Why does a Growth Mindset that thrives on challenge achieve more than a Fixed Mindset that strives for success?

According to Professor Carol Dweck, from Stanford University, the answer lies in the focus of each of each of the differing mindsets. The Fixed Mindset wants to prove it is smart, while the Growth Mindset wants to get even smarter. While a Fixed outlook is concerned with promoting and protecting an image of competence at all costs, a Growth outlook is happy to pursue and be seen to pursue additional learning and upgrade skills.

When it comes to dealing with new challenges, the difference in approach is often discernible; the Fixed mindset reacting to the challenge as a source of potential threat, the Growth Mindset welcoming the challenge as an opportunity to stretch and grow. Challenge places the Fixed Mindset firmly in a bind. It is desperate for success but equally desperate to avoid ‘failure’, and frightened of the mistakes and setbacks that new challenges often bring. “What if I look foolish, not smart? What if I’m rejected, not accepted? What if I feel like a loser, not a winner?” Thoughts are apprehensive and actions tend towards avoidance, resulting in a missed opportunity that a Growth Mindset would have seized.

Caro Dweck’s work on Mindset, summarised in ‘Mindset: How You Can Fulfil Your Potential’, is the result of over thirty years of systematic research into the psychology of achievement. Her findings, based on work with students, teachers, businesses and individuals, have resulted in her placing Growth Mindset principles and practices right at the heart of personal and professional success.


(Adapted from an original graphic by Nigel Holmes)

My own experience as a mindset coach, and equally importantly as a mindset student, has enhanced my awareness of the extent to which most of us will operate across both mindsets. It has also served as a valuable reminder that we may often be more growth minded in principle than we are in our actual practice. We may readily acknowledge the brain’s well-documented plasticity, with its unlimited capacity to adapt, extend and reprogramme itself. We may enthusiastically agree that the brain is under used and commit in good faith to exploring opportunities for developing our untapped potential. But the true test will come in translating beliefs into behaviours, and responding (or pursuing) the next challenge with growth thoughts, words and actions.

Initial insight into the nature and influence of your mindset can be developed by reflecting on what you might think, feel and do in the following scenarios:

  • A formal learning situation. You are invited to take centre stage, to deliver a short presentation on a topic you know a little about, in the company of others whom you think know more than you do . . .
  • An informal learning opportunity. You are engaged in informal discussion on a topic on which you are well informed. An alternative view is introduced which seems to challenge your own . . .
  • You encounter a setback, and may have made a mistake (or two). You are due to update your peers and manager on progress shortly . . .

Growth Practice requires . . . . practice. It also requires determination and humility, capacities that for some may be inherent but that for others can be acquired. Awareness is the first step, supported by shifts in attitude and action. Adopting a Growth Mindset approach to Growth Mindset itself will help turn rhetoric into reality and apprehension into achievement. Do some investigation and see where your organisation is on the chart above.

Author: Catherine Campbell