and chances to learn and grow. 

You can learn more about the science and research behind success in our course The Science of Success from the University of Michigan. 

Does a growth mindset work?

In an academic setting, some studies have shown that academic performance influences students’ mindsets. These results imply that mindset and academic performance constitute a positive feedback loop. 

Other research has shown that a short, online growth mindset intervention can help improve student performance. This short course teaches that intellectual abilities can be developed, and the researchers studied performance and enrolment figures across secondary education in mathematics in the US. 

However, a study from the University of Edinburgh showed no benefit in growth mindset theory among students aged nine to 13. Others have criticised the original research from Dr Dweck, claiming that the results cannot be replicated or are statistically biased. 

Similarly, some have suggested that intelligence and personality are the more significant predictors of success at school and work. What’s more, these traits tend to be more stable, especially in adults. 

On the other hand, more recent research from Dr Dweck and the OECD has shown further positive results. The 2021 data showed that schools can foster a growth mindset by rewarding progress, trying different learning strategies and looking for meaningful feedback. 

In this study, students were asked how strongly they believed that “your intelligence is something about you that you can’t change very much.” Those who disagreed (growth mindset) scored higher in reading, science, and math than those who agreed (fixed mindset). 

Evidently, there is more research needed into growth mindsets and their potential impact. We need to understand how such an approach can be applied and encouraged in the education system and beyond. 

Growth mindset examples

To further understand what a growth mindset looks like, it’s worth highlighting some examples of the two differing approaches. As explored in our fixed and growth mindset open step from the University of Groningen, there are some useful situational examples: 

SituationFixed mindset approachGrowth mindset approach
You get a very high grade on an examGreat! I must be really intelligent in this areaGreat! I must have worked hard and learned a lot
You’re starting a new assignment or projectI hope this will be easy for meI hope this will be interesting!
You get negative feedback on your workOh no! This proves I’m no good at thisOkay, I need to get back to work and learn more

These examples show the differences in mindset. With a fixed mindset approach, it’s easy to attribute success and failure to inherent ability. You may look for reassurance by doing things you know you’re comfortable with. 

With a fixed mindset, you can recognise your hard work and strive to improve when you’ve underachieved. You may look for challenges, particularly when you have the opportunity to learn something new. 

10 ways to develop a growth mindset

If you feel that a growth mindset is something you want to aim for, there are ways you can go about developing one. However, it’s important to recognise that, according to Dr Dweck’s research, no one has an entirely fixed or entirely growth mindset; most are somewhere in the middle. 

Similarly, it’s worth pointing out that not everyone can achieve everything. Hard work, dedication and attitude can all contribute to success, but we each have our limitations. What’s more, other factors besides mindset often determine positive results. 

All that being said, we’ve outlined some ways to work on developing a growth mindset. Some of these are highlighted on our teaching and mentoring open step from the University of Groningen: 

1. Identify your own mindset

By considering how you currently approach challenges, either at work or in education, you can determine your current mindset. For example, you can ask yourself whether you say things like ‘I’m a natural people person’ or ‘I’ve learned to work well with people’? Or would you say, ‘she’s a natural leader’, or ‘she worked her way up to the leadership role’?

Asking such questions about your approach to the world can help you identify whether you’ve more of a fixed or growth mindset. Such awareness is the first step toward making changes, which could help you reimagine your career

2. Look at your own improvements 

Think about something that you’re better at now than you were in the past? What did you previously find difficult? Why does it feel easier now? And how did you achieve such a change? 

These thoughts can prompt you to think about the time and effort you’ve spent to improve in particular areas, the hallmarks of a growth mindset. 

3. Review the success of others

Try to think about something that you’ve seen someone else do against the odds. Think about how they achieved their success and what this says about their ability to develop their capabilities. 

4. Seek feedback

Whether you’ve been successful in a project or not, seeking feedback from others is a good way to develop a growth mindset. They may give you insight into where you’ve developed or what needs improvement. In turn, this can help you to set goals for improvement. 

5. Harness the power of ‘yet’ 

The concept of ‘yet’ is one that Dr Dweck spoke about during a TEDx talk. Essentially, this part of a fixed mindset is about realising that there will be skills or subjects that you’re not good at yet. However, with work and perseverance, you can improve in these areas. 

Developing a growth mindset is about realising that your weaknesses are strengths you haven’t necessarily developed yet. 

6. Learn something new

Try a completely new activity and challenge yourself to learn something that you’re not already good at. You could start with learning a new language, picking up an instrument, or understanding the basics of economics.

By getting used to getting out of your comfort zone, you can develop a growth mindset and be more open to learning new skills. 

7. Make mistakes 

You’re not going to get everything right the first time of trying. Allow yourself to make errors and then learn from those missteps. Rather than thinking that mistakes equal ineptitude, think of them as part of the learning process. 

Mistakes give you the chance to identify where you may have a weakness or lack of understanding – areas you can work hard to improve. 

8. Be kind to yourself

Rather than scolding yourself for your errors, try and identify how you’d treat someone else in your situation. If someone was to fail at a task you know inside out, would you tell them they’re useless or encourage them to learn? 

Being mindful can help you to improve your communication, relationships and emotional help. It can also help you identify thoughts that are linked to a fixed mindset and move away from them. 

9. Look at examples 

If you’re striving to develop a growth mindset, it can help to look at those who already embody one. Whether it’s examples from experts such as Dr Dweck or through looking at people you already know, there are opportunities to learn from others. Examine what they do and how they approach challenges, and think about how you can apply similar tactics. 

10. Set realistic goals

As we’ve explored already, there are many determinants of success. Personality, intelligence, circumstance and other factors can all contribute. However, by setting clear goals that provide a motivating challenge, you can work towards success. 

Final thoughts

Despite some conflicting evidence on the power of growth mindsets, many studies have discovered potential benefits. Combined with other positive factors, it seems plausible that having such an approach can help you learn and develop. 

Hopefully, some of the growth mindset examples and tips we’ve provided can help you determine whether such an approach is beneficial to your own life. By challenging yourself and continuing to learn, you can work on your goals and personal development. 

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