What are the benefits of a growth mindset?

A powerful concept which is central to positive psychology. Evidence links growth mindset to a variety of positive outcomes: higher goal achievement, motivation, lower stress, anxiety, depression, better work relationships and higher performance levels.

What is growth mindset? And what is a fixed mindset?

Having a growth mindset means that you believe that the development of skills and abilities and intelligence can evolve and change through persistence and hard work.

If you have a growth mindset, you are more likely to enjoy challenges, despite the risk, usually because you value learning and growth more than you value any anxieties you may have about others thinking you don’t know what you’re doing. Because you’re willing to give new things a try, you often don’t know what you’re doing, at least not initially. But you don’t see that as a threat, more as an opportunity to learn and to get good at stuff that you might come to value.

Having a fixed mindset on the other hand means that you generally believe that your abilities and your intelligence are fixed and can’t be changed and that you pretty much have had them since birth. If you come from a place of fixed mindset, you might avoid challenges because you don’t want to feel embarrassed or humiliated in front of others. This can become an issue because your fear of making mistakes can lead you to avoid challenges and new experiences—experiences which could actually help you grow, develop, and create the life that you want.

“If you come from a place of fixed mindset, you might avoid challenges because you don’t want to feel embarrassed or humiliated in front of others.”

Paul Brewerton — YC Co Founder

With a growth mindset, you end up with a belief that you can overcome challenge and over time, you build up evidence that proves that point – so it becomes positively self-fulfilling. While following a fixed mindset is also self-fulfilling, but in the opposite direction, because your avoidance of new, potentially embarrassing, situations means that you stick with what you know as a form of self-protection, but you limit your development as a result.

The origins of fixed and growth mindset – taking it way back

Most of us have been programmed to be more fixed mindset than growth mindset partly because the negativity bias primes us to be fearful of potentially threatening experiences.

And partly, because of well-intentioned teachers, parents and caregivers thinking they were being helpful when they told us that we were smart or good at something or naturally talented. When actually that feedback was setting us up to just keep doing the stuff we knew would get us that praise (the stuff we could already do) rather than pushing ourselves by taking risks which might result in failure (and therefore not praise).

As it turns out, it’s far better for our teachers and caregivers and parents to praise effort rather than achievement, because effort leads to more learning and places a longer tail on development. So, if you have the sense that you might have more of a fixed mindset than a growth mindset, what can you do?

Tips for developing a growth mindset

Here are our 4 top tips for developing more of a growth mindset whatever stage of life you’re at. It’s never too late:

  1. 1

    Learning hurts so focus on the why

    When we go from unconscious incompetence (the not knowing that we are bad at something), through conscious incompetence (becoming aware of how rubbish we are), through conscious competence (baby steps of progress towards being half-decent) and ultimately unconscious competence (where we have likely mastered a skill to a degree of automation) – when we go through that cycle –  we go through pain.

  2. 2

    Focus on the learning, not the mistakes

    As Nelson Mandela was once famed to have said, “There is no failure, only learning.” Did he say that? Or was it Einstein? The internet will tell you all sorts of people said that probably, including me now. Well one thing’s for sure (probably), Thomas Edison said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

    And that attitude led to the invention of the lightbulb, the record player and film. And unless it was a deep fake, I’ve also heard Michael Jordan (the basketball legend) say, “I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

    So what are these people all pointing towards? That taking a positive and realistic attitude towards experience, in other words, adopting a growth mindset – learning from failure – can lead to incredible world-changing, record-breaking achievements. Always focusing on the learning and then applying that learning next time, brings us to an inevitability of progress, because how can we do anything other than progress if we’re constantly tweaking and levelling up when things don’t go our way? Plus, we get better at pushing through the learning pain barrier that I talked about a few moments ago because we’re reprogramming ourselves to see failure and mistakes as a positive developmental experience and not as something that should induce fear, anxiety and avoidance.

  3. 3

    Own it, honestly

    Whatever your context – if you’re parenting, if you’re adulting with friends, if you’re in self-reflection – my tip here is to talk openly and honestly about mistakes when they happen: what went wrong, what happened, how that’s ok and what you learned, and what would you want to do differently next time, if anything? To work on normalising it, to make it ok and to start to view failure as an opportunity to learn rather than as something to be avoided.

  4. 4

    Growth mindset and strengths

    Lastly, I want to talk about how growth mindset and strengths, based on years of experience of this area seem to have an interesting, perhaps even initially tense relationship, when people first learn about the strengths that make them unique. I’ll be honest, first off, it can feel weird to step into our strengths and to even think about stretching them because it can feel risky and actually, our underexplored, even unknown strengths may be the greatest sources of our fixed mindset.

Final Thoughts

Stepping into and stretching your strength areas can be a great opportunity to shift into growth mindset, take some risks, and develop new behaviours and new habits through choosing a different attitude.