Growth Mindset vs. Fixed Mindset

There are two types of mindsets we can cultivate. One that embraces problems as opportunities to learn, and one that avoids them, often out of the fear of failure. People that avoid conflicts can be described as having a fixed mindset. Those who see problems as interesting challenges have a growth mindset. Sometimes we like to switch from one to the other.

The full story
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People have a fixed mindset because they believe that basic qualities, like intelligence or talents, are fixed traits and that these traits are responsible for success. They often like to document past achievements. With a growth mindset, people believe that new abilities can be developed through practise. This view creates the love for learning that most great leaders and artists have in common. For them life becomes an exciting journey with endless opportunity to figure new things out and advance.

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To develop a growth mindset, Dr. Carol Dweck, the Stanford University professor who coined the term, advises leaders, teachers and parents to celebrate trying. Teachers should applaud students for any grade if they studied hard. Parents should encourage the children to develop any new skill they are interested in. Doing this will make them learn the skill of learning which will also help them back in the classroom.

Growth mindset Fixed mindset - Sprouts Education

To illustrate the difference in everyday life, let’s observe two imaginary kids. Jay thinks you either got it or you haven‘t. Ann knows that she can learn anything if she wants it enough.


At physical exercise Jay avoids challenges. When it’s time to jump over the vaulting horse he is afraid to look stupid and be laughed at. Ann embraces any challenge – it’s exciting and it’s fun. She knows that failure is part of learning and if she tries hard, in the end nobody will laugh at her. 

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Jay avoids feedback. If the teacher tells him how to improve an assignment he has been working on, he takes in personally. Ann knows that to improve she needs to listen to constructive criticism. She also understands that it’s not her that is being assessed but the results of her work on that one day. 

Growth mindset Fixed mindset - Sprouts Education

Jay always takes the easy road. For example, he likes escalators and hates to take the stairs. When he is practicing the guitar, he stops the moment he’s getting stuck. Ann usually doesn’t even take escalators. She jumps up the stairs, counts every step in her head, and enjoys feeling the blood rushing through her veins. She practices the drums every morning for 15 minutes. Not that she always enjoys it, but she knows that effort is part of a journey to a more fun life.

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Ann likes to see her others succeed – it inspires her. She knows if she motivates her friends to get better, she herself is likely to grow as well. If his friends try new things and succeed Jay feels threatened. He’s afraid that their success will put pressure on him to do more with his life too.

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Modern companies look for employees with the growth mindset because they solve problems and persist despite obstacles. To spot the right ones, some asked during the interview whether the job applicant believes if managers are born or if management is a skill learned. Jay thinks that managers are born. Ann gets the job.

The science
Growth mindset Fixed mindset - Sprouts Education

Neuroscientists support the idea. They confirm that the brain grows like any other muscle in the body – with training. Studies show that adopted twins tend to have higher intelligence compared to their siblings who stayed with the biological parents. The difference appears to come from the higher educational levels of adoptive parents and shows that nurture is more important than nature.

A simple switch in how a person views a situation can mean the world of a difference. Not just the outcome of that situation; the outcome of that person’s place in life. As the late poet Samuel Beckett once said: “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”

“Agree to the full extent! I believe you can change permanently, you simply have to be open-minded to the idea! – Make it an amazing day : )”

– sergio gutierrez


Dig deeper!

Classroom activity

Celebrate effort and trying. Praise students equally for effort as for their results. To those who score worse, try to give healthy encouragement and provide constructive feedback. To those who scored well, give appropriate praise and brainstorm on what could be done next time to make the student’s work even better. Let us know how it goes! For some great activity ideas centred on developing growth mindset visit: Growth Mindset Activities for Elementary Students: Stop Hearing “I Can’t!”

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