What is a growth mindset and how can you develop one?

Discover what it means to have a growth mindset, how they can help you, and the steps you can take to break away from a fixed mindset.

Growth mindset

The way we think about ourselves and our abilities can have a significant impact on our performance, at work, during studies and in everyday life. Yet not everyone takes the time to think about the way they think and may make assumptions about their skills that can be negative. So what is a growth mindset? And how can it help us achieve our goals?

Here we examine the definition of a growth mindset, how it differs from a fixed mindset, and how you can work to develop a growth mindset. In addition to providing some practical examples, we will also suggest some courses to help you progress.

What is a growth mindset?

A mindset is the set of beliefs people hold about themselves; their self-concept. A growth mindset is a belief that you can develop your skills and talents through hard work, the right strategies and guidance from others.

The term growth mindset was coined by American psychologist Professor Carol Dweck in her 2006 book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. Her work examined how a person’s underlying beliefs about their intelligence and ability to learn could influence their performance.

Her research shows that those who believe they can develop their talents tend to achieve more than those who feel their abilities are innate and fixed. Those with a growth mindset see opportunities instead of obstacles and choose to challenge themselves to learn more rather than stay in their comfort zone.

As Professor Dweck explains it:

This growth mindset is based on the belief that your fundamental qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts. Although people may be different in every way—in their original talents and abilities, interests, or temperaments—all can change and grow through application and experience.

What is clear from this quote is that each of us can develop a growth mindset and that understanding that fact is sometimes half the battle.

Growth Mindset vs Fixed Mindset: What’s the Difference?

The opposite of a growth mindset is a fixed mindset. While the former is focused on self-improvement and development over time, a fixed mindset is basically the belief that abilities are innate and fixed from birth.

As Dr. As Paula J Caproni from the University of Michigan explains in the video below, a fixed mindset means believing in nature over nurture. Those with a fixed mindset believe that each person inherits qualities such as intelligence, talents, and personality traits.

Those who feel that their traits are unique to their genetic makeup generally also feel that these traits remain fairly stable throughout their lives.

Such thinking has proven to be limiting in certain settings. According to Dr. Dweck’s original research found those with a fixed mindset are more likely to seek opportunities to demonstrate strengths rather than those that might reveal weaknesses.

She goes on to say that such an approach to life can backfire. Although they take fewer risks, people with a fixed mindset can miss opportunities and chances to learn and grow.

You can learn more about the science and research behind success in our course The Science of Success from the University of Michigan.

Does a growth mindset work?

In an academic setting, some studies have shown that academic performance affects students’ thinking. These findings suggest that mindset and academic achievement constitute a positive feedback loop.

Other research has shown that a brief, online growth mindset intervention can help improve student achievement. This short course teaches that intellectual abilities can be developed, and the researchers studied achievement and enrollment rates across secondary education in mathematics in the United States.

However, a study from the University of Edinburgh found no benefits in growth mindset theory among students aged nine to 13. Others have criticized the original research by Dr. Dweck and claimed that the results cannot be replicated or are statistically biased.

Similarly, some have suggested that intelligence and personality are the more significant predictors of success in school and work. What’s more, these traits tend to be more stable, especially in adults.

On the other hand, recent research from Dr. Dweck and the OECD showed further positive results. The 2021 data showed that schools can foster a growth mindset by rewarding progress, trying different learning strategies and looking for meaningful feedback.

In this study, students were asked how strongly they believed that “your intelligence is something about you that you can’t change very much.” Those who disagreed (growth mindset) scored higher in reading, science and mathematics than those who agreed (fixed mindset).

There is clearly a need for more research into growth mindsets and their potential impact. We need to understand how such an approach can be applied and promoted in the education system and beyond.

Examples of growth mindsets

To further understand what a growth mindset looks like, it is worth highlighting some examples of the two different approaches. As explored in our firm and growth-minded open steps from the University of Groningen, there are some useful situational examples:

Situation Fixed mindset approach Growth mindset approach
You get a very high grade on an exam Great! I must be really intelligent in this area Great! I must have worked hard and learned a lot
You start a new task or a new project I hope it will be easy for me I hope this will be interesting!
You receive negative feedback on your work Oh no! It proves I’m not good at this Okay, I have to get back to work and learn more

These examples show the differences in thinking. With a fixed mindset approach, it is easy to attribute success and failure to inherent abilities. You can seek reassurance by doing things you know you are comfortable with.

With a fixed mindset, you can recognize your hard work and strive to improve when you’ve underperformed. You may be looking for challenges, especially when you have the opportunity to learn something new.

10 ways to develop a growth mindset

If you feel that a growth mindset is something you want to aim for, there are ways you can go about developing one. However, it is important to recognize that, according to Dr. Dweck’s research no one has a completely fixed or completely growth mindset; most are somewhere in the middle.

Similarly, it is worth pointing out that not everyone can achieve everything. Hard work, dedication and attitude can all contribute to success, but we each have our limitations. What’s more, factors other than mindset often determine positive outcomes.

That said, we’ve outlined some ways to work towards developing a growth mindset. Some of these are highlighted on our University of Groningen Teaching and Mentoring Stage:

1. Identify your own mindset

By considering how you currently approach challenges, either at work or in education, you can determine your current mindset. For example, you might ask yourself if you say things like ‘I’m a natural person” or ‘I have learned to work well with people’? Or would you say, ‘she is a natural leader‘, or’she worked her way up to the leadership role‘?

Asking such questions about your approach to the world can help you identify whether you have more of a fixed or growth mindset. Such awareness is the first step toward making changes that can help you rebuild your career.

2. Look at your own improvements

Think of something you are better at now than you were before? What have you had difficulty with in the past? Why does it feel easier now? And how did you achieve such a change?

These thoughts can make you think about the time and effort you’ve spent improving in certain areas, the hallmarks of a growth mindset.

3. Review the success of others

Try to think of something that you’ve seen someone else do against the odds. Think about how they achieved their success and what it says about their ability to develop their skills.

4. Seek feedback

Whether you’ve had success with a project or not, seeking feedback from others is a great way to develop a growth mindset. They can give you insight into where you have developed or what needs to be improved. In turn, this can help you set goals for improvement.

5. Harness the power of ‘yet’

The term ‘yet’ is one that Dr. Dweck talked about during a TEDx talk. Essentially, this part of a fixed mindset is about realizing that there will be skills or subjects that you are not good at yet. But with work and persistence, you can improve in these areas.

Developing a growth mindset is about realizing that your weaknesses are strengths you haven’t necessarily developed yet.

6. Learn something new

Try a brand new activity and challenge yourself to learn something you’re not already good at. You can start by learning a new language, picking up an instrument or understanding the basics of finance.

By getting used to getting out of your comfort zone, you can develop a growth mindset and be more open to learning new skills.

7. Make mistakes

You won’t get everything right the first time you try. Allow yourself to make mistakes and then learn from those missteps. Instead of thinking that mistakes equal incompetence, think of them as part of the learning process.

Failure gives you the chance to identify where you may have a weakness or lack of understanding – areas you can work hard to improve.

8. Be kind to yourself

Instead of berating yourself for your mistakes, try to identify how you would treat someone else in your situation. If someone were to fail a task you know inside out, would you tell them they are useless or encourage them to learn?

Being mindful can help you improve your communication, relationships and emotional support. It can also help you identify thoughts that are attached to a fixed mindset and move away from them.

9. Look at examples

If you’re striving to develop a growth mindset, it can help to look to those who already embody one. Whether it is examples from experts such as Dr. Dweck or through looking at people you already know, there are opportunities to learn from others. Research what they do and how they approach challenges, and think about how you can use similar tactics.

10. Set realistic goals

As we have already explored, there are many determinants of success. Personality, intelligence, circumstances and other factors can all contribute. But by setting clear goals that provide a motivating challenge, you can work towards success.

Final thoughts

Despite some conflicting evidence about the power of growth mindsets, many studies have discovered potential benefits. Combined with other positive factors, it seems plausible that such an approach can help you learn and develop.

Hopefully, some of the growth mindset examples and tips we’ve provided can help you decide if such an approach is beneficial for your own life. By challenging yourself and continuing to learn, you can work on your goals and personal development.


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