A fixed mindset is like a curse lodged deep in a person’s subconscious. Once established, the person commits themselves to a life in which growth is impossible. They are unaware of what they have done to themselves. Nonetheless, the results are there for all to see. And they feel incompetent and inadequate.
A mediocre life is the best they can hope for. They may complain about what is happening for them in life. It doesn’t matter. They do not realize, nor understand, it is their belief system that is the culprit holding them back from all that could have been.
A fixed mindset is a mental state. It is a mental state where the person believes “their basic qualities, like their intelligence or their talents, are simply fixed traits.” Notice that word ‘fixed.’ It is very much a key to this article.
Moving forward, to grasp the essence of a fixed mindset, we need to consider its opposite, a growth mindset. People who have a growth mindset believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work. Change is possible.
With definitions aside, let’s consider the consequences of each mental state. A growth mindset allows for change which means a person has a chance to reach their potential. That is not the case with a fixed mindset.
People are not born with a fixed mindset. Notice when a child is learning to walk, he or she gets up, falls, gets up again, falls, and keeps the process going until they walk. A child does not think, even on a subconscious level, that after one or two fall, “I don’t have the ability to walk.” No. They keep trying. And for how long? Until, they walk.
How many people learn to drive a car? Billions of people over time have learned to drive a car. Think how hard it is to learn how to drive a car.
• Where the controls are.
• How to use the controls.
• What signs on the road are telling them.
• How to guide the car.
• How to practice defensive driving.
• How to take care of a car.
• And so much more.
With so much to learn it would be easy to think I don’t have the ability to do this and to then give up. That is what a person with a fixed mindset does with so many parts of their lives. They believe it is either in them all ready or it is not. And nothing can be done about it.
With a fixed mindset, a person won’t take risks which means they experience little of what life has to offer. They hold themselves back. And it is unnecessary. It is learned helplessness. A sad state of affairs.
To see the effectiveness of Learned Helplessness, I will discus how a young elephant is trained to not run off. You’ve probably seen a picture of a young elephant that is held to a wooden stake in the ground by a rope tied around one of its hind legs.
The young elephant tries over and over to run off only to be held in check by the rope and the stake. It takes awhile and many tries for the young elephant to realize it is not strong enough to break away from what binds it.
The elephant grows and gets to a point where it could easily pull up the stake and free itself. It does not try. Why? It had learned as a youngster that the rope is stronger than he. In reality, it is not, but the elephant doesn’t even try. That is learned helplessness. A form of self-imposed prison.
Now imagine people who at a young age draw the conclusion they cannot grow their abilities and skills. After all, they have tried failed. So...they do not try again.
Another examples: A child is told they are bad at math. Or they are weak and sports are too difficult. Once accepted, those statements in the minds of children is learned helpless. Their have developed a fixed mindset setting limits to their future.
Notice that in all of the above, myths continue to hold the person back from reaching their potential. And, yes, life can be tough. It can be very tough. But it is important for each individual to not draw the wrong conclusions.
The antidote to a fixed mindset is…a growth mindset. A growth mindset is a method of thinking in which you believe you can create new skills and change yourself when necessary.
Just like in the examples above where a child learns to walk or a person learns to drive a car, a person can grow and adapt. Or perhaps a person learns to hit a baseball or program a computer, or so many other possibilities.
The idea is to try, to make an effort, and take initiative.
The bottom line is a person with a fixed mindset can change their mindset and grow into the person they were meant to be. Take the challenge; make it an adventure.
If you would like to see the Ted Talk of Carol Dweck about growth and fixed mindsets, click here.
Check our this article about Carol Dweck at PositivePsychology.com. It's title is Carol Dweck: The Woman Behind The Motivational Mindset Breakthrough
Go to the top of this page on Fixed Mindset.
Go to the article on The Growth Mindset.
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