In so many aspects of our lives, from education to sports, careers, and even personal relationships, how an individual perceives his/her own success or failure can depend on having a positive mental outlook and willingness to relentlessly pursue one’s goals.

In her acclaimed book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success (2006), Carol Dweck brings together decades of research focusing on how self-conceptions — or mindsets — play a role in individual motivation and achievement.

Fixed vs. Growth Mindsets

Dweck’s research examines two opposing mindsets:

  • A “fixed mindset” where intelligence and talent are viewed as fixed or as limited qualities that people may possess or lack,
  • And a “growth mindset,” which believes that intelligence and new skills can be developed through effort.

A fixed mindset creates a need to prove oneself over and over. If you believe you have only a set amount of intelligence or ability, no matter how outstanding those talents may be, if you can’t expand them, then you must continually prove you have them.

A growth mindset believes that a person’s true potential can grow through learning, effort, experiment, and determination. The ability to stick to something, even (or especially) when it’s not going well, is the hallmark of a growth mindset. This is the mindset that allows people to thrive during some of the most challenging times in their lives.

Dweck explains that fixed mindset attitudes can influence behavior to “never look dumb;” “avoid hard work;” “run from difficulty;” and “cover over your mistakes.” The concern for perceived failure trumps the willingness to continue improving and self-develop. Growth mindset attitudes emphasize learning, working hard to learn, and learning from mistakes.

How you see yourself can profoundly affect your ability to accomplish the things you value in life and how you handle goals, effort, and setbacks.

Developing a Growth Mindset

Dweck offers several suggestions for moving from a fixed to a growth mindset. At the heart of her recommendations is the need to increase awareness around the messages we give ourselves.

Being in tune with your inner monologue can heighten awareness when fixed messages such as “Are you sure you can do it? Maybe you don’t have the talent.” creep into our psyche.  Or, when facing a challenge, “What if you fail? Everyone will know you’re a failure.” Recognizing these messages as counterproductive will help you see failure is an opportunity to grow.

Understanding the benefits of a growth mindset can prompt individuals to embrace new self-directed messages: ““Most successful people had failures along the way.” and, “Mistakes offer valuable learning that I can leverage later.” These thought patterns can lead to improved relationships, lowered risk of depression, and increased resilience.

Embracing the choice within can empower you to reach new heights. Despite these voices, how you interpret challenges, setbacks, and criticism is your choice. You can interpret them in a fixed mindset as signs that your fixed talents or abilities are lacking. Or you can interpret them in a growth mindset as signs that you need to ramp up your strategies and effort, stretch yourself, and expand your abilities. It’s up to you.

Enlisting support from others is the best way to sustain progress in activating a new mindset. Considering sharing your goal of unlimited learning with a friend or colleague. Ask for help in identifying when you may be acting out of a place of fear, and share/celebrate when noticing improved perspective on so-called failures. Working with a coach can also be a great way to establish a sustainable shift in mindset. A coach is someone who listens to the very best in others, even when they can’t hear it themselves, creating a unique and empowered relationship for change.