a plant with two sides, symbolizing growth and fixed mindsets

a Definition for Growth Mindset That will Change How You Think and Live

When Carol Dweck published her revolutionary book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, she provided a definition for growth mindset that completely changed the way we understand thinking, learning, and behavior in general.

Having a good understanding of this definition of a growth mindset makes it possible for you to learn anything, do anything, and become successful at anything. Sounds pretty great, right? Imagine the life you could live if you could overcome any challenge or obstacle in your way.

The odds are that you won’t have to work very hard to think about something you have struggled with in your life. It may be your job, your relationship, or just your life in general. Regardless, life can be cruel, and you can only do so much to change that.

As it turns out, Carol Dweck’s definition for growth mindset tells us that, while we can’t control whether or not we struggle in our lives, we can control how we react to these struggles. And with an understanding of this definition, you can transform your life entirely. Let’s take a deeper look at this definition.

Growth Mindset vs. Fixed Mindset

In order to have a well rounded understanding of the definition for growth mindset, it is important to make comparisons to the growth mindset’s opposite – the fixed mindset.

In its simplest definition, a fixed mindset believes that our intelligence and skills are fixed traits that we are born with. A fixed mindset also believes that success is a result of talent, not effort.

By contrast, a growth mindset believes in the power of practice and perseverance. People are able to build off of what they are given at birth to achieve anything they put their minds to with a growth mindset. A growth mindset believes that the people who are the most successful have put in countless hours to hone their craft to the point of mastery.

While the terms themselves might seem self explanatory, actually identifying when you are using each mindset can be difficult. This is especially true if you have become comfortable using a fixed mindset for most of your life. For many of us, complaining, making excuses, and avoiding challenges are things we do without even realizing it! Seeing the growth opportunities in everything is much harder to do!

At the risk of making excuses, our tendency to focus on the negative may actually be due to a negativity bias that humans inherited in their psychology as a result of evolution. In the past, human beings that focused on danger and negative events in their lives tended to fare better than others. The humans that were more in touch with dangerous situations tended to pick up on danger before it was too late. This meant that they were more likely to survive.

In modern day, we seldom get attacked by a random lion in our own homes. However, the negativity bias still rears its ugly head any time we face challenges. In these situations, we feel threatened and our brain tells us that we need to start looking out for danger. Evolution kicks in and tells us that we need to fight to survive against the danger. In a sense, being negative and applying a fixed mindset has actually helped us survive!

So you can see why it is so hard to fight the fixed mindset. Doing so literally means fighting back against years of evolutionary programming. However, the trick is sensing the threat and balancing your reactions with a growth mindset approach.

As Carol Dweck herself has said:“You’re in charge of your mind. You can help it grow by using it in the right way.”

Examples of Growth Mindset vs. Fixed Mindset

As a math teacher who actively incorporated the growth mindset into my teaching, I have seen too many examples of both growth and fixed mindsets to count. In fact, the fixed mindset that our schools tend to promote is one reason that I burnt out and eventually quit my job to pursue other passions.

However, the examples I share here will not just be limited to a school setting. Consider the following scenarios, and the responses from each mindset.

Scenario #1: An Unsuccessful Job Interview

  • Fixed Mindset Response: “I can’t believe I didn’t get that job! I am the perfect candidate! I am just horrible at interviews and will never get my dream job.”
  • Growth Mindset Response: “There were many skilled candidates that interviewed for this job. I am confident in my skillset, but I look forward to finding new ways to develop my skills to be more competitive in the market. That interview was good practice so that I know what to expect during the next one.”

Notice that the fixed mindset response claims that they are the perfect candidate. Taking this approach suggests that they believe they have no skills that need practicing. This person believes that they are already at the top of their game. One of my favourite quotes on growth mindset is from Epictetus: “It is impossible for a man to learn what he thinks he already knows.”

There is always something that we can learn. High Renaissance sculptor and painter Michelangelo has been quoted saying “Ancora Imparo” or “I am still learning” at the age of 87. A master of his craft, Michelangelo was still learning, improving, and innovating even in the last years of his long life. This is a classic example of a quote that acts as a powerful definition for growth mindset.

Scenario #2: A Student Receives a Poor Test Result

  • Fixed Mindset Response: “That test wasn’t fair at all. My teacher didn’t teach us any of this stuff! I will never be good at math and I should just give up.”
  • Growth Mindset Response: “That test was certainly a challenge, but I think I could have reviewed the material more and asked my teacher more questions to make sure I fully understand the concepts.”

People who blame someone else complain as way of removing the responsibility from themselves and excusing their poor performance. We turn our backs on the growth opportunity when we do this. A student who practices applying the definition for growth mindset recognizes the challenge, and sees the value in the poor result. Instead of looking for an excuse for the failure, they face it head on. They learn how they can perform better next time.

More Examples: Look At Any Obstacle In Your Life

Regardless, of whether the previous two scenarios are familiar to you, it is easy to find more examples of each mindset in your life. Any time there is struggle, conflict, difficulty, or obstacles, you have the choice of whether to take a growth mindset stance over a fixed mindset one.

Our jobs, relationships, and lives in general are all filled with challenges. We often take the fixed mindset route when facing them. Perhaps you have said these things to yourself:

  • I’m too young to start my own business.
  • I don’t have time to learn that new skill.
  • I’m too old to switch jobs.
  • I don’t have enough patience for my children.
  • I can’t afford a gym membership to lose weight.
  • Being overweight is in my genes.
  • I’ve been in debt my whole life. I will never get out.

You will notice that many of these comments come off as excuses or complaints. This is one way you know that you are channeling the fixed mindset. A growth mindset doesn’t make excuses or complain about circumstances. Oh no – a growth mindset sees those obstacles as opportunities to learn more and thrives on them!

Do you choose growth and perseverance in the face of adversity? Or do you choose to complain, make excuses, and shy away from the challenge? An understanding of the definition of a growth mindset will help you change the way you see challenges.

How to Develop a Growth Mindset

So, you understand the definition for growth mindset. Awesome! Now… how do you get one?

It should come as no surprise to you that it isn’t as easy as just buying one off the shelf. We also don’t usually just wake up one day and suddenly see the world differently (and if we do, it normally lasts about as long as a cup of coffee!).

The very goal of acquiring a growth mindset requires you to apply growth mindset principles. That is to say, practice, hard work, and perseverance are all requirements if you want to make a growth mindset a more natural default setting for your brain. Remember, you are fighting years of evolutionary programming that have rewarded you for seeing the negative!

Understand Your ‘Fixed Mindset Triggers

One thing you need to be aware of is what Carol Dweck calls ‘fixed mindset triggers’. These are different for us all, but generally we can all relate to them. We often default to a fixed mindset in situations where we:

  • face challenges.
  • fail at a task.
  • receive criticism.
  • are observed closely or evaluated.
  • measure up short compared to others.

In situations like these, our brain registers a threat and our negativity bias kicks in. We start feeling insecure, unsafe, and fixed in our mindset. We don’t recognize or understand the growth opportunities that are hidden in the obstacle.

In addition to regular practice and commitment to developing a growth mindset, spend some time reflecting on and actively understanding your fixed mindset triggers. As I mentioned, these will be different for everyone. Keep the definition of a growth mindset in mind when you are listening to your thoughts. With practice, you will recognize your triggers and start to see the opportunities for growth that hide in the setbacks.

Read and Internalize Quotes for Growth Mindset

There are an infinite number of quotes that will help you understand the definition of a growth mindset and the power it brings. Reading quotes from growth mindset thinkers helps put your life and your circumstances into perspective.

If you want to keep yourself motivated to keep yourself focused on building a growth mindset, check out our Mindset Definition Posters Bundle. Hanging these definitions in your office or at home will act as a reminder when you need inspiration to choose growth in the face of challenges!

mindset definitions poster bundle
This 8 mindset definition poster bundle is perfect for keeping your mind focused on growth!

One recommendation I have is to create a vision board and populate it with all sorts of inspirational and motivational quotes for growth mindset. I keep my vision board in my work area so that I am reminded of my commitment to holding onto a growth mindset every time I face a new challenge or a fresh obstacle.

For example, one of my favourite quotes on growth mindset is “Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it” by Charles Swindoll. I love this quote because it reminds me that no matter what life throws at me, the bad is only a small part of it. It is how I react to the challenge and the growth I experience as a result that matter. This particular quote has helped me process and grow from many difficulties in my personal life.

A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for” by John A. Shedd reminds me of the importance of not avoiding challenges, but seeking out new and exciting ones. Finding new problems to solve energizes me and reminds me of how passionate I am about learning new things that I can apply in my work and my life.

a ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for

Applying the Definition for Growth Mindset

With a good understanding of what it means to have a growth mindset, you can achieve anything in your life. It might sound cliché, but this is the truth.

It is very easy to make up an excuse for pretty much everything. We can avoid challenges, but doing so also means that we are avoiding the growth opportunities that come with these challenges. Struggling is never fun, but without it, we can’t improve and do better. And if we don’t improve, we can’t find success.

As you move forward in your life with an understanding of what it means to have a growth mindset:

  • Rather than avoid challenges, embrace them.
  • Rather than giving up when things get tough, persevere through to the other side.
  • When you feel like the effort isn’t worth it, remember that effort leads to mastery.
  • Instead of ignoring or taking offence to criticism, dig for the learning opportunity.

If you find yourself stuck in a fixed mindset, it is time to take it upon yourself to actively seek out new challenges. Enjoy the feeling of being challenged and excited by the growth that comes with it.

Don’t forget to share this post with your friends and family on social media! If you know someone who you think would benefit from using a growth mindset, this could be what they need to start seeing the growth opportunities in their life!


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