Growth mindset and fixed mindset
self beliefs affect motivation and thus achievement. What we
believe about ourselves can greatly influence our ability to get what
we want out of life. Carol Dweck and her associates have for many years
investigated what people believe about themselves and how this affects
their motivation, and their ability to accomplish tasks, achieve goals,
and function successfully in life. She proposes, that people
tend to have two extremes of belief about themselves, that are the key
to their effectiveness or ineffectiveness. One extreme is of a self
that is an unchanging entity and the other extreme is of a self that is
constantly changing in varying increments. Dweck asserts that one
theory is highly adaptive for the human condition (the theory of an
incremental changing self) while the other is maladaptive for the human
condition (the theory of a self that is an unchanging entity). These
self theories can be termed respectively a growth mindset and a fixed
mindset. Curiously, this applies regardless of whether the motivation
is intrinsic or extrinsic. Although, as we shall see, people with an
extrinsic orientation tends to also have a fixed mindset, and people
who have an intrinsic orientation tend also to have a growth mindset.
Potential, nonlearners versus learners. The
following is quoted from Carol Dweck's book
"Benjamin Barber, an eminent
sociologist, once said, 'I don't divide the world into the weak and the
strong, or the successes and the failures... I divide the world into
learners and nonlearners.'
What on earth would make someone a
nonlearner? Everyone is born with an intense drive [I prefer
need] to learn. Infants stretch their skills daily. Not just
ordinary skills, but the most difficult tasks of a lifetime, like
learning to walk and talk. They never decide it's too hard or not worth
the effort. Babies don't worry about making mistakes or humiliating
themselves. They walk, they fall, they get up. They just barge forward.
What could put an end to this
exuberant learning? The fixed mindset. As soon as children become able
to evaluate themselves, some of them become afraid of challenges. They
become afraid of not being smart. I have studied thousands of
people from preschoolers on, and it's breathtaking how many reject an
opportunity to learn."
[On the other hand a]"...growth
mindset is based on the belief that your basic qualities are things you
can cultivate through your efforts. Although people may differ in every
which way - in their initial talents and aptitudes, interests or
temperaments - everyone can change and grow through application and
Do people with this mindset believe
that anyone can be anything, that anyone with proper motivation or
education can become Einstein or Beethoven? No, but they believe that a
person's true potential is unknown (and unknowable); that it's
impossible to foresee what can be accomplished with years of passion,
toil and training."
A percentage sample of humanity. Carol
Dweck tested a sample of people over time who were quite diverse, from
preschoolers to people of university age. She found that while people
may vary greatly as to how much they are inclined toward a fixed theory
or a growth theory, roughly 40% seemed more inclined toward a growth
theory and 40% seemed more inclined toward a fixed theory. The other
20% were undecided. This seems to this site, to be remarkable, because
personal experience seems to place the large majority of people in the
fixed mindset group. This site suspects that Dweck's sample group may
be inaccurate, because the sample of humanity it was taken from was
mostly young. The subjects ranged only from university students to
preschoolers and this excludes the majority of the adult population.
Also, if this site's major concerns are correct, it may well be that
society tends to mold people into a more fixed mindset as they get
Self theories 'entity' versus 'incremental'.
If Carol Dweck's survey is correct, about
40 percent of the people in the world, would believe that they each are
an unvarying entity and thus impossible to change. They would believe
that their intelligence is an unvarying entity, that their abilities
are an unvarying entities, and that they are helpless to change any of
it. On the other hand about 40 percent of the people in the world would
believe the opposite, that they gradually improve by increments. They
would believe that their intelligence increases in increments of
knowledge and that their abilities increase in increments according to
how much effort they apply to improving them.
Mindset 'fixed' versus 'growth'. (This
is a slightly more generalized reformulation of the self theories.)
If Carol Dweck's survey is correct, about
40 percent of the people in the world would believe that people are
fixed to their genetic heritage, and thus impossible to change. They
would believe that intelligence is fixed, that abilities are fixed, and
that they, and all other people are fixed, and that we are all helpless
to change any of it. Conversely, about 40 percent of people in the
world would believe that they, and all others, gradually develop and
grow over time. They would believe that intelligence grows with
knowledge, and that abilities improve and grow according to how much
effort we apply to improving them.
World theories orientation 'constant'
versus 'malleable'. (The fixed/growth mindsets tend to
change people beliefs about the world.) If Carol Dweck's survey is
correct, about 40 percent of the people in the world would believe that
everything is constant and thus impossible to change. They would
believe that people are constant and that the world is constant and
that we are all helpless to change any of it. Conversely about 40
percent of the people in the world would believe that people are
malleable and that they and others can change if they so wish. They
would believe that the world is malleable and that anyone in the right
place at the right time, with sufficient effort, can change the world
or contribute to changing it.
Behavior 'performance' versus 'mastery'. The
people who believe that everything is fixed, tend to be set on
maintaining and validating their abilities, their intelligence and
their position in the world, by performing in order that others may
judge their intelligence, abilities and status. The people who believe
that everything develops and grows, set out to learn all they can and
to improve all their skills so that their intelligence will increase
and their abilities will develop and their status increase. They judge
themselves against their previous selves to see how much they have
Brain waves tell the story. The
following is also taken from Dweck's book
"You can even see the difference in
people's brainwaves. People with both mindsets came to our brainwave
lab at Columbia. As they answered hard questions and got feedback, we
were curious about when their brain waves would show them to be
interested and attentive.
People with a fixed mindset were
only interested when the feedback reflected on their ability. Their
brainwaves showed them paying close attention when they were told
whether their answers were right or wrong.
But when they were presented with
information that could help them learn, there was no sign of interest.
Even when they'd gotten an answer wrong, they were not interested in
learning what the right answer was.
Only people with a growth mindset
paid close attention to information that could stretch their knowledge.
only for them was learning a priority."
Common sense is often wrong.
Ability, intelligence and confidence are not enough.
- The belief that students with high
ability are more likely to display mastery oriented qualities is wrong.
- The belief that success in school
directly fosters mastery oriented qualities is wrong.
- The belief that praise, particularly
praising a student's intelligence, encourages mastery oriented
qualities is wrong.
- The belief that student's confidence in
their intelligence is the key to mastery oriented qualities is wrong.
Belief, 'fixed' verses 'growth'.
After extensive research on numerous groups, Dweck and her colleagues
gained an understanding that this division of people into fixed or
growth mindsets tended to predict how successful,
how accomplished, how healthy
and how happy people were. People with a growth
mindset were more successful, accomplished and happy. Carol Dweck
explains how people with a fixed mindset manage to function as follows:
"Sure, people with the fixed mindset have
read books that say: success is about being your best self, not about
being better than others; failure is an opportunity, not a
condemnation; effort is the key to success. But they can't put this
into practice because their basic mindset - their belief in fixed
traits - is telling them something entirely different: that success is about being more gifted than
others, that failure does measure you, and that effort is for those who
can't make it on talent."
Some of the other conclusions Dweck and her
colleagues reached are the following:
Fixed mindset people.
Fixed mindset people believe we are born with our level of fixed
intelligence, and that it changes little over the course of our lives.
They tend to see how their intelligence is now as how it is going to be
in the future.
and trying hard. Fixed mindset people believe that if we have
to try hard to understand or to solve problems, that this shows how low
our intelligence is. They believe that if our intelligence is high,
everything will be easy to understand and problems will be easy to
Fixed mindset people believe we are born with our various fixed levels
of ability and that these change little over the course of our lives.
and trying hard. Fixed mindset people believe, that if we
have to try hard to do things or to build a skill, that this shows how
inferior our abilities are. They believe that if our abilities are
great, everything will be easy to do and that skills will be easy to
Fixed mindset people believe they are born a certain way, and that
neither they, nor anybody else, can do anything to change them.
Likewise, they believe other people are also born a certain way and
also cannot be changed. They see no point in trying to change
themselves or others. Fixed mindset people are therefore more likely
lump people into stereotype straitjackets.
the world. Fixed mindset people believe, though it seems to
defy common sense, that the world cannot be changed and that it
especially cannot be changed by them. Though they see the world as
changing, they believe this is outside the ability of anyone to
influence. They see no point in trying to change the world if nothing
they do has any effect.
Fixed mindset people believe their purpose in life is to validate and
live up to the statuses that others have conferred on them. They do
this by continually trying to perform at the expected level of various
Fixed mindset people tend to avoid challenges and risk. They are
willing to pass up learning opportunities if they are likely to reveal
inadequacies or entail errors.
Fixed mindset people tend to perform for others to judge, and not for
their own edification. They are more interested in the appearance of
being knowledgeable or skilled at work, rather than the actuality of
it. They can pass exams, get degrees, but only a minimal amount of real
learning trickles through.
Fixed mindset people tend to believe that things should be accomplished
with little effort. They believe that having to exert effort indicates
that people have insufficient knowledge, skill, or intelligence. They
therefore tend to minimize effort, and feel it shows their lack of
intelligence and ability when they find it necessary to try hard.
Fixed mindset people see obstacles as a threat. They see mistakes,
difficulties in understanding and doing, as signs of weakness in their
intelligence and abilities. They tend to want to avoid obstacles if
they can, preferring to do easy work rather than hard work.
Fixed mindset people see failure as the refutation of the statuses that
have been conferred on them. They see failure as indictment of their
stupidity and incompetence. They are thus ever afraid of failure which
threatens their feelings of worth, status and esteem.
to failure. In response to failure, fixed mindset people
tend to indulge in negative self talk. They tend to over estimate the
amount or extent of the failure. They tend to lose faith in their
abilities and intelligence to be able to still do things they have
up. Fixed mindset people tend to give up easily when faced
with obstacles or difficulties. They gi9ve up before they have
exhausted their strategies. They are more likely revert to wild
guesses. They are more likely to lose interest in things they are
failing at or finding difficulty with.
Fixed mindset people revel in any successes which they see as
validating their high intelligence and competence. They are thus ever
seeking successes which bolsters their feelings of worth, status and
Fixed mindset people live lives that are conditional. Their confidence,
self worth and self esteem rise and fall on what others hold as
standards, and on their performance ability in obtaining or passing
those standards. This this may go back to their childhood where the
love and esteem provided by their parents was probably conditional.
Fixed mindset people do not see learning of value in itself, but rather
see it as only having value if assessed.
Motivation. Fixed mindset people
are not usually motivated by intrinsic motives and are mostly motivated
by extrinsic motives. Whether they are trying for an external reward,
or they are trying to gain the approval of some others, or they are
trying to pass a standard, or they are simply trying to live up to
expectations, it is all extrinsic motives.
Fixed mindset people are so concerned with appearance and status that
they are more likely to consider cheating.
Some fixed mindset people start off strong early in life accomplishing
much, but become more and more fearful of risk and so take less and
less chances as time goes by. This causes their accomplishments to
gradually diminish till often they are no better than average or even
worse. Their academic achievements are often spectacular when young,
but diminish as they find the work difficult or as they have to deal
Some fixed mindset people are what are often referred to as losers.
Such people feel generally helpless in most situations. Such talent as
they have is so overwhelmed by their fixed mindset that they never
achieve anything of worth.
Growth mindset people believe, that we a born with a malleable
intelligence, and that it changes in response to accumulation of
knowledge and understanding over the course of our lives. They tend to
see how their intelligence is now, as just that now, and in no way
indicating anything about the future.
trying hard. Growth mindset people believe that in order to
increase our intelligence we have to try hard to improve and understand
or to solve problems, that intelligence is a function of learning. They
believe that our intelligence can only become high by putting every
effort into the accumulation of knowledge and understanding, because
intelligence is knowledge and understanding.
Growth mindset people believe we a born with various malleable
potentials, and that the only way to turn those potentials into
abilities is to work hard
to develop the skills necessary to those abilities through constant
learning. They tend to see abilities as ever developing and evolving
over the period of their life. Even potential they do not see as fixed
because they believe it is unknowable.
trying hard. Growth mindset people believe that we have to
try hard to do things or to build skills, and that the only way to
develop abilities is to put in the effort to learn and maintain them.
They believe that nothing is worth doing or worthy of them if it is
accomplished to easily. They believe that anything worth doing must
stretch and challenge them, so that they are always leaning the most
they possibly can.
Growth mindset people
believe they are born with infinitely flexible and malleable bodies,
like silly putty, that they can change and mold into whatever they
wish. They believe that the environment can change them, but only if
they allow it to. Likewise, they believe other people are also born as
flexible and malleable as them, and though they can be changed by
others, that they should be changed by themselves. They see the only
point of living is to try to change themselves or others for the
better. Growth mindset people are remarkably free of prejudice, and far
less likely to think of people in terms of stereotypes, because they
believe in this ability of all people to change.
the world. Growth mindset people believe that the world is in
constant change and that anybody and everybody can and should
contribute to that change. They are especially sure that the world is
open to improvement, and that they can be highly instrumental in
bringing about such improvements. They see the world as changing mostly
through the efforts of people like themselves who try to change it and
believe it can be changed by them. They see the main point of living in
trying to change the world for the better.
Growth mindset people see no purpose in trying to validate others
opinions of them, or to try and live up to the statuses that others
have conferred on them. They feel validated only by their own judgment
of their own continual improvement. They are uncaring of the opinions
of others and only perform to standards of others, when society seems
to present no other course of progressing.
Growth mindset people tend to love challenges and are willing to take
reasonable risks in order to improve. They are often bored by tasks
that are so easy as to offer no challenge. They are quite willing to
risk looking stupid if the opportunity to learn seems sufficiently
challenging. They will sacrifice opportunities to look smart in favor
of challenging their intellect.
Growth mindset people tend to perform only for themselves and for their
own edification. They are more interested in the increasing their
knowledge than of being thought knowledgeable. They are more interested
in being skilled than being thought skilled. They would rather do
quality work, than be thought to have done quality work. They can pass
exams, get degrees, but are only interested in doing this in so far as
society is likely to prevent them from doing what they want otherwise.
Growth mindset people tend to believe that the only way to improve is
through effort. They believe that exerting effort is how knowledge,
understanding and abilities are acquired. They therefore tend to
maximize their efforts to learn, and feel that is how they expand their
intelligence and skills.
Growth mindset people see obstacles as challenges. They see mistakes,
difficulties in understanding and doing, as signs that they need to try
new strategies and work harder. They tend to want tasks that involve
obstacles, so they can be challenged and overcome those obstacles. They
prefer hard work to easy work.
Growth mindset people see failure as the ultimate challenge, as an
opportunity to really dig in and try something new, to work harder and
to persist by trying again. They basically redouble their efforts in
the face of failure. They see failure as an opportunity to learn. They
are thus never afraid of failure, and only more resolved to do better
next time when it occurs.
to failure. In response to failure growth mindset people
tend to indulge in positive self talk. This is usually in the form of
self instructions to work harder and increase effort and try new
strategies, but sometimes it takes the form of talk to reinforce their
self theory such as, "I love a good challenge". They tend to under
estimate the amount or extent of the failure, to become more determined
to succeed, and remain confident in their ability to do so.
up. Growth mindset people tend not to give up even when faced
with many obstacles or difficulties and persist, often to an
unreasonable extent. They may give up using one strategy only to try
many others. They are more likely to increase their concentration. They
are more likely to become even more interested in things they are
failing at or finding difficulty with.
Growth mindset people, like others, enjoy their successes, which they
see as the outcome of their strategies, effort and hard work. They are
thus, far more often successful in any of their undertakings and
creative in overcoming their failures.
Growth mindset people live unconditional lives. Their confidence, self
worth and self esteem, are very stable and independent of conditions
others try to place on them. This is because they are always perceiving
evidence of their own improvement. Their confidence is not confidence
in abilities or intelligence, but rather confidence in their aptitude
to improve through trying various strategies, applying more effort, and
persisting. Their esteem and self worth are generated by their own
perception of themselves as being increasingly successful, despite
perhaps, a current temporary failure. This likely goes back to their
childhood, where the love and esteem provided by their parents was
Growth mindset people see learning as of value in itself. As a result
their learning tends to be meaningful, well integrated into their
cognitive structure, and not easily forgotten. They tend to enjoy and
love learning, which in turn, makes them good candidates for being life
Growth mindset people are motivated by intrinsic motives and are hardly
ever motivated by extrinsic motives. Though they are normally motivated
by intrinsic motives, they tend to be flexible, in that they are able
to tackle performance goals or growth goals with equal enthusiasm, if
they perceive the performance goals to be necessary to their intrinsic
motivation. Whether they are trying gain entry to a school, or pass a
standard required for entry to a profession of choice, they are still
primarily internally motivated.
Growth mindset people are very unlikely to cheat, as they see value
only in knowing and understanding and see no value in demonstrating
skills, abilities or knowledge that they do not have.
Achievement. Some growth mindset people start off strong
early in life, accomplishing much early. They tend to continue in this
manner throughout their lives like Mozart. The number of prodigies this
happens to seems to be far smaller than the those that fall by the
wayside. These high achieving growth theorist's academic achievements
may take no spectacular leaps, but show a steady growth and
improvement. Despite this, they are often at their best when facing
Achievement. Some growth mindset people start off weak early
in life, but slowly become more and more skillful and knowledgeable as
time goes by. Their absolute faith in the eventuality of success
enables them to gradually catch up to others, even prodigies, and
eventually surpass them. They do this by effort and hard work. When
young their academic achievements are often inferior, but gradually
they overcome their flaws and learn the necessary skills.john
signs. There is a very hopeful side to this idea of self
theories or mindsets. One of the things that Carol Dweck established
early on in her research was that it was relatively easy to change a
person's mindset from fixed to growth or entity to Incremental and vice
versa, at least temporarily. In experiment after experiment it was made
clear that a very simple intervention could change completely how
people thought and acted, at least for the period of the experiment.
Dweck identified a number of different sorts of intervention that could
quickly help or induce people to have a more incremental self theory.
of self theories. The mere knowledge of the existence of
these self theories or mindsets were instrumental in moving people
toward the incremental or growth side.
Nature versus nurture is an old debate, but its importance, as Dweck
explains, is not in which side is true, but rather in that, whichever
idea we believe decides which side we gravitate toward, the entity
theory or the incremental theory. The mere inclusion of an article
supporting nurture will automatically move people toward having an
incremental theory at least for the period of the experiment.
by praise. Praise of entity aspects of people
(intelligence/abilities) or even work (competence) move people toward
the an entity theory.
encourages people to feel entitled and at the same time dependent on
the praise, and ultimately makes them fragile in the face of evidence
to the contrary. However, praise of problem
solving strategies, praise of effort, praise of persistence and praise
of hard work all move people toward an incremental theory.
criticism. Criticism of the sort that people need to try
different strategies, that they need to put in more effort, that they
need to be more persistent or that they need to try harder all move
people toward forming an incremental self theory.
One way Dweck and co. discovered to help people to change to an
incremental theory, was to consistently draw their attention to the
amount of improvement they had made. Drawing attention to improvement
is actually illustrating increment.
expectations. The attitudes of the role models around
children, usually their parents and teachers, has an important effect on whether
children form an entity theory or an incremental theory. If parents
have an incremental theory their every action is modeling that theory
for their children to absorb. Likewise, teachers who have an
incremental theory will believe their students can and will change and
so help bring this about, by the force of their belief through self
fulfilling prophesy. Other role models affect people similarly in later
life. What people believe about children is also demonstrably able to
effect the kind of mindset they develop.
grows by being exercised. Carol Dweck and her associates have
developed a workshop for students who were losing interest and
motivation in schoolwork. The purpose of the workshop is to move
students from having a fixed mindset to having a growth mindset by
lending academic authority to the growth mindset. The following is a
excerpt from what those students are taught in part to instigate that
they do think about what intelligence is, many people believe that a
person is born either smart, average, or dumb - and stays that way for
life. But new research shows that the brain is more like a muscle - it
changes and gets stronger when you use it. And scientists have been
able to show just how the brain grows and gets stronger when you
you learn new things, these tiny connections in the brain actually
multiply and get stronger. The more that you challenge your mind to
learn, the more your brain cells grow. Then, things you once found very
hard or even impossible - like speaking a foreign language or doing
algebra - seem to become easy. The result is a stronger smarter brain."
or false. The point of this above passage, was to change what
people believed was possible, so its actual truth or falsity was
unimportant as long as people believed it. However, if you take a look
at our section on the plastic brain, you will see that there is
considerable evidence that this is true.
of self theories. Carol Dweck has just written a book called
a popular non technical book for the general public, and she did this a
the behest of her students. Her students felt transformed by her
lectures on mindsets, which they felt moved their self theories from
entity theories to incremental self theories. Because they felt so
transformed, they felt the general public needed to be informed about
Dweck's work. This site concurs with the belief of those students to
the point where everyone should read
"Mindset", especially parents and teachers.
nurture. Are we born with a fixed amount of intelligence, or
does our intelligence build in increments over time constantly growing
and becoming more with our growing knowledge? Are we born with fixed
abilities, or are these too developed over time in increments depending
on the amount of effort we put in and the persistence we maintain? If
so, does this have any bearing on how great we can become as people, or
what contribution we can make to society and humanity? The answer is
probably somewhere in the middle, but Carol Dweck and her associates
have shown that what we believe about nature and nurture, is essential
in the structuring of our self theories. Are our abilities provided by
our genes or are abilities developed by our intentions and our
environment? Is our intelligence provided by our genes or is
intelligence developed by our intentions and our environment?
to the matter of intelligence, which these days is normally measured by
an IQ test, it is interesting to note, as Dweck points out, that it was
not developed to measure something fixed. The developer of the test,
Alfred Binet, created the IQ test in order to identify children who
were not profiting from the Paris public schools, so that new
educational programs could be designed to get them back on track. Here
is a quote from Binet's book
"Modern Ideas About Children":
"A few modern philosophers... assert that an
individuals intelligence is a fixed quantity, a quantity which cannot
be increased. We must protest and react against this brutal
pessimism... With practice, training, and above all, method, we manage
to increase our attention, our memory, our judgment and literally to
become more intelligent than we were before."
it does not matter whether nature or nurture is correct, and it is best
we never know the answer, unless it is nurture. Because, if we believe
nurture is correct, this gives us an advantage in life, it allows us to
be inclined toward a growth mindset, which in turn, enables us to
change and become more competent in everything we do.
terms of Carol Dweck's mindsets, good praise means the reinforcing of
the idea that you can change what you are. If you seem less intelligent
you can learn and become more intelligent. If you lack skills you can
learn them. If you are socially incompetent you can learn how to be
socially competent. If you are not so beautiful you can do something
about that also. Here is what Dweck said,
"If the wrong kinds of praise lead
kids down the path of entitlement dependence and fragility, maybe the
right kinds of praise can lead them down the path of hard work and
How do you convey this? You praise the process not the person. Praise
how the person has improved and is improving. Praise the amount of
challenge that is being attempted, the problem solving strategies that
were used, the hard work, the persistence and especially the effort.
Here are some variations of examples from Dweck's book:
"I think it's great how you found
what you were still weakest at and focused on improving that."
"I like the way you tried
all kinds of strategies on that math problem until you finally got it."
thought of a lot of different ways to solve the chemistry problem and
found the one that worked."
"I like that you took on
that challenging project for your for your science class. It will take
a lot of hard work but you are really going to lean a lot."
truth is that previously you weren't using your brain to the fullest,
but now you are really challenging yourself."
really excited about how you're stretching yourself now and working to
learn hard things."
"I really admire the way you
concentrated and kept trying till you finally found the solution."
"I love the way
you have put so much thought into this essay."
going places kiddo. I really admire the amount of effort and hard work
you have put into your studies this year."
"Wow only last year you couldn't do
any of those things. Look how much you have improved in just a short
"Do you remember
asking me about how quantum mechanics worked a few years back? You had
no understanding then but now you are teaching me. See how far you have
come, how much you have improved?"
As with praise, criticism can be a way of reinforcing the mindset of
the person being criticized. If the person seems less intelligent you
can help them come to feel they can learn more and so become more
intelligent. If they lack skills they can be made to feel they can
learn them. If they are socially incompetent you can convince them they
can learn how to be socially competent. If they are not so beautiful
you can make them believe they can do something about that also. How do
you convey this? You can criticize them by concentrating the process of
change. Criticize how the person is working or has been working, how
the person has improved
and is improving. Criticize the amount of challenge that is being
attempted, the problem solving strategies that were used, the amount of
hard work, the persistence and especially the amount of effort put in.
One of the simplest ways Dweck and co. found to help move people from
an entity theory to an incremental theory, was to simply point out that
the reason people had failed was because they hadn't tried hard enough.
They then pointed out that the people should therefore try harder the
are some examples:
you really need to do is, find what you are still weak at and focus on
"You haven't tried enough
kinds of strategies on that math problem. You need to try more and
different kinds of strategies."
didn't try enough different ways to solve the chemistry problem. If you
don't try more ways you'll never find the one that works."
"You didn't take on a
challenging enough project for your for your science class. You will
never learn much if you don't challenge yourself more."
"The truth is that you
haven't been using your brain to the fullest. You have been just
coasting along on what you already know. You will never learn much if
you never try to do things that are hard."
really need to stretch yourself. You haven't been working hard enough.
You really need to work harder and attempt things that are more
would do better if you concentrated more and kept trying till you
finally found the solution."
"This essay is a bit formularized you
could have put more thought into what the essay needs to be about."
"You haven't improve improved as much
this year as last year. You really need to put in a greater amount of
effort and hard work next year."
"Look at how much you improved last
year and compare it with your improvement this year. You really need to
put in more effort."
"Do you remember how you went from
understanding nothing about algebra to becoming an expert at it? You
really need to put that much effort into learning and understanding
your other subjects?"
Drawing attention to improvement is the easiest way of facilitating the
development of a growth mindset. It is just a matter of, instead of
saying how good something is, you say how much better it is than it was
before. If you want to say how clever someone is, say instead how
clever they have become. If you want to say how
well your child has done in his
school work, simply tell him how much better he has done this year
compared with last year. If you want to say how beautiful and creative
a piece of artwork is, you simply say how much more beautiful and
creative it is compared with work the person has done in the past. It
is easy for teachers to say how much some work has improved or how much
more the person knows than just a few months back, because at school,
we are in a position to be absorbing knowledge at a phenomenal rate.
(Although many of us unfortunately are forgetting it at the same rate.)
Still the knowledge we have is always greater than before. The skills
we have, are always more than before.
may well be, the real function of tests to simply provide students with
feedback about how much they have improved. Tests could be prepared in
such a way, as to compare
them with previous tests or with previous test questions. The thing is,
tests could be about how much our mental skills have improved, how much
more knowledge we have stored away, and how much better our
understanding of the universe has become, but at present it is not.
Children with a growth mindset usually turn out to have grown up in a
in a household where at least one of their parent has had a growth
mindset. Some such children when facing difficulties say things like, "I
hoped this would be informative." or, "Mistakes are
our friends." or, "I love a good challenge."
Such children have clearly grown up in a household where such comments
are often heard and so repeated. Such households, must have been places
where the unexpected was embraced, challenges enjoyed and where failure
triggered determination to try again and do better.
Expectations are another kind of attitude that can bear heavily on the
kind of mindset children develop. If parents believe their children are
smart, even if they do not tell them so, it will tend to somehow be
conveyed to them. But as already pointed out, encouraging children to
believe that they are smart is not helpful as it encourages a fixed
mindset. If simply believing children are clever is almost the same as
telling them so, then expecting children to do well without effort,
would clearly not be helpful in encouraging a growth mindset. Dweck
believes that the research conducted by Rosenthal and Jacobson on
teacher expectations was widely misinterpreted to mean, that teachers
when expecting students to do better, tended to tell those students or
conveyed to them in other ways that they thought they were smart. On
reading "Pygmalion in the Classroom", the book where Rosenthal and
Jacobson explained their research I find no evidence that they
suggested anything like that. In her book
"Self Theories" Dweck puts it like this:
reason that this belief
it is somehow helpful to tell students they are smart] is
so widespread stem from the research by Rosenthal and Jacobson (1968)
on the 'Pygmalion' or teacher-expectancy effect. In this research grade
school teachers were given positive expectations for certain children
in their classes at the beginning of the school year. The teachers were
told that tests that these children would bloom over the coming school
year. In fact, the children had been designated at random from the
children in their class. Yet these children made greater gains in
achievement over that year than did comparable children for whom the
teachers were not given high expectations.
These findings were taken to
mean that when teachers think children are smart and convey this to
them, children thrive. The lesson that was derived from this was that
we should convey to children at every opportunity, that they are smart,
and this will aid their achievement.
But notice that Rosenthal
and Jacobson did not simply tell teachers that certain children were
smart or had high IQs. They told them that these children were likely
to bloom; in other words they conveyed that these children were open to
learning, were ready to grow, could profit from teaching. What this
message probably did was lead teachers to work more effectively with
these children, and not simply praise their intelligence."
On reading "Pygmalion in the
Classroom" it becomes clear that Rosenthal and Jacobson never intended
that teachers should tell children they were smart, or implied in any
way that they should. In fact, their research is very growth oriented
in that they talk about increases in IQ points.
and hard work. For fixed mindset people
effort almost seems to be terrifying. Why is this? In her book
"Mindset" Carol Dweck has this to say:
"There are two reasons. One is that in the fixed
mindset, great geniuses are not supposed to need it. So just needing it
casts a shadow on your ability. The second is as Nadja suggests, it
robs you of all your excuses. Without effort, you can always say, 'I
could have been [fill in the blank]." But once you try, you can't say
that anymore. Someone once said to me, 'I could have been Yo-Yo Ma.' If
she had really tried for it, she wouldn't have been able to say that."
Incremental theorists or people with a growth
mindset put in a lot of effort and work hard because they believe that
is how they will become more intelligent and more competent. Entity
theorists or those with a fixed mindset think that this shows people
have low intelligence and are incompetent. Calvin in the cartoon below
typifies this fixed entity orientation.
Entity theorists do
not put in a lot of effort. They believe that showing effort will
portray them as lacking intelligence and ability. Instead they try to
work at things that they can succeed in easily. Activities that they
try and find difficult or at which they fail, they tend to give up on,
and instead try something that they are sure to succeed at. Of course
this is not such a bad thing if they were to try something easier as a
step on the way to doing something difficult, but fixed mindset people
do not do it for that reason. Calvin in the cartoon below typifies
people with this fixed entity self theory.
Entity theorists are all about how they look to other people, and in a
sense they are always performing for others to make judgments about.
They tend to be lacking in real interests and instead tend to do things
that they hope others will be able to access as competent, and thus
judge them as being competent. The cartoon below beautifully captures
this fixed entity orientation.
others. People who have an entity or fixed theory about them
selves often try to discount tests by characterizing them as too
difficult or unfair, as this allows them to maintain the perception
that they are intelligent and competent as the exam was faulty. They
can blame others for their failure and thus they never failed.
handicapping. Entity theorists also tend to indulge in self
handicapping, especially in the form of not trying. After all, if you
do not try it is difficult to say that you have failed. Besides what is
the point of trying if you believe you are going to fail.
the cartoon below the two characters are both blaming others and self
handicapping in order to maintain the perception that they are
intelligent and competent.
is different for the two mindsets. People with a fixed mindset are
confident that they can do things because they are smart or have
abilities. People with a growth mindset are confident that they can
learn to do things if they are willing to put in sufficient effort.
Carol Dweck explains the growth mindset of confidence as follows:
"A remarkable thing I've learned from my
research is that in the growth mindset, you don't always need
confidence. What I mean is that even if you're not good at something,
you can still plunge into something because you are not good at it.
Actually, sometimes you plunge into something because you are good at
it. This is a wonderful feature of the of the growth mindset. You don't
have to think you're already great at something to want to do it and
enjoy doing it."
theories and attractiveness. Abilities and intelligence are
by no means the only attributes that people with an entity theory might
dwell on, or feel crushed about according to how others
judge them to be. Young girls often seem to spend an inordinate amount
of time telling each other how ugly or unattractive they are. Now, if
they happen to have an entity theory about themselves, which Dweck
tells us is much more likely in girls, they are likely to feel
therefore very unattractive. If on the other hand they had an
incremental theory they would not be crushed, even if they actually
felt they were ugly. With an incremental theory, if you are not so
beautiful you can do something about it, you can make up for it with a
sparkling and charming personality, use makeup to beatify yourself,
dress in beautiful clothes, lose weight or have cosmetic surgery.
People with an incremental theory would probably do some of these
things if they came to feel ugly, or even if they would like to be more
People who are physically attractive often seem to
have less need to improve social skills, which tend to come easily or
rather seem to. That is to say, attractive people do not need to know
how to make others like them, nor do they need to have skills at
approaching and getting to know people. People already like them and
are tripping over each other trying to get to know them. One can easily
see how attractive people can end up with entity mindsets as they are
constantly praised and adored.
theories and social competence.
Just as people with a fixed self theory
feel they cannot improve intellectually or improve
creative and vocational abilities, they also tend to feel less capable
of improving their social skills. People with a fixed mindset often not
only misunderstand, but also believe that what they attribute to others
cannot be changed. This makes relationships fragile and easily broken,
as not only do entity theorists not believe others can change to be
more compatible with themselves, but are equally unable to change
themselves. People with an incremental theory however, see
relationships as tenuous arrangements at first, which can be made more
and more solid by working at changing both themselves and encouraging
others to change likewise to be more and more compatible. We can be bad
at this and get better at it, or we can always react the same way
because that is who we are and we do not believe we can do anything to
Relationships are further complicated by what we
see as the function of friends and lovers. How do we view friends and
lovers? Do we see them as rivals with whom we are competing? Do we see
them as a support system that keeps our confidence up by telling us how
great we are? Making and keeping friends and lovers is not easy and we
should not think that it is. If we think we should understand our
friends and lovers without even talking to them by sort of mind
reading, we can easily misinterpret and misunderstand them.
In her book Carol Dweck tells the story of a young
boy who was growth minded and that this had managed to gradually, with
continual improvement, to make him one of the better students in class. One
day he decided to improve his social position. He started wearing
cooler more 'in crowd' clothes and started learning about the current
music and other interests of the popular students. Gradually through
hard work he was accepted into the popular group and so completely
turned around his social image.
Half-and-half. One of the
questions Carol Dweck was often asked was:
"Can I be half-and-half? I recognize both
mindsets in myself." Her answer is as follows:
"Many Many people have
elements of both. I'm talking about it as a simple either-or for the
sake of simplicity.
People can also have different mindsets
in different areas. I might think that my artistic skills are fixed but
that my intelligence can be developed. We've found that whatever
mindset people have in a particular area will guide them in that area."
I suspect one of the easiest ways to have a fixed
mindset and a growth mindset all at the one time would be people who
have a growth mindset in their professional lives, but have a fixed
mindset when it comes to their interactions with other people in their
Theories and gifted children or prodigies.
In her book
"Gifted Children " Ellen Winner points out that many gifted
children especially prodigies burn out. She says: "Only a
very few of the of the gifted become eminent adult creators."
Carol Dweck's mindsets provide an explanation as to why this might
happen, and at the same time provide a solution to prevent this
incredible waste of human resources. In her book
"Self Theories" Carol Dweck tells the following story about a
prodigy who clearly had a fixed mindset:
"A friend of mine had a brother who was a
math prodigy. He took college courses when he was in junior high
school, and each summer he was whisked away to study with one or
another math guru. The whole family was focused on his mathematical
talent. He began to feel superior he was a superior being and often
made fun of other people's intellects. Yet as the challenges grew
greater, he grew more fearful of not making the grade and retreated
from the more difficult problems he might have tackled. Today he has a
rather ordinary job and is quite bitter that lesser mortals have
outstripped him in achievement. In short, in order to protect his gift
status, he shrank from true challenges and never really fulfilled his
My success is your failure.
One of the stranger things about fixed mindsets is
the way they react to other peoples success. People with a growth
mindset tend to see other peoples successes as an inspiration to an
achievable goal. Fixed mindset people on the other hand tend to see
other peoples successes as diminishing themselves. Fixed mindset people
are very much into one-upmanship. When others are one up they feel one
down, and when others are one down they feel one up. In her book
"Mindset" Carol Dweck tells the following story about a
holiday fishing excursion with her husband:
"Suddenly, I hit the
jackpot. Some careless trout bit hard on my lure and the fishermen, who
happened to be right there, talked me through the rest.
Reaction #1: My husband, David, came
running over beaming with pride and saying. 'Life with you is so
Reaction #2: That evening when we came to
the dining room for dinner, two men came up to my husband and said,
'David how are you coping?' David looked at them blankly; he had no
idea what they were talking about. Of course he didn't. He was the one
who thought my catching a fish was exciting. But I knew exactly what
they meant. They had expected him to feel diminished, and they went on
to make it clear that that's exactly what my success had done to them."
theories and safety/security.
you will be able to click here to learn more.
theories and love/belonging.
you will be able to click here to learn more.
theories and self esteem.
you will be able to click here to learn more.
theories and self-actualization.
you will be able to click here to learn more.
theories and personal maps of reality.
you will be able to click here to learn more.
theories and brain maps.
We know quite a bit about
how the brain works these days. We know that certain areas of the brain
can be mapped to certain functions, but that the brain is plastic. If a
brain function is not used, that area of the brain will be taken over
by a function that is being used. It should not surprise us to know
then, that if we stop learning our ability to learn actually
diminishes. People with a fixed mindset do of course continue to learn,
but they learn only small, additive, safe bits of learning that do not
threaten the knowledge that they already have. In this way the brain is
no longer required to restructure itself much as learning takes place,
and so, the ability of people with a fixed mindset are more likely to
find their brain capacity or even IQ gradually diminishes.
& Ryan's self-determination and intrinsic motivation. There is a connection
between Dweck's theories of self and Deci & Ryan's theory of
mindset people are performers who are performing for external reward
and they tend to evaluate all their own actions in terms of how it will
be perceived by others and how that will result in external reward
(that is to appease others or result in money, fame or some other
external gratification). Fixed mindset people tend to see the locus of
causality normally outside themselves, and no wonder they are prone to
feeling helpless, and do not really believe much can be done about
anything, especially by them. Because of their more external
orientation, they are more easily controlled and tend to try and
control others as a way of feeling more autonomous. Fixed mindset
people, because they have so little internal motivation, are less
creative and are less generally able to accomplish even externally
with a growth mindset tend to be intrinsically motivated. That is to
say, that while they can be manipulated by others and by the use of
external rewards, their preference is to be internally motivated, and
are more easily able to motivate themselves in the absence of external
incentives. It follows, that in order to overcome obstacles, to
continue learning in the face of failure, intrinsic motivation is
almost essential. Growth mindset people tend to be less interested in
controlling others, and will more strongly resist the efforts of others
to try and control them. Though growth mindset people are normally
motivated by intrinsic motives, they tend to be far more flexible. They
are able to tackle performance goals such as exam results or growth
goals, such as learning for its own sake or in order to improve
themselves, with equal enthusiasm. But here exam results are not an end
in themselves, but rather a prerequisite for some intrinsic goal such
as the ability to go to a good college or in order to get a particular
job. So we must ask ourselves, "How likely is a Deci and Ryan locus of
causality to be anywhere, but inside a growth mindset
Long Learning. Although Dweck's studies do not claim that all
growth mindset people are also life long learners, it seems to this
site that they have a much better chance of becoming life long learners
than do fixed mindset people. Why do I say this? Well for the same
reason that they are more likely to be learners than nonlearners.
Learning is all about change and change for the better.
the most part fixed mindset people do not believe in change. They do
not believe they can change themselves. They do not believe others can
change themselves. They do not believe that anyone can make much
difference in the world. They really do not believe that the world
changes much. They believe the old dictum 'the more things change the
more they stay the same'. This rules out much of the motivation to
learn. But there are other reasons that fixed mindset people tend to
avoid learning. Fixed mindset people tend to be afraid of challenges,
they avoid obstacles, and they are afraid of anything that might
highlight their lack of intelligence or their lack of abilities. They
are literally afraid to learn.
mindset people on the other hand are not afraid of looking stupid or
acting stupid. For them every setback is a challenge and every
challenge is enjoyable. Growth oriented people are more likely to
become life long learners because they enjoy learning for its own sake,
and because they believe it will increase their knowledge, their
intelligence, their skills, and their abilities. This in turn is the
process that they find most worthwhile and thus enjoyable, (changing
themselves for the better). With luck they can do it all their lives.