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Fixed Mindset vs Growth Mindset

Earlier this week I uploaded this image explaining the difference between and fixed and growth mindset onto our social media platforms:

Mindset characteristics MIH

(Click the image to expand it)

The problem is a lot of the time we look at the table, like it or share it, show it to our friends, maybe even print it off, and then expect to magically have a growth mindset. It’s just not that easy.

If we really want to make it happen. we need to look at the ‘why’ behind it all. 

Skills & Intelligence

This is really the core of what the mindsets are and what differentiates the two. And this section shines a light on someone’s beliefs and attitudes towards learning.

People with a fixed mindset believe that their skills and intelligence are set and you either have them, or you don’t. They don’t really believe in their ability to learn and improve at things. People with a growth mindset do. They believe that skills and intelligence are grown and developed.

When someone with a fixed mindset sees a talented performer, they think: “wow that person is really great – they are so lucky to be so talented!”

When someone with a growth mindset sees a talented performer, they think: “wow that person is really great – they must have worked really hard to get that good!”

This core belief system becomes self-fulfilling, can absolutely ignite or squash development, and is really the driving force behind the rest of the characteristics on the table.

Main Concern + Main Focus

The research is pretty clear here. In most any situation people with a fixed mindset focus their attention on how they look. Whether they’re singing in the choir, taking a test, or playing volleyball they’re worried about what others think. And they’re focused on showing everyone how smart and talented they are.

KEY POINT: They attach their ego to their performance – “I am what I accomplish”

A bad performance = I suck and cannot get better
A good performance = I am amazing. I am a natural.

During a performance they feel that they are putting their identity on the line. So a failure means that THEY are a failure.

If you think about it – this makes sense. If deep down you believe that your skills and abilities are set, of course you want to prove your worth and show everyone that you’re one of the talented and smart ones. Of course you LOVE looking good and seeming smart. Of course you HATE any situation where you don’t.

People with a growth mindset are different. While they may want to win and want to look good – they’re main focus and main concern (in any situation) is the process of learning, growing, and getting better.

KEY POINT: They DO NOT attach their ego to their performance – “How I perform is mostly a reflection of my process. I can always change and improve my process”

A bad performance = What can I fix and improve for next time?
A good performance = My work and effort showed tonight – What can I fix and improve for next time?

They frame a performance as a way to test and experiment with their process. So a failure is an opportunity to learn and will help them improve process for next time.

This Visual-Essay explains why most of us elect to focus on performance rather than the process.


People with a fixed mindset see effort as a negative thing, as something that people do when they’re not good enough.

Again, this makes sense and really trickles down from their core belief towards learning. They believe that skills and abilities are set and are NOT grown and developed. Therefore, working hard and putting in effort is something that the less intelligent and less talented have to do.

These are the students that make fun of their classmates for studying a little extra for the test and also the ones who brag about not putting in effort: “I got an A on that test and didn’t have to study!”

People with a growth mindset believe that skills and intelligence are grown and developed and that effort is one of the key ingredients.

Rather than looking down on and making fun of a hard-worker – they tip their cap.

Challenges – When Stuff Gets Hard

When they’re met with a challenge, when stuff gets hard, and the wheels start to fall off – people with a fixed mindset tend to give up and check out…

Quiz time: Why do you think that is?

(don’t scroll yet – the clues are on the table)

(seriously – think about it, why would they quit?)

Answer: Because of their fixed mindset

They don’t believe in their ability to learn and grow and if they can’t figure something out right away they really don’t see the point of working through it – so they quit.

They don’t want to look bad and are worried about what others will think – so they quit.

They don’t want to put in the effort/don’t see the point of putting in effort – so they quit.

As we all know, challenges usually involve some stumbles, some effort, and some perseverance – all of which someone with a fixed mindset resists. Of course they’re going to quit when they’re met with one.

Note: quitting doesn’t necessarily mean walking out of the room. They can simply give up and stop trying (in fact this is more common). They do this to protect their ego and to have an excuse: “ohhh I wasn’t even trying anyway…” – we’ve all heard that too many times.

It’s safe to say that most of the problems we see in school, relationships, business and sport can be tied back to fixed mindset.

People with a growth mindset have been shown to be more likely to persevere and display grit when they’re met with a challenge…

Quiz time: Why is that?

Answer: Because of their mindset

They believe in their ability to learn, grow, and develop. AND that is what they value.

This mindset gives a purpose to the challenge and fuels them to work through it.

A challenge can be hard, it can be frustrating – but someone with a growth mindset thinks: “yes this is hard, yes this is frustrating, but there is something here that will help me grow”

Of course they’re going to be motivated to work through the challenge – they have a ‘why’. They look at a challenge as an opportunity to grow.

This is where things like grit and motivation come from.

Quiz time: A growth mindset person and a fixed mindset person are faced with the same challenging project or assignment – which one will get more from that opportunity?

Answer: Come on, you know this.


People with a fixed mindset get defensive and take feedback very personally.

Looking at the table and understanding their belief system – this makes sense.

In the eyes of someone with a fixed mindset:

Feedback = someone discovered their shortcomings and someone is attacking them personally.

The fixed mindset student will get heated, deflect it, come up with a hundred reasons why it wasn’t their fault, and then go tell his friends how stupid the teacher is.

People with a growth mindset love feedback because they see it as a useful tool to help improve their process.

One of the top 5 writers/thinkers on the internet, Tim Urban wrote about this in a blog post where he argues that we need to approach learning and receiving feedback like scientists:

“Scientists welcome negative feedback about their experiments. But when you are the experiment, negative feedback isn’t a piece of new, helpful information—it’s an insult. And it hurts. And it makes you mad. And because changing feels impossible, there’s not much good that feedback can do anyway—it’s like giving parents negative feedback on the name of their one-month-old child.”

To relate it to this:

Growth mindset = You are the scientist, your process and strategies are your experiments. You can test these, change these, and learn from these.

Fixed mindset = You are the experiment, you are being judged, your ego and identity are on the line, you have to prove yourself, you cannot change.


By now this should be pretty obvious but I’ll say it anyways…

People with a fixed mindset HATE mistakes, they DREAD mistakes, and avoid any situation where they might make mistakes.



Mistakes = Looking bad

Looking bad = I suck and now they know it too

People with a growth mindset understand that mistakes are necessary and they treat them as learning opportunities.

Why it Matters

Now that you see how it all works there are a few things that I’d like to point out…

1. ALL of the characteristics on the green side of the table help drive learning (the willingness to put in effort, persevering through challenging situations, taking and using feedback, and framing mistakes as learning opportunities) 

2. No wonder the research shows that people with a growth mindset learn, grow, and achieve more over time than people with a fixed mindset – they do all of the things that help them learn, while people with a fixed mindset avoid those things

3. All of the characteristics are byproducts of the top two – Skills and intelligence and main concern.

Key Point: If we want to develop a growth mindset within ourselves and within others we HAVE to really focus in on two things: beliefs towards learning and what we value the most.

Until next time… make it happen.

p.s. Have you downloaded my free ebook Staying Positive: 10 Simple Tips to Staying Positive? Click here to download it now!

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