The origins of a growth mindset are from the time when Carol Dweck and her research partner, Claudia Mueller were both at Columbia University, New York. They were exploring the consequences of different types of praise and how this affected students. This research included six separate studies and was documented in 1998 in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. It was revolutionary for its time and appears still so 20 years later, as the majority of educational systems still favour developing fixed mindsets. Remarkably discounted in formal education bar the more enlightened of schools, from parenting, corporate and everyday life, this has me wondering what needs to change for a growth mindset to permeate our formal and informal educational systems and for this to be a social norm enjoyed by all, including the host of associated benefits for individuals and society at large.

These benefits include improved attainment, coping better with transition, higher self-regulation, grit and pro-social behaviours. There is also evidence suggesting mental health benefits – those with a growth mindset have been found to be less aggressive, with higher self-esteem and fewer symptoms associated with depression and anxiety.

Dweck’s definition of a fixed and growth mindset, is taken from a 2012 interview where she states “In a fixed mindset students believe their basic abilities, their intelligence, their talents, are just fixed traits. They have a certain amount and that’s that, and then their goal becomes to look smart all the time and never look dumb. In a growth mindset students understand that their talents and abilities can be developed through effort, good teaching and persistence. They don’t necessarily think everyone’s the same or anyone can be Einstein, but they believe everyone can get smarter if they work at it”.

Dweck’s research showed when praising effort, rather than intelligence, children become better able to cope facing a setback or future low performance because it was not taken personally nor seen as unchangeable. Focusing on effort put in leads to personal success and its where you work your hardest to become your best whereas a fixed mind set believes success is about intellectual superiority or a natural talent. Being that somebody who is worthier than the ‘nobodies’. For the latter, setbacks are a diminishment of self and taken very personally. For the former, they’re motivating, informative and essential to a fulfilled life.

How different would your life be if you lived by these growth mindset beliefs? I intuitively know mine would have been radically different and it’s also ok because it’s never too late to start now.

The following diagram covers the essential difference between the two. Do you recognise yourself in some of this? I could easily pick up my propensity for a fixed mindset especially with getting things right and little margin for error. Also encouraging was to notice how I had unknowingly begun developing a growth mindset which I put down to the field we work in and a personal commitment for lifelong growth and learning.

Now that I know this what next? I now make a point of catching myself just before, during or after the times I wonder into fixed thinking and it has opened up a whole new world where I can question my motivations more and very often choose different to what I normally would have, or not. The point is I find my awareness expanded to include this topic which makes so many more choices and possibilities available.Tell tale fixed mindset signs include the following:-

  • Sticking to the status quo despite evidence that change is required
  • Wanting to be smarter than others
  • Competing to win at all costs
  • Craving praise and attention
  • Going all out to be more physically appealing than others
  • Feelings of superiority imagined and real which includes natural talent
  • Telling stories to yourself
  • Exaggerating / embellishing your accomplishments in the eyes of others
  • Telling blatant untruths to hide real and perceived failure

DGT’s core program, Beyond Thinking specifically starts the process of developing a growth mindset. Many participants have said it is life changing and how over 3 days, a safe place is created to intelligently question all the things they hold true and often times limit any growth and change from taking place. It’s about opening your mind to embrace ‘what else is possible here that I haven’t yet considered’? It’s about today and my and others growing ability and is never about an anchored point in time, or space or of mind.

With knowing there is no end point, I hope Dweck’s work provides even more impetus for you to explore the many positive benefits a growth mindset will bring to your life, should you choose it!

Warmest regards


PS. For those who enjoy this topic I found the following article to be exceptionally well written and concise. Read it here.  This animated video does a pretty good job of covering the important distinctions of a Growth and Fixed Mindset. Watch it on YouTube.

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