If you operate in the world of sports or education you would most likely have heard of the term: a growth mindset. It’s a concept that is sweeping the world and changing the way that people learn and think.

This term was coined by Stanford professor and best-selling author, Carol Dweck.

In an interview in 2012, she defined a fixed and growth mindset as follows

A fixed mindset makes you think you have a fixed amount of capabilities and cannot improve yourself with hard work and effort, On the other hand, students with a growth mindset,  understand that their talents and abilities can be improved through effort, proper teaching and persistence. They don’t necessarily think that everybody is identical  or anyone can become Einstein, but they believe that everyone can become smarter if he or she works at it”

These mindsets are extremely important with regards to learning. Her work has described two ways of thinking about skill and development.

What is a Fixed Mindset?

It’s the kind of mindset in which people believe that skills and intelligence are set and you either have them or you don’t. They think that some people are just naturally good at things, while others are not.

In short, they believe that they are not in control of their abilities.

What is a Growth Mindset?

Other people have what is called a growth mindset. These people believe that skills and intelligence can be grown and developed. So people who are good at something are good because they built that ability, and people who aren’t good are not because they haven’t done the work.

In short, they believe that they are in control of their abilities.

What’s the difference between the two?

So, The core difference here is that people with a fixed mindset believe that skills are born,  people with a growth mindset believe that skills are built. People with a fixed mindset believe that they can’t or don’t have to learn and grow, while people with a growth mindset believe in their capacity to learn and grow.

Importance of a growth mindset

Dweck’s work shows that people’s mindsets have a major influence on their ability to learn and grow  And that people who utilize this growth mindset tend to grow, learn and achieve more over time than the people with a fixed mindset.

A growth mindset really creates a solid foundation for great learning. And because of it’s importance, schools,companies, and sports teams from all over the world are implementing this into their culture.

Over the years, we have worked with a number of high schools, lots of colleges,  and even a few prisons which are working to build a growth mindset in their rehabilitation program. What I’m trying to say is,  this is bigger than a single study or TED Talk. This is a powerful concept that is helping lots of people in different places” Said Trevor Ragan in one of his talks.

Now the reason it’s so important and powerful is that it is the foundation for learning. And if you have a growth mindset, no matter what you build on that foundation,  it will be more powerful.

But to really understand this concept we need to zoom in and look at it’s fundamental details. We need to dive deep into it to know actually what it actually is and how it actually works.

Read Also on thrive global : How to Cultivate a Growth Mindset?

Characteristics of fixed vs growth mindset

Through years of work,  Dweck and her team have uncovered some of the defining characteristics of the two mindsets.


The first big characteristic  I would talk about is belief. Again, people with a fixed mindset believe that skills are born and therefore they can’t or don’t have to learn.

People with a growth mindset believe that skills can be built and improved, therefore they can learn.


The second major characteristic is focus. People in a fixed mindset tend to focus on performance and results and outcomes. In other words, their main focus and their main concern becomes how they look. More specifically their main focus is to not look bad.

People with a growth mindset tend to focus more on the process of getting better through learning and growing.

How Mindset Actually Affects Growth

The type of our mindsets and its characteristics have a huge influence on our ability to learn. And now let’s see why. There are four key ingredients to growth.

These are

  1. Effort
  2. Challenges
  3. Mistakes
  4. Feedback.
  1. The research shows that when somebody is in a fixed mindset he or she looks at the effort as a negative thing, as something that you do when you’re not good enough. They also don’t see the value or purpose of putting in an effort. 
  2. They have been shown to avoid challenging situations and back down.
  3. They get really worked up when they make mistakes. They tend to learn from their mistakes, improve their knowledge by reading books, and personal development blogs.
  4. And when somebody with a fixed mindset receives feedback from a parent,  teacher, coach, or friend,  they get defensive. They take it personally,  and they don’t see the value or purpose of the feedback.

So, in other words,  people with this kind of mindset tend to avoid and shy away from these four key ingredients to growth.

On the other hand,

When people enter a growth mindset,

  • They consider effort as a useful thing, they take it as an important part of their learning process. 
  • They are actually more likely to accept challenges and remain steadfast. 
  • They consider mistakes as learning opportunities for themselves, and when they receive feedback they actually appreciate and use it.

Now Why This happens?

Now let’s see why people with a fixed mindset avoid the key ingredients of growth while those with a growth mindset embrace them happily.

Let’s have a look at the fixed mindset first

They actually avoid putting in effort because they do not believe that they can improve.

They give up when they’re met with a challenge and things get hard because they don’t want to look bad. So in their mind the challenge becomes a threat and because they don’t believe that they can change.

Making mistakes discourages because if they think that you are making mistakes,  you are not looking good.

And they don’t see the value or purpose of feedback because they don’ believe in their capacity to grow. So, in one way or the other,  every single one of these actions  is a byproduct of the two main characteristics i.e belief and focus

The same is applies on the growth mindset side. 

They put in effort because they believe in their capacity to improve.

They’re more likely to take on a challenge and persevere through it because they believe that they can grow and because they’re focused on the opportunity to do that.  So they consider a challenge as an opportunity to improve.

And by believing in their capacity to grow and focusing on the process they understand actually how helpful mistakes are in this process. And when they receive feedback from a teacher, coach, parent, or a friend, they are more receptive to it because their focus is to get better and because they think that this information can help them grow.

What Mindset do You Have?

Now how would I know what mindset I have?

So keep in mind, you’re not just one or the other. This is a spectrum. At different times, on different days and different situations, you might be in growth, while other times you’ll slip into a fixed mindset.

But now that you understand how it works and its characteristics, you can start to identify where you’re on the spectrum. And more specifically,  the cause of that mindset. At that particular time is your belief Or is it your focus?

What type of mindset do you currently have? Let me know in the comments section.