A “Fixed Mindset” sounds pretty final and I expect you would certainly never want to admit that you might have one, right?
Here’s the thing…. A Mindset is not an identity, it’s not who you are and even better it’s totally changeable! But in order to change it, you have to notice that it’s there. Even just sometimes or in some situations. This blog looks at the key traits in identifying if you might have a bit of a fixed one sometimes…
People with a fixed mindset believe they either are or are not something. That might be talented, clever, trainable, good at something, confident etc etc. It’s pretty black and white. Sadly due to this they never really excel at anything – because they will give up at the first hurdle. They are looking for validation from others to say that they are ok, or good or even worthy. This means that as soon as something is harder than expected or they have a setback then they will likely get humiliated, give up and avoid it again.
For example – you go to a well-known trainer to learn but deep down you really want to show them how capable you are so they say “well done, you are good at this” and that makes you feel better. However, because they are a trainer they are more likely to pick holes in your ability and skills and look to find ways to improve upon them. This may even involve setting tasks that are harder than you expect and you “failing” at them. With a fixed mindset this is very hard to swallow and often very demoralising for the learner. Despite what the learner might then say, it’s not the fault of the trainer, they are only doing their job! It’s the mindset of the learner in that moment. They aren’t getting the validation they desire and so they don’t like it (and blame it on the trainer).
It is really common for people with performance anxiety or issues to have them because they are determined to get “good” results. This is driven by a desire to get validation and actually leads to tension and anxiety, which in turn diminishes performance. So a fixed mindset with competition with actually be detrimental to performance.
With a fixed mindset people avoid new challenges, putting themselves out there or anything that may potentially fail (even a little bit) because the desire is to “get it right” and get that good feeling. Rather than the opposite desire of a growth mindset, which is to “have a go” and get the feedback. Now of course there are some things in life where it’s important to get it right (often safety related) and so then a fixed mindset in that particular area is important. In fact that’s why it exists! To stop us catastrophically failing when we were genuinely in danger as cave people. Of course now this is no longer the case so we can safely retrain this part of our brain.
Often people with a fixed mindset will be jealous of others because they don’t see things as possible, instead they see them as easy or hard. Those who have kept at it to achieve success are often seen as having “found it easy” (for whatever reason) by the fixed mindset person. Sadly this means they are never going to put in the effort to achieve their own personal potential and will often feel they are floundering in their own development.
You can of course have a mixture of the two types of mindset and it can vary depending on the situation, but people do tend to lean towards one. In all reality, it’s not likely to be your own fault if you notice you perhaps tend towards a fixed mindset. Unfortunately our entire education system guides us towards it. It is completely based around outcomes and being “good or bad” at something and is even tested with grades and “pass or fail”. That’s pretty final! There isn’t much emphasis on improvement or learning and it’s very simple to label a child intelligent or stupid. Sadly this is then echoed in parenting and so a child can easily grow up thinking they are either good or bad at something.
So take a moment to have a think and perhaps notice if you have any of these traits or thought processes that might be holding you back? You might notice it in your competition performance, your attitudes towards training or even your thoughts on your own progress in mastering a complex skill. Part 3 of this blog explores how to identify your mindset and crucially part 4 looks at how you can change it.