7 Signs You Have A Fixed Mindset & What You Can Do About It

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Recently, while reading a book titled Mindset – The New Psychology of Success, I learnt that people fall into 2 groups. Those with a fixed mindset and those with a growth mindset. 


The findings came from a study done by Ms Carol Dweck from Stanford University. 


These were the words from Carol Dweck herself… 


In a fixed mindset students believe their basic abilities, their intelligence, their talents, are just fixed traits. They have a certain amount and that's that, and then their goal becomes to look smart all the time and never look dumb. 


In a growth mindset students understand that their talents and abilities can be developed through effort, good teaching and persistence. They don't necessarily think everyone's the same or anyone can be Einstein, but they believe everyone can get smarter if they work at it”. ~ Carol Dweck, Stanford University


Like many of you, I found myself asking which mindset I have. 


The answer came hard and fast. Growth mindset of course! 


Who in their right mind would raise their hand and admit to having a fixed mindset?


To confirm this, I polled 5 of my closest friends.

Sure enough! 5 out of 5 of my friends replied that they think they have a growth mindset.

This led me to think… Almost all the resources that you will find on this subject teaches you about how to develop a growth mindset. 

But you cannot work on a problem unless you admit to having one! 

How do you spot a fixed mindset? This is what I learnt; 

7 Signs that someone (not you of course) have a fixed mindset:

  1. A belief that abilities, intelligence or traits are pre-determined and cannot be changed
  2. A belief that success comes from natural talent
  3. A worry about not being seen as intelligent 
  4. Being threatened, jealous or as though one have lost out when contemplating the success of others
  5. Avoiding difficult or challenging situations because you don’t want to risk failure
  6. Obstacles have a tendency to stop one from achieving their goals. 
  7. Constructive criticism or negative feedback is something one doesn't like to hear. 

Now you might be thinking… geez… whoever exhibiting these 7 signs sounds like a douche. How to make any friends if they are like that?

Well… before we start looking for these signs in other people, let us first look inwards. 


Mindsets do not exist as a Yes or no, Black or white. Mindsets exist in a spectrum and apply to different areas of our lives. 


You might have a growth mindset towards your occupation/business while exhibiting a fixed mindset towards relationships for example. You might have a growth mindset towards making new friends but have a fixed mindset when it comes to learning a new skill.

Again, I am no expert so let's take a read at the real expert’s opinion. This was the comment that Carol Dweck gave during an interview with The Atlantic, a renowned magazine, introducing a term called the false growth mindset.



Beware of the False Growth Mindset

False growth mindset is saying you have a growth mindset when you don’t really have it or you don’t really understand [what it is]. It’s also false in the sense that nobody has a growth mindset in everything all the time. Everyone is a mixture of fixed and growth mindsets. 


You could have a predominant growth mindset in an area but there can still be things that trigger you into a fixed mindset trait. Something really challenging and outside your comfort zone can trigger it, or, if you encounter someone who is much better than you at something you pride yourself on, you can think ‘Oh, that person has ability, not me.’ 


So I think we all, students and adults, have to look for our fixed-mindset triggers and understand when we are falling into that mindset.

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How Mindsets Are Formed

Carol’s research reveals two primary sources: praising and labeling, both of which occur early in childhood. The culprits? Our parents and teachers.

Carol’s team ran an experiment where one group of students were praised for their ability and another group was praised for their effort.

One group was told, “Wow, you got eight right. That’s a really good score. You must be smart at this.” (ability group)

The other group was told, “Wow, you got eight right. That’s a really good score. You must have worked really hard.” (effort group)

Although both groups were exactly equal at the beginning of the study, after praising, the ability praise group shifted into a fixed mindset.

In subsequent tests, the group that was praised for their ability began rejecting new challenges and avoiding doing anything that could expose their flaws. Their performance plummeted. 

In contrast, many of the effort-praised students actually said they enjoyed the hard problems they were given more than the easy ones. The performance of this group continued to improve.

Our Environment Encourages a Fixed Mindset

Virtually our entire school system is built around ability-praising and labeling (judging) children based on their test scores though as a society, we are becoming more aware of that.

Most parents, too, unknowingly establish and reinforce a fixed mindset in their children.

Carol writes that “Kids with the fixed mindset tell us they get constant messages of judgment from their parents. They say they feel as though their traits are being measured all the time.” 

Photo by Ketut Subiyanto from Pexels

The Tricky, Hidden Fixed Mindset

Learning all that you have learnt today, do you still think that you have a growth mindset or a fixed one? Personally, I began to be able to observe and understand how I was subconsciously being influenced by a fixed mindset.

Like the time I tried to pick up Ice skating and my learning was often stagnated, or the time I tried learning to play the guitar from scratch but was unable to and gave up entirely. This, I eventually realized, was due to a fixed mindset, conditioned during childhood.

Although I have developed parts of my psyche in adulthood to have a growth mindset, all of my child and adolescent parts still have a fixed mindset. That’s why we all have fixed-mindset triggers. So if you’re on a journey of growth, but oftentimes feel like you’re floundering or getting stuck on a plateau, an unrecognized fixed mindset could be the reason.

As Carol says, the view you adopt for yourself profoundly affects the way you lead your life.” It can determine whether you “become the person you want to be and whether you accomplish the things you value.” It’s incredibly harmful to hold a fixed mindset, to believe intelligence and talent is static. Yet, most of us hold a fixed mindset in multiple areas of our lives.

There are plenty of resources out there that teach people how to develop a growth mindset. From these resources, I curated a short list of 4 ways of thinking that will help us to cultivate and train our brain to observe a growth mindset.

4 ways of thinking to cultivate a growth Mindset:

  • View Challenge as opportunities
  • Prioritize learning over seeking approval
  • Focus on process instead of end result 
  • Delight in effort and actions, not traits. 

I hope that by reading this article, you will have a better idea of what a fixed mindset is so when the time comes and you realize that you are slipping into an unproductive fixed mindset state, you will be able to pull yourself out and set yourself back on the right track! 

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