How can that be?
Well, the best way to not be discouraged by failure is to not even think you’re failing, but rather that you’re learning.
Such a difference in perspective of failure is driven by two different meanings assigned to ability. An ability can be fixed and thus needs to be proven or an ability is changeable, so it can be developed through learning.
These two different views on ability also give us two different mindsets – the fixed mindset or the growth mindset.
The fixed mindset is about validation. The growth mindset is about developing yourself. It means knowing that you have to work the hardest for the things you love the most.
If you possess the fixed mindset, you are most concerned with how you’ll be judged; the growth mindset makes your primary concern how you can improve yourself.
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With the fixed mindset, you see the traits as fixed, and consequently success is about proving you’re smart or talented. The fixed mindset is all about validation.
On the other hand, the growth mindset is more about stretching yourself to learn something new. With the growth mindset, your goal is to develop yourself and become the best version of yourself.
People in a growth mindset always seek a challenge and, even more importantly, they thrive on it.
Entering the world of two different mindsets, the most important question you have to ask yourself is the following: If you had to choose, what would your priority be – loads of success and validation or lots of challenges?
With a summary of a book on the two mindsets, I will try to convince you to choose the latter. And of course to read the whole book!
The book very well resonates with my life experience. Everything I achieved in life was based purely on the growth mindset.
I see it as the most important personality trait when it comes to the success and bright future of every individual. So, let’s dive deep into the world of the two mindsets.
|When do you feel smart?|
|When I don’t make any mistakes.||When I try really hard and I can do something I couldn’t do before.|
|When I finish something quickly and it’s perfect.||When I work on something for a long time and I start to figure it out.|
|Fixed mindset||Growth mindset|
In the summary, you will learn five main things from the book:
- The real difference between the fixed and the growth mindset.
- How your mindset can differ for different areas of life. In other words, we all have a growth approach to some areas of life and a fixed approach to others.
- What kind of results the different mindsets give in sports, business and relationships.
- How the wrong kind of praise leads to the fixed mindset. You will learn how to correctly praise your children.
- In the end, we will answer the ultimate question – is it possible to change your mindset?
The fixed mindset
If you believe that your personal qualities and characteristics are carved in stone, that creates an urgency to prove your worth over and over again. The fixed mindset is a heavy burden.
You believe that it’s not enough just to succeed, it’s not enough to look smart and talented, you have to be practically flawless, and you have to be perfect right away, from scratch, without any effort.
In the fixed mindset, everything is about the outcome. If you fail or if you aren’t the best, everything was wasted.
People with the fixed mindset believe that an ability shows up on its own, before any learning and persisting through failure. You either have it or you don’t. It’s either in your genes or it isn’t.
The fixed mindset doesn’t allow people the luxury of becoming something. They have to already be. That’s why they’re trying to prove that they’re special, even superior at all costs.
Consequently, they might go looking for a company of people who are even worse off than they are, only to feel better about themselves.
With the fixed mindset, self-esteem is also wrongly placed. Usually people with the fixed mindset believe that if you’re successful, you are better than other people and then you can look down on them.
With the fixed mindset, you might even be prone to abusing less successful people and having them grovel to feel or appear more important. It’s the fastest way to damage relationships.
Many fixed‑mindset people mobilize their resources, not for learning, but simply to protect their egos.
A very obvious problem that arises from this kind of a mindset is: If you’re somebody when you’re successful, what are you when you’re failing?
The question already implies that with the fixed mindset, an act of failing can easily be transformed into an identity – I am a failure.
With the fixed mindset, when you’re avoiding being a failure, you thrive when things and tasks are safely within your grasp. The moment you get out of your comfort zone, when things get too challenging, or when you don’t feel smart or talented, you simply lose interest.
While people with the fixed mindset get a thrill from things that are easy, people with the growth mindset get a thrill from what is hard. For the latter, the hard things are the fun ones.
Why would you spend all the time proving how great you are, when you could be getting better? Why hide deficiencies instead of overcoming them?
Many people who suffer from the fixed mindset believe that the world needs to change and not them.
They feel entitled (feeling entitled is one of negative cognitive schemas) to something better – a job, house, relationship or whatever. They assume the world should recognize their special qualities and treat them accordingly, without them investing any effort.
Unfortunately, effort is one of the most terrifying things for the fixed mindset people. There are two reasons for that. Firstly, great people shouldn’t put in any effort to be great. They are simply special.
The second reason is that effort robs you of all your excuses. Zero always invites vivid imagination of how successful you could be if you tried.
For example: If I decided to take good care of my health, I could be on a magazine cover. If I decided to take good care of my wealth, I could be a successful investor.
In the fixed mindset, you’re afraid of losing a positive label when you get one, and earning a negative one. That’s why people with the fixed mindset often pretend to be better than they are, turn to lies and dishonesty, and are influenced by negative stereotypes.
For the growth mindset people, on the other hand, it’s much easier to take what they can and what they need even from a threatening environment.
The growth mindset
It’s absolutely true that we all differ in our initial talents, aptitudes, interests, personality characteristics and temperaments.
But the growth mindset emphasizes the fact that we can all change, grow and progress through efforts, application and experience.
That kind of an underlying belief creates a passion for learning. In the growth mindset, it’s inconceivable to have a goal with a sense that you can actually achieve it, and then do nothing about it.
That doesn’t mean that anyone can be the next Einstein, Beethoven or Elon Musk only with proper motivation. But it definitely means that the true potential of a person is unknown and unknowable.
It’s impossible to say what one can accomplish with years of passion, training and toil. The growth mindset also doesn’t indicate that failure is not a painful experience. But in the growth mindset, failure doesn’t define you.
Having the growth mindset doesn’t protect you from the pain of failure. But failure doesn’t define you. A failure is only a temporary problem to be faced, dealt with, and learned from.
The hallmark of the growth mindset is a passion for stretching and pushing yourself and sticking to your goals, especially when things are not going well and you have to persist through very challenging times.
People with the growth mindset are very much aware that it takes time for potential to develop and blossom. An assessment or a test score at one point in someone’s life has little value in understanding someone’s ability and even less their potential to succeed in the future.
Out of this way of thinking also comes the greatest weapon of the growth mindset people – determination. So, make learning your priority and combine it with determination to persist through setbacks and failure.
It’s kind of ironic that people with the fixed-mindset hunger being at the top, but usually the top is the place where many growth-minded people arrive as a by-product of their enthusiasm and love for what they do.
And remember, any difficulty that you face only means you need to apply more effort.
It’s not always the people who start out the smartest who end up the smartest. – Carol Dweck
Your mindsets can differ for different areas of life and has some limitations
You don’t only possess one mindset and that’s it. Most people have elements of both. In one area of life you have a fixed approach to life, and in the other the growth one.
For example, you might think that your creative skills are fixed, but your intelligence can be developed. Or that you can improve in your management skills, but your sports abilities are fixated – you are just not a sporty type of a person.
Therefore, your first task is to identify in which areas you possess the growth and in which the fixed mindset.
It would also be naïve to say that effort is the only thing that’s important in succeeding. For sure, nobody can succeed for long without effort, but there are many other factors that come into play for success. Resources and opportunities are especially important.
Influential friends, wealthy families, access to education, being in the right place at the right time, they all have an important role in the effort to massively pay off. In other words, rich, a educated and connected effort works better.
Your starting point does matter, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t improve and shine as bright as possible.
I don’t divide the world into the weak and the strong, or the success and the failures. I divide the world into the learners and non-learners. – Benjamin Barber
Having a growth mindset also doesn’t force you into pursuing something. It’s just a standpoint for developing your skills. But in the end, it’s completely up to you if you’ll do it.
In the same way, the growth mindset doesn’t mean that every single thing can be or should be improved. Sometimes the wisest thing to do is to accept our imperfections, especially the ones that don’t do any harm to ourselves or others.
One more important question that frequently arises with the mindset is about the importance of talent.
Talent as a resource can be very important, but just because some people can do something with little or no training, it doesn’t mean that others can’t do it and sometimes do it even better with training.
Even creativity is not a magical act of inspiration, but the result of hard work and dedication.
The worst view on talent you can possess is that natural talent should not need any effort to be developed further. If you assume that one is naturally talented and effort is only for others (the less‑endowed ones), that’s the fixed mindset at its finest.
It’s a terrifying idea that natural talent doesn’t need to be coached, brushed with long hours of practice, and that there’s no need to work on deficiencies and shortcomings.
It’s the fixed mindset that usually ruins even people who manage to get to the top with their talent. Naturals who get carried away in their feelings of superiority often never learn how to work hard and how to deal with problems and cope with setbacks.
People who stay on the top have character, they don’t believe they’re special, or that they have been born with the right to win.
The ones who stay on top are people who work even harder with promotions, they learn to keep their focus under pressure, and they stretch beyond their ordinary abilities when hard times come.
Setbacks and failures should motivate you, not label you. They’re informative occurrences. They’re kind of a wake-up call to do self-reflection and analysis. They’re a sign to apply more or smarter effort.
Different mindsets in sports, business and relationships
The growth and fixed mindset in sports
The difference between the fixed and growth mindset is very obviously seen in sports. Only possessing an ability can maybe get you to the top, but it takes the growth mindset character to keep you there.
The real champions find their success in doing their best, learning and improving. They find setbacks as signs to practice harder.
They take charge of the process that brings success and maintain it, even when they reach the top. They always see themselves as a work in progress, never as the final product.
The growth and fixed mindset in business
It’s very similar in business. The most successful managers and leaders are not larger-than-life, charismatic types who ooze ego and self-proclaimed talent.
They are people who constantly learn, ask questions and are not afraid to confront the most brutal answers. They have no problem looking failure in the eyes, while maintaining faith that they will succeed in the end.
Fixed-mindset bosses are very dangerous. They love to be controlling and abusive in order to feel their superiority and that’s how they force everybody into the fixed mindset.
Consequently, instead of learning, growing and moving the company forward, people start being afraid of judgements and stop performing. Some fixed-mind bosses go even that far that they put the whole company in jeopardy because in their mind, their legacy is above everything else.
Thus, for short-term goals, they’re prepared to cover up mistakes, pump up the stock prices, crush rivals, and screw the little guy.
On the other hand, real leaders with the growth mindset see the company as a vehicle of growth and learning – for themselves, employees and the company as a whole. Thus, they put listening, crediting and nurturing as their priority.
Every relationship demands effort to keep it on the right track. There is always some tension present, and these are the forces that hold the two together or tear them apart.
The growth and fixed mindset in love
The mindset makes a big difference, not just in sports and business, but also in relationships. People with the fixed mindset in a relationship see rejections as labels.
They feel judged and want to get their revenge. The growth mindset people see rejections differently. A rejection might still hurt, but they also see it as an opportunity to reflect and learn.
For the growth‑minded people, a rejection is about understanding, forgiving and moving on. They don’t feel permanently branded by it.
The mindset also stretches to how you see your partner and the relationship itself. You can see your partner as a person with fixed traits or a person with the potential to grow.
In the same way, you can also see a relationship in a fixed state or as something that can grow with time. As you can assume, the fixed perspective on your partner and relationship itself carries some big challenges and problems.
The biggest problem with the fixed mindset in relationships is that people expect good things to happen automatically, without any effort.
In the fixed mindset, you assume that love will solve everything. But that’s impossible and backfires sooner or later.
Any problem in a relationship can quickly be seen as an indicator that there’s something wrong with the relationship, even if it’s not.
People with the growth mindset have a different approach to relationships. They believe that good, lasting, and lovable relationships come with effort and from working through inevitable differences.
People with the growth mindset know that even if you’re very compatible with someone, good things don’t just come naturally.
They believe in the ability to change and grow.
But you mustn’t confuse the belief that a partner has the potential to change with them actually changing. There must always be a sign of commitment and concrete action taken towards change when problems in a relationship arise.
With your job and relationships, you choose a set of problems to solve. There are no jobs or relationships without any problems.
The wrong kind of praise that leads to the fixed mindset
The different mindsets get developed by different types of messages in communication, usually while growing up.
The fixed mindset is developed from a communicational standpoint that you have permanent traits and you are being judged for them, and the growth mindset is based on a message that you are a developing person and the only important thing is personal development.
A big contribution to the fixed mindset includes positive labels and the wrong kind of praise. If young people are consistently praised for who they are, rather than for their effort, there’s a great chance they’ll develop the fixed mindset.
Research even shows that praising ability can lower a young person’s IQ and praising effort can raise it. Here are two examples of praising ability or effort:
- Fixed mindset praise: Good job! You must be really good at this.
- Growth mindset praise: Good job! You must have worked really hard.
If we go behind the scenes, here is what we communicate by praising ability:
- You learned that so quickly, you’re so smart. -> If I don’t learn something quickly, I’m not smart.
- Look at this drawing, you’re the next Picasso -> If I try to draw something harder, they’ll see I’m no Picasso.
- You’re so brilliant without even studying -> If I study, then I’m not brilliant.
The best way to encourage the growth mindset is to create a growth-mindset environment, in which people (kids, employees, spouse, students or whoever) can thrive.
The core values and main elements of such growth‑mindset environments are:
- Promoting a clear message that every skill is learnable
- Valuing effort, learning and perseverance, not just ready-made genius or talent
- Giving feedback and praise that promotes additional learning
- Seeing authority as a guide and resource for learning, not as a judge
It’s very easy to understand the growth-mindset environment in theory, but very hard to put it in practice.
Let’s look at a very good example from the book, showing how you subtly encourage one or the other mindset in everyday communication. The case illustrates a relationship with kids, but it works the same for all other relationships.
A kid went to a new kindergarten with his mother. When they met his teacher for the first time, the kid also saw paintings on the wall and immediately asked a question:
- Question: Who made those ugly pictures?
- Mother’s instant reply: It’s not nice to call these pictures ugly, when they’re so pretty.
- Teacher’s answer (encouraging the growth mindset): In here, you don’t have to paint pretty pictures, you can paint mean ones if you feel like it.
- The underlying question: What happens to a boy who doesn’t paint well?
Let’s go to the second example, with the same boy in the kindergarten:
- Question: The boy spotted a broken toy and asked – Who broke this?
- Mother’s answer: What difference does it make. You don’t know anybody here.
- Teacher’s answer: Toys are for playing and sometimes they get broken. It happens.
- The underlying question: What happens to boys who break toys?
Here is another very interesting example from the book.
A lovely girl went to her first gymnastics meet. She deeply loved gymnastics, was a little bit nervous before the competition, but felt very confident since she knew she had talent. But the girl lost the competition and was later devastated.
What kind of feedback would you give her as a parent?
- No matter what the judges say, you were the best. But that is insincere, she wasn’t the best, she knows it and you know it. That kind of feedback only encourages lying to oneself and false hope.
- You were robbed of a ribbon that was rightfully yours. In this case, you blame others, when in fact the problem was her performance, so the only thing she can learn from such feedback is that others are guilty for her deficiencies.
- Gymnastics aren’t that important at all in life. In such a way, she will devalue something if she doesn’t do it best the first time. She might also lose interest and her talents don’t ever get developed.
- You have the ability and you will definitely win next time. You suggest that she will win next time only with her ability. But is natural talent big enough insurance? This can be the worst kind of feedback in the long term.
- You didn’t deserve to win (expressed more nicely). The best feedback would be: Honey, it’s very disappointing to have your hopes up and to perform your best and not to win. I know how you feel, but you know what, you haven’t really earned it yet. There were many other girls there who’ve been in gymnastics longer than you and who’ve worked a lot harder than you. If this is something you really want, then it’s something you’ll really have to work for.
We all love praise. Children like praise even more than adults. But especially with children, praising their intelligence or their abilities harms their motivation and their performance.
Praising their abilities gives them a short-term boost and a special glow, but only for a moment – until they have to face the first real challenges. What children really need is honest and constructive feedback.
Children need acceptance from their parents and freedom to grow and develop.
Many parents possess the false belief that they can hand children permanent confidence by praising their brain, talent or abilities. But in the long term, they achieve the opposite effect.
It makes children doubt themselves as soon as they face challenges or do something wrong. The best gift parents can give to children is to teach them to love challenges, be intrigued by mistakes, enjoy effort and keep on learning.
That way, children don’t have to be slaves to praise, but rather have a lifelong way of building and repairing their own confidence.
Don’t get the praise part wrong. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t praise children at all. Praise is very important.
The crucial thing is to stay away from the wrong kind of praise – the praise that implies you’re proud of your children for their intelligence or talent rather than for the work they put in.
Praise should not deal with the child’s personality attributes, but rather with their efforts and achievements.
Examples of growth mindset praise:
- You really studied for your test. The improvement shows clearly. Going through the material several times really worked.
- I like the way you tried all kinds of strategies on your math problem until you finally got it.
- It’s great that you decided to go for a really challenging project in your science class. It will take a lot of work, but you’re going learn many great things.
- I’m really excited how you’re stretching yourself and working on learning the hard things.
- I admire how you concentrated and finished that long and involved homework.
- That picture you drew has so many beautiful colors. Tell me more about them.
- You put so much thought into this essay, now I understand Shakespeare in a completely new way.
- It might take more time for you to catch on and be comfortable with the material, but if you keep at it like this, you will definitely master it.
- Everybody learns in a different way, so let’s keep trying to find the way that works for you best.
Examples of constructive criticism and encouragement based on the growth mindset:
- What did you learn today? If school was easy, can you find something harder to do on your own?
- What mistake did you make that taught you something?
- What did you try hard at today?
- What are the opportunities for learning and growth today?
- It makes me upset when you don’t do a full job. When do you think you can complete this?
- Is there anything you didn’t understand in the assignment? Would you like me to go over it with you?
- I feel sad when I see you missing a chance to learn. Can you think of a way to do this that would help you learn more?
- This looks like a really boring assignment; can you think of a way to make it more interesting?
- Let’s try to think of a way to lessen the pain and still do a good job. Do you have any ideas?
- This will really take all your concentration skills, let’s see if you can concentrate through the whole assignment.
Examples of fixed mindset praise that is very dangerous:
- Bravo, you didn’t make any mistakes.
- You did that really quickly.
- You are so smart.
If your child does something really quickly, it’s better to say something like I guess that was too easy. I apologize for wasting your time. Let’s do something you can learn from!
This is the really important part to remember. Research shows that children misbehave every three minutes. Any misbehavior that happens every 3 minutes on average can become either a chance for judgment of character or an occasion for teaching.
So, don’t judge, teach your children.
Next time you’re in the position to discipline, ask yourself what kind of a message you want to send: I will judge and punish you! or I will help you think and learn.
The ultimate question – is it possible to change your mindset?
The good news is that you can always change or upgrade your mindset. Just by knowing about the fixed and the growth mindset, you can start thinking, reacting and seeing yourself, others and the world in new ways.
Actually, all people are born with high curiosity and a love of learning, but the fixed mindset sooner or later stifles the desire to explore and learn. Luckily, the learned fixed mindset can slowly be unlearned.
The book has many recommendations for how to learn the new growth mindset. Below are my five favorite suggestions:
- When things get hard and you want to quit or you get bored, tired, dizzy or hungry, don’t fool yourself. Put yourself in the growth mindset by picturing new brain connections forming as you meet the challenge and learn. Learn to work harder and to not let go of things when they get hard.
- Don’t surround yourself with people who are in a worse position than you are just to feel better about yourself. Instead seek people who can give you constructive criticism. If you’re the smartest (or richest, or the most skillful etc.) person in the room, you’re in the wrong room.
- Analyze your heroes and people who outdid you in the past – do they poses extraordinary abilities or did they just use better strategies, practiced harder, and worked their way through obstacles? You will realize that many people who outperform you just invested more effort.
- Define your success with learning and improving, not merely winning. Admit and correct your deficiencies and enjoy the process. You can only thrive if you do self-correction. A growth‑minded person is not a judge, they’re a guide – to themselves, others or the company that they work for.
- True self-confidence is about possessing the courage to be open, to welcome ideas and change regardless of their source. Real self-confidence is not reflected in a title, a fancy car, an expensive suit or a series of business acquisitions. Real self-confidence is reflected in your mindset, in your readiness to grow.
In summary – Did I win or did I lose? Those are the wrong questions. The correct question is: did I put in my best effort?
If you put in your best effort, you might be outscored, but you will never lose. Learn to live by the rule to apply yourself each day to becoming just a little bit better. By dedicating yourself to the task of becoming a little better each and every day over a period of time, you will become a lot better.
Change can be hard, but no one ever said it wasn’t worth it.
And beware of success, because it can quickly kick you into the fixed mindset and thinking “I won because I have talent. And because I have talent, I will keep winning.”
Success can easily lull you, it makes even the most ambitious people complacent and sloppy. Never forget that innate talent is not the wise goal. Expanding skills and knowledge is.
I hope you enjoyed the summary. In the book, you can find many examples from schools, sport and business, showing how people with the growth mindset prosper with time, and people with the fixed mindset suffer the consequences of weak underlying beliefs.
It’s absolutely a must-read book and I hope this summary convinced you. The growth mindset also goes hand in hand with the kaizen mentality in business to constantly improve and never give up.