So I came across this idea again a week ago – the concept of two different mindsets: a fixed mindset and a growth mindset.
The concept is fairly straightforward. On the one hand, you have the fixed mindset. This way of thinking assumes that intelligence and traits are fixed, they are either there or not, either high or low, and you have what you have, it’s just the way it is. If you are smart, you are smart. If you are dumb, you are dumb.
On the other hand, there is the growth mindset. This basically means that what ever is…can be changed. So, intelligence is fluid, traits and skills are fluid, they change. You can actually become smarter…or dumber.
Now what is fascinating are the consequences of each way of thinking. In the fixed mindset, things get dangerous. You get told, ‘hey, you did well in this math test, you are quite intelligent’. What gets into your subconscious is ‘I am intelligent, this is part of my identity now. Because I am intelligent, I SHOULD always do well. If I don’t do well, then it means I’m dumb and that’s just not true, I am intelligent and awesome’. You carry around this self-identity and look for cues to support it. So you do things that you know you are definitely good at and shun everything that seems hard. Effort isn’t a good thing because it means that the thing is hard, and intelligent people don’t find things hard. You might even start to lie and inflate your performance or importance because you MUST support this idea of your intelligence.
In the growth mindset, you get told, ‘hey, you did well in this math test, you must have worked really hard on this’. Here the focus is on the EFFORT, what gets communicated to your subconscious is ‘I did well because I put in work’. So its not about you being smart or superior, its about the work and energy you put into solving those problems. Generally these people do better than the former group, they relish a challenge and are keen on working hard to overcome obstacles and learn, grow, become better.
I got the impression when I was very young that I was intelligent. I did very well in primary school without really trying. It was only in high school after languishing in mediocrity for a bit that I realized that if I put in more work and tweaked my study/learning habits I could actually go back to doing very well. So I learned from experience that if I wanted to be ‘intelligent’ I could boost that by practicing and working hard.
But the fixed mindset is still rooted quite deep within even though it’s slowly crumbling. The growth mindset requires humility and a focus on the process. You must be willing to come to the situation as a pure open-minded beginner, not thinking you know it all or anything at all. You must be okay with failing as long as each failure is an exhaustive lesson of where to grow. You must love the effort and the grind to the top. I’m not a good designer because the gods magically blessed me. I am a good designer because I have been working hard at my craft and if I continue to grind and tweak my process, I will continue to get better
Another place the fixed vs growth mindset plays out is in relationships, especially romantic ones. I am terribly guilty of being of the fixed mindset. Here, its all supposed to magically work out. The girl I’m with needs to just fit, the relationship should work, be sparkles and fireworks half the time, her flaws are problems that threaten our connection. While there is baseline for qualities I’d like, fairy tale perfection rarely happens. If I want an amazing and fulfilling relationship, that is something that will require mistakes, learning and working together to build that.
Lastly, I think about the effect of the fixed mindset on my life by the way of my fixation on perfection. I always thought I had to be the perfect kid, the perfect Christian, the perfect guy, and that caused me A LOT of distress when I would inevitable mess up. I have spent days pondering the question – ‘am I a good person?’ But if success comes from working towards being my best self, I don’t have to get it right all the time, I just have to be committed to working towards it.