Mindset is a habitual way of how a person forms their thoughts, which is responsible for how they react in certain situations.

To put it simply, the mindset is a way of thinking. Mindset has a lot of synonyms: attitude, way of thinking, mentality, or world view. It defines how a person looks at the world, approaches things and behaves when faced with difficult or unexpected situations. Whether one has a positive or negative mindset is defined by our experiences and innate attitude. But, against the belief of many, a mindset is also changeable.

The mindset usually operates in the back of people’s heads and is not something they are actively aware of. By practicing regular reflections, one can increase their awareness of their thought patterns and foreground its function.

Fixed Mindset vs. Growth Mindset

Carol Dweck, a motivational psychologist, has provided valuable research on the topic of how people’s thinking patterns correlate with success and defeat. She distinguishes between the Fixed Mindset (static self-image) and the Growth Mindset (dynamic self-image).

Fixed Mindset

According to Dweck, people who identify with a fixed mindset believe that intelligence and talent (or lack thereof) is innate and static. They are less inclined to try new things and put less effort into matters that “they are not good at anyway”. People trapped in a fixed mindset can see talent as the main driving source for success, and that hard work and learning will not pay off for them in the long run. Therefore, they spend more time in measuring and proving their abilities rather than further developing them.

Additionally, they usually only develop further in the areas they are already good at, so that they are less prone to failure. For people trapped in a fixed mindset, mistakes are the enemies. Therefore, they are not keen on trying new things, especially if they fail at the first attempt. They do not view mistakes as a part of progressing their skills, but rather as an opportunity to be judged by others.

Growth Mindset

People with a growth mindset experience the opposite. They believe that time, effort, and practice are essential parts of being successful. Their attitude encourages them to try new things and convinces them that they can do anything they set their mind to.

They believe that intelligence and talent are not necessarily innate and fixed, but that everyone can get better at certain skills if they are determined enough. This is one of the reasons why people with a growth mindset are generally more successful in developing their abilities.

Having a more dynamic outlook in life can guide people to equate the development of interesting skills with enjoyment. People with a growth mindset are inquisitive, eager to learn new things, and anchored in the belief that their life is what they make of it and not something determined by chance.

So, whether we are good at something or not depends on the willingness to learn and develop. Of course, it is not possible to live a dynamic self-image in every situation. The mindset also depends on the situation.

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Why is the Mindset important?

As mentioned above, the mindset plays a significant role in how people deal with challenges and setbacks that get thrown at them. It determines if people react to challenges head on or give in at the first hurdle. Mindset can be vital in whether someone unleashes their full potential or not.

People whose mindset encourages them to learn and try new things will be more resilient when hard times hit. They do not view setbacks as a punishment, but rather as a learning curve.

Mindset not only determines a person’s success, but also how their self-image looks like. People who have a fixed mindset look for confirmations in every situation and feel the need to prove their intelligence, talent, and personality. They lack an understanding of progress and only believe in success or failure.

How to change Mindset

People have proven time and time again that, with the right mindset, astounding results can be achieved. What we think of as limitations is very much constructed and self-imposed.  Mindsets are no exception. With time and effort, every person can invest in changing their mindset. Most people with a fixed mindset feel stuck and want to change it into a more growth focused mindset.

  • It is recommended to put more emphasis on the journey than the result of a certain goal or project. This way, learning is encouraged and gains more importance than success or failure.
  • People stuck in a fixed mindset tend to believe that they are limited in their abilities and, therefore, have a harder time overcoming hardships. Experiencing failure should be viewed as an opportunity to grow. Even though the goal could not be reached at a certain point in time, it can be achieved later.
  • The fear of making mistakes can hinder many people from taking on challenging tasks. Mistakes should be viewed as a learning curve and opportunity to grow, not something to shy away from.

Dweck focused various aspects of her research on school children and found out that the general  understanding of “ability” has more than one connotation. This changes the way someone might feel about learning processes. People with a fixed mindset tend to show off their abilities, while those with a growth mindset focus on learning. Feeling the need to constantly prove oneself can become tiring and repetitive. Increasing abilities, on the other hand, feels exciting and dynamic.

Mindset and success

According to experts, it is the mindset that determines how we deal with mistakes, setbacks, and challenges. Most successful people take challenges head-on rather than shy away from them. They do not fear mistakes, but feel that they are a learning curve. So, our mindset is a key aspect of how successful we are in life.

Even though recent studies have questioned the correlation between mindset and academic success, we are first introduced to the notions of “success and failure” in school. Most traditional school systems are focused on outcomes, not necessarily on growing processes. Therefore, failure gets a negative connotation. Children that naturally lean towards a growth mindset, can look at it from a different angle. Rather than throwing in the towel when confronted with a difficult task, they see themselves as problem solvers and try a new strategy.

Even though most of the research carried out on mindset has been in school environments, it is also, amongst other things, closely tied to people’s work successes.

Even though she believes in growth, Dweck does not deny the existence of talent. Some people might solve an algebra problem withing five minutes, while others quiz two hours over it to achieve an outcome. Some people are incredible tennis players at first try, while others practice the skill for days without landing a hit. But she also believes that overgeneralizing effort as “bad”, limits us in what we can achieve with practice.