Have you ever failed at something that crushed your confidence? Or, maybe you received feedback that made you doubt yourself?

Why is it that some people bounce back quickly from setbacks, while others get stuck in them?

Those who bounce back quickly have a different mindset – a growth mindset.

The growth mindset is famous in developmental psychology, and now it’s taught in schools around the country – not just to students, but to teachers, too!

This mindset impacts your resiliency and relationships and even predicts achievement!

What is the growth mindset?

Let’s start with the word, mindset. A mindset is a set of beliefs or attitudes. These beliefs are manufactured by the mind based on your upbringing, experiences, and the accumulation of (mostly unchecked) thoughts you’ve absorbed over time. A mindset is a lens through which you see the world.  It is the birthplace of your actions.

How you see the world (your mindset) affects what you do in the world. Therefore, your mindset creates your reality.

Psychologist Carol Dweck performed extensive research around a certain set of beliefs and how they impact people’s lives. She defines them as follows:

The growth mindset is the belief that your talents can be developed through learning and hard work.

The fixed mindset, in contrast, is the belief that success stems from being naturally gifted.

Those with a fixed mindset feel a need to prove their worth. They want to show the world their innate talent. Since they believe talent is fixed, they feel concern about judgment from others – worrying, “Am I talented enough?” or “Am I smart enough?” The fixed mindset thrives in making assessments and believes that one is naturally good at certain things and bad at others (e.g., “I am bad at this.” “I am good at that.” “I am better than her at that.”)

Those with a growth mindset see life as a continuous journey of growth. They believe they can always improve performance through continuous learning and experimentation.

Beliefs of a fixed mindset: Beliefs of a growth mindset:
Intelligence is determined at birth. Intelligence is unlimited.
It’s easy to identify the limit on a person’s potential. I don’t know my limits. I don’t know your limits.
If I am really good at something, I shouldn’t have to try that hard. All of us can learn and grow throughout life.
Naturally talented people are the most successful. Success, failures and setbacks are part of growth. Failures and setbacks can even be a blessing when we use them to learn!
If I get something correct, that proves my worth. If I get something wrong, that proves my lack of worth. If I get something wrong, how fascinating! Now, I get to learn the right answer!
Weaknesses should be kept secret, so others won’t find out. Uncovering my strengths and weaknesses is a necessary part of learning.
If I receive constructive feedback, I don’t have what it takes. Through effort, I can improve my mindset, skills, and habits, and therefore achieve better results
I am afraid to ask a “dumb” question for fear that others will find out about my lack of intelligence. I ask lots of questions, so I can learn better.
Failure means I was never good enough to accomplish what I wanted. Failure is an opportunity to learn and change something next time.
Results are all that matters, and they prove one’s level of competence. Results can help me learn, but I get better by improving my process.

What is the impact of a growth mindset? 

If you believe that your talents can be cultivated through learning and effort, you are more likely to learn and dedicate effort to improve your skills. If, on the other hand, you believe talent is innate and effort matters less (you either have it or you don’t), you are less inclined to invest effort in improvement.

Let’s explore how these mindsets show up in various facets of our lives:


People with a fixed mindset often feel afraid to ask questions, thinking, “What if others think my question is stupid, and I’m outed as inferior?” They are also less likely to answer a question for fear of being wrong (and how that would look to others).

People with a growth mindset tend to ask lots of questions because questions lead to answers. They value learning and growth more than how they are perceived by others, so they feel less afraid to answer a question and get it wrong.

Tackling challenges

In her book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Dweck provides an example of an experiment she performed with children and puzzles to illustrate how our mindset impacts how we approach challenges. The subjects in this experiment were children identified by school personnel as having a fixed or growth mindset (based on whether or not they gave up when they came across a problem they couldn’t solve). Children were provided puzzles and allowed to choose the level of difficulty.

Children with a fixed mindset chose easier puzzles because they could solve them quickly and prove their skill.

Children with a growth mindset chose puzzles that were far more difficult, valuing the challenge and seeing it as an opportunity for learning. Ultimately, children with a growth mindset developed more skill and were able to tackle more challenging puzzles.

Managing setbacks

With a fixed mindset, we judge a setback as an indicator of our own incompetence, which can paralyze us. We believe we are not smart or worthy enough.

With a growth mindset, a setback is seen as a natural, necessary aspect of learning. It gives us an opportunity to learn and persevere – a gift!

Providing feedback

If you have a fixed mindset and must provide feedback to someone about something that did not go well, it’s going to be a really tough conversation! You think you have to tell someone that they are not good enough. You believe you are the bearer of bad news.

However, in the same scenario, but with a growth mindset instead, you know that your feedback will help your team member learn and grow. You are invested in their development.

Receiving feedback

When you hold a fixed mindset, receiving constructive feedback feels threatening. It means that you don’t have what it takes – that you’re not good enough.

When you hold a growth mindset, you value feedback because you need it to keep learning. You may even solicit feedback from different sources. All feedback, whether positive or “negative” is valuable information that you can use to grow.

Are you always a fixed or growth mindset?  

As you learn about this concept, you might find yourself categorizing yourself or others strictly into a growth or fixed mindset. But, for most of us, we are a mixture of the two. We take on different mindsets based on the situation at hand.

I’ve certainly noticed this in myself! I’ll share a couple of personal examples where I’ve held a fixed mindset.

I am terrible at remembering names.

For years, I told numerous people that I’m terrible at remembering names….imagine how many times I’ve said this to myself!

For much of my life, I gave up on remembering names. I assumed I was just born this way and couldn’t improve. Yep, I had a fixed mindset!

Instead of constantly telling myself and others that I am terrible at remembering names, I can choose to embrace a growth mindset and get better through deliberate practice.

I failed the CPA exam, but at least I didn’t try.

Many years ago, I failed the CPA exam…badly. Instead of preparing in the weeks leading up to the exam, I lured many of my friends (including those who were also supposed to be studying!) into games of ping pong. For weeks, I vastly improved my ping pong skills, but not the knowledge I needed to pass the exam.

When I ultimately failed and told people about it, I added this important caveat, “I failed, but I did not try at all.” I was actually proud to say I didn’t try.

Trying and failing is the worst nightmare for a fixed mindset. If I try and fail, then I’m simply not good enough. But, if I failed, but didn’t try, at least I have an excuse…at least my image of intelligence is protected.

The irony was that those who tried and failed had a distinct advantage over me. They could learn from what worked and what didn’t, so they could improve their studying process. While I focused on proving my worth by minimizing the effort I put forth, they were already devising a better way to study and pass the exam next time.

Where is your opportunity for growth?

What aspects of your life do you hold a fixed mindset about?

Have you ever concluded with conviction that you were bad at something? Maybe it’s dancing, art, public speaking, or selling?

What if, instead, you choose to believe that you can improve at something through greater learning and effort?

Dweck encourages us to embrace the word, “yet.” Think about the difference between saying to yourself, “I’m terrible at remembering names,” and “I’m not great at remembering names yet.” By adding this three-letter word, you’ve shifted your mindset. The first statement confirms your inferiority and limits the future. The second creates possibility for success!

See you in the DoP,

P.S. Curious how you can adopt a growth mindset? Check out Part 2: How to adopt a growth mindset now!

Becoming is better than being.”

Carol Dweck