What is a fixed mindset and can it be changed? (2023)

Sometimes I think I'll never be a good cook or that I just wasn't born to be bilingual. Every now and then I catch my daughter saying I can't. And I hear people say they're not good at math or they're not cut out for work.

These are all examples of rigid thinking, and we are all guilty of it from time to time. Luckily, a fixed mindset doesn't have to be forever.


  1. What is a fixed mindset?
  2. Wrong growth thinking
  3. Mindset-Trigger the need
  4. How do you change a deadlocked mindset?
  5. Final Thoughts on Changing a Fixed Mindset
  6. More tips to improve your mindset

What is a fixed mindset?

Psychologist Carol Dweck is one of the leading mindset experts and author of the bookMindset: The new psychology of success.

Early in her career, she identified two mindsets: growth and fixation. These two mindsets explain why some people face challenges head-on, while others are overwhelmed by them.

People with a fixed mindset think that their skills or abilities are set in stone and destined at birth. If you think you're bad at math, bad at sports, or a born musician, you're demonstrating a rigid mindset.

People with a growth mindset believe that their skills and abilities can be improved and honed through effort and perseverance. When you take steps to improve and stick with it, you demonstrate a growth mindset.

Wrong growth thinking

Dweck clarified his work by stating that everyone has a fixed attitude towards one thing or another at one time or another.[1]People don't have a fixed or growth mindset all the time.

I can work hard in the gym to get stronger and more flexible while having to give up my piano lessons because I believe I'm not a musical person. This example shows that I have a growth mindset about my fitness but have a fixed mindset about my piano.

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It's also an oversimplification to say that a growth mindset is all about effort. Dweck explains that a true growth mentality requires effort and strategy. It's not enough for me to keep trying and failing. A true growth mentality involves effort, reflection, re-evaluation, and then more effort.

Self-awareness is a crucial component of a growth mindset, as you need to accurately assess your current progress in order to make appropriate changes to meet your goals. Just showing up is not enough.

Mindset-Trigger the need

A fixed mindset trigger is something that changes your mindset from believing that skills can be improved to believing that they are fixed or predetermined. Think about what could make you throw up your hands in the air and proclaim that you're not good at something and never will be.

The most obvious trigger for the Fixed Mindset is when someone tells you that you're not good at something. This can make your skills seem set in stone.

Imagine you're doing your best in Spanish class and the teacher says off the top of your head, "I'm glad you're good at math." That comment can make it sound like you've always been bad at Spanish and always will be be, regardless of the effort and determination you bring to the table.

Another trigger for fixed mindsets are people who overreact to failure. When people make a big deal out of your mistakes, it can feel like you just shouldn't pursue what you failed to do.

Let's take our Spanish example. Let's say you are working on your Spanish project - a film. You show it to a friend, who starts laughing and points out how you kept saying the word "boat" instead of "boat" as the movie zooms in on a boat. Instead of thinking about all the Spanish words you got right, your mind can focus on that one egregious mistake, leading you to a fixed way of thinking about your Spanish skills.

Finally, the people you save from failure can trigger a fixed mindset. Continuing with our Spanish language example, when your mom stops letting you do your Spanish homework and starts doing it yourself to keep from failing you, you might start thinking that you're not good at Spanish and never were and never were.

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How do you change a deadlocked mindset?

Dweck speaks of praising the process as an antidote to rigid thinking.

Process praise is when you praise and encourage someone to make an effort and use appropriate strategies and resources to learn and improve. While praising a person's abilities often leads to a rigid mindset, praising the process contributes to a growing mindset.

So if I want to help someone move from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset, I might say something like, "You've worked so hard on this" or "What could you try to do better next time?" instead "You're so good at it" or "That's so unfair. Your opponent must have cheated.”

You can also try to process compliments yourself. When you find excuses, blame someone or something else for your failures, or assume your skills are mended, try to praise the process.

Instead, focus on your efforts and the strategies and resources you used to improve. Dweck recommends being practical in your praise of the process and not overly forceful or passive. Be direct without being harsh or overly accommodating.

Here are 8 more ways to shift from a rigid mindset to growth:

1. Don't blame

If you blame someone or something else for your failure, stop and refocus on your role in your success or failure.

2. Strive for self-knowledge

Self-knowledge is the key to a growth mindset. If you don't think much about your role in your success or failure, you will have a hard time strategizing and improving.

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So ask yourself questions about your efforts, your strategy, and your resources. could I have practiced more? Do I use the best time for my rehearsals? Is there a better way to study before the next exam?

3. Avoid rigid mindsets and negative self-talk

Try to control yourself when thinking in terms of a fixed mindset. Stop saying you weren't made for it or born for it. Instead, focus on the effort and strategy you are investing.

4. Ask for feedback (and listen to it)

Feedback goes in one ear and out the other when we have a fixed attitude. When people think their skills are set in stone, they tend to find excuses to be defensive and blame when given feedback.

Break this cycle and actively seek feedback. Don't get defensive or apologize, and listen carefully to feedback no matter how harsh it is. Use the feedback to develop a better plan to improve your skills.

5. Don't react to failure (keep perspective)

Failure is a natural part of learning and improvement, so don't overreact when it happens to you.[2]

Try to stay focused on failure so you don't fall into a rigid mindset.

6. Reflect and reevaluate

Take time to reflect on your progress and plan how you can improve. Remember that effort is only part of a true growth mentality. You also need to refine your strategy.

7. Don't compare

When you compare yourself to others, it's easy to fall into a rigid mindset. Most of the time we don't see the effort and perseverance that others put in, which is why this can lead to a fixed mindset.

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When someone seems naturally smart, you really don't know how much effort they put into learning. Therefore, comparison with others is a fixed thought trap.

8. Celebrate the effort (process, not product)

Finally, celebrate your efforts and perseverance. Compliment yourself on how many piano lessons you took or on how you kept going when math got difficult.

If you hold on to how good or bad you are, you may slip back into that rigid mindset.

Final Thoughts on Changing a Fixed Mindset

It's comforting to know that everyone experiences a fixed mindset from time to time. However, we must not oversimplify the transition from a Fixed Mindset to a Growth Mindset. It takes more than focusing on effort.

Do your best to notice when you start comparing yourself to others, finding excuses, blaming others for your mistakes, and focusing disproportionately on your shortcomings. These are all fixed-mind traps.

Instead, practice focusing on your efforts and your strategy. how hard have you worked And is it time to change your game plan to learn and improve?

It is possible to change a deadlocked mindset as long as we are open and honest about what we are doing and need to change about ourselves.

More tips to improve your mindset

  • 7 Characteristics of a Highly Productive Mindset
  • 8 empowering mindset books that will lead you to success
  • 10 ways organized people think that make them successful
  • 7 practical ways to change the way you think and transform your life

Featured Photo Credits:JD Mason via unsplash.com

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