Self-development

What Is a Fixed Mindset: How Having a Fixed Mindset Could Be Holding You Back?

by Intelligent Change — 5 min read

What Is a Fixed Mindset: How Having a Fixed Mindset Could Be Holding You Back?

Has anyone ever told you what a fixed mindset is and how it can impact your life?

In one of our previous articles, we explained the concept of the growth mindset and its immense benefits on our overall well-being and progress in life.

In this article, we’ll focus on the opposite concept, the fixed mindset, and give you a new perspective on why and how this way of thinking can restrain you in life.


What Is a Fixed Mindset?

Before we start explaining, here’s a short fixed mindset checklist we prepared for you. Think about these questions and be as honest with yourself:

Fixed Mindset Checklist

  • When you’re not good at something, do you easily give up?
  • Do you believe that hard work can get you far in life?
  • Do you feel threatened by other people’s success?
  • Do you often perceive feedback as criticism?
  • Do you find it important to look smart?
  • Do you believe you can develop and change your traits, skills, and abilities?
  • Do you often blame others for your setbacks?
  • Do you fear change?

The purpose of this checklist is to give you a grasp of what a fixed mindset is all about.

What Is a Fixed Mindset: Definition and Origin of the Concept

Not so long ago, researcher and university professor Carol Dweck and her team discovered that there is a certain difference among their students in the way they deal with setbacks and failures. Some of them seemed to get very upset and frustrated and even gave up further studying, while others had less trouble implementing feedback and trying again.

This difference in reactions inspired Dweck to conduct research and write her now-popular book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.

In this book, Carol Dweck discusses the power of beliefs and the pathways of influence of the conscious and subconscious on our personality and achievements. She strongly defends the thesis that a large part of who we are and what we do comes from our mindset.

She also believes that, as a society, we give too much praise to the concepts of “inborn” or “natural” talents, skills, intelligence, while the reality and her research show that it’s all changeable.

In her book, Dweck poses a question that perfectly illustrates this dualism:

What are the consequences of thinking that your intelligence or personality is something you can develop, as opposed to something that is a fixed, deep-seated trait?

If it’s still not very clear what we’re talking about, the latter part of this question is what describes the fixed mindset.

People with a fixed mindset tend to believe that what we’re born with is forever unchangeable. Nature gives you a certain “amount” of talent, intelligence, skills. It fine-tunes your character and personality until a certain age and once you grow up – that’s what you have.

Can you see any long-term consequences of this way of thinking?

How Is a Fixed Mindset Debilitating?

Fixed Mindset

Here’s another quote by professor Carol Dweck:

Believing that your qualities are carved in stone creates an urgency to prove yourself over and over. If you have only a certain amount of intelligence, a certain personality, and a certain moral character, well then you’d better prove that you have a healthy dose of them. It simply wouldn’t do to look or feel deficient in these most basic characteristics.

This is where it all begins. If there’s no way you can progress and/or change after a certain age, then you must be living in constant fear that you’re not good enough, give up on your big dreams and surrender.

People with a fixed mindset invest more energy in hiding their deficiencies, than in overcoming them. They avoid friends and partners who challenge them to grow and confront their worldview, and would rather surround themselves with people who are gentle to their self-esteem.

A fixed mindset doesn’t allow people to improve and work on themselves, grow and thrive during challenging times. It sets them back and leaves them thinking: “I can’t do this. It’s way out of my league. This is my limit.

In Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Dweck used an excellent comparison to demonstrate the difference between the growth mindset approach and the fixed mindset approach: self-help books.

If you ever opened a book titled something like Most Successful Businessman’s Secrets or How to Become More Successful in X days, you may have bumped into tips that actually promote the growth mindset. Some of them could be:

  • “Take more risks!”;
  • “Don’t let others have a negative impact on you.”;
  • “Believe in yourself”, and so on.

However, what these statements lack is a purpose and a connection to reality.

As a result, after reading the book, you’re not better informed on how to put the advice into practice. How do you start believing in yourself? How do you engage in more risks? These books often leave a ton of open questions.

As you begin to better understand how the fixed and growth mindsets work, you’ll be able to observe this chain of consequences: how a belief that your qualities are carved in stone, and therefore unchangeable, leads to a set of self-debilitating actions, while believing that you can improve at any given moment can take you on a completely different road.

People with a fixed mindset can also read a book that tells how success is all about being yourself, that life-long learning is possible, and so on. But their basic mindset, the set of thoughts they wake up to and go to bed with every single day tells them something completely different:

  • Failures measure you as a person;
  • Your traits are fixed and unchangeable;
  • You’ll succeed if you’re gifted enough, hard work can’t help you;
  • Hard work is for those less talented.

The thing is, most of us have never had a chance to consciously choose the growth or fixed mindset. We were simply trained and conditioned to think in a certain way.

Fixed Mindset vs. Growth Mindset Examples

We will now illustrate the difference between these two mindsets through examples.

#1 Being Late to Work

Fixed mindset: “My whole day is ruined. Everyone thinks I’m a fool.” (remaining angry with themselves) or “The worker at the bakery was packing my breakfast too slowly and it was too hot, I couldn’t eat it right away!” (blaming others).

Growth mindset: Today I left home at 7:30 and there was a lot of traffic… I should get up earlier tomorrow, leave the house at 7:15 and try the subway…” (searching for alternative solutions).

#2 Giving Your Child Praise

Fixed mindset: “Great job, you passed that test with an A because you’re so smart and talented.”

Growth mindset: “Great job, you studied hard for that test!”

#3 Embracing Change

Fixed mindset: “Why do we need to start using this new software? It has a terrible design and doesn’t work as good as the old one! I’m wasting my time with this!”

Growth mindset: This new software is really difficult to use, but it’s so similar to this other one… if I learn how to use it, I can extend that knowledge to this other software and probably work much faster.”

Is Change Possible?

fixed mindset

You didn’t learn how to ride a bike when you were 8 years old, but is it possible for you to learn when you’re 35? You never went ice-skating as a child, but can you learn to glide and keep your balance on ice as an adult? You weren’t comfortable speaking in public while in high school, but can you do a talk on TEDx event now? You’ve lived all your life in one city, but can you move to another country, leaving your comfort zone, and have a fresh start now?

Of course, change is possible, and it will take time and effort. It took years, or maybe even decades, for the fixed mindset to nest in every one of us, so the transition to the growth mindset won’t happen overnight. If you’re determined to change, grow and explore life outside your comfort zone, you’ll discover the joy of being open-minded.

The Michael Jordan Example

Did you know that Michael Jordan, one of the greatest basketball players of all time and one of the most inspiring characters in modern sport, wasn’t really that “talented”?

As a matter of fact, he was kicked out from his sophomore varsity team.

What many would do in such situations is simply give up. “Okay, I’m not that talented. I should give up basketball.”

But what he did was try even harder. He spent months and years practicing until he became a worldwide basketball legend.

The difference? Not his talent, not his height, and not his intelligence. Only the mindset.


Before You Go

If you’d like to find out what steps you can take to make this change happen, thoroughly read our article about the growth mindset.

In the meantime, focus on good things in your life and fill out your Five Minute Journal, implement a healthy morning routine, practice positive affirmations to boost your self-esteem, and strive towards a better tomorrow.

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