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The problem with a fixed mindset: How outlook shapes our lives

November 18, 2021 - 15 min read


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The basics: what is a fixed mindset?

Fixed vs growth mindset

Which one is better?

Can you shift from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset?

Overcoming a fixed mindset

We all have different outlooks on life. Some of us are more half-glass empty, while others are unabashedly optimistic.

For example, you might hold the belief that with enough grit and dedication, you can learn to play the piano. But others may feel there is zero chance of them taking up the instrument.

In general, outlook on developing intelligence and talents can be categorized as either a growth mindset or a fixed mindset. Both of which have advantages and disadvantages.

But can the way we think about ourselves and our abilities affect what we achieve?

Let’s look at the difference between a fixed and growth mindset and how they shape our view of the world.

The basics: what is a fixed mindset?

So, what is a fixed mindset, and what is a growth mindset?

Fixed and growth mindsets are two perspectives on how we develop our skills and abilities.

Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck proposed these outlooks in her book “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.” Dweck’s research shows how both outlooks can impact your career development and life in several ways.

People with a growth mindset view their skills and abilities as constantly evolving. They believe that they can develop their talents through self-improvement and practice.

People with this kind of mindset usually embrace lifelong learning. They dedicate themselves to improving their attributes through their actions and behaviors.


On the other hand, people with a fixed mindset view their intelligence, abilities, and talents as static and unchangeable.

Those with this mindset may not actively look for opportunities to develop their skills and capabilities. They tend to believe that they are born with a specific set of talents that can be improved with practice but not broadened to include new ones.

In a work setting, sometimes this mindset can inhibit a person’s ability to achieve their goals. But this can be changed with a perspective shift that focuses on growth and development.

Fixed vs growth mindset

Let’s take a closer look at some key differences between fixed and growth mindsets.

1. Abilities

People with a fixed mindset believe we have innate abilities. This means that you are born with your knowledge and skills. They believe their full potential is predetermined, as is talent and ability.

Those with fixed mindsets don’t always place a lot of emphasis on personal growth. They can fall victim to negative self-views. And they may sometimes have an unwillingness to accept constructive criticism and feedback from their peers and superiors.

A growth mindset dictates that knowledge and skills are learned and developed with constant, continuous effort.

People with a growth mindset believe that their effort and attitudes determine their abilities. And that their capabilities and skills can constantly be improved, as long as they are willing to learn and make mistakes.

2. Focus

People with a fixed mindset focus on reproducing what they know. They also focus on perfecting their current abilities rather than cultivating new ones.


Growth-minded individuals focus on improving how they do what they do. They place their focus on reaching higher levels of achievement and ability. They also focus on developing new skills and talents as they learn from experience.

3. Failure

People with a fixed mindset seek perfection and avoid failure at all costs. They can be reluctant to try their hand at something new because they fear failing or making mistakes.

People with a growth mindset are not afraid to fail and see failure as an opportunity to grow. They willingly take on tasks that are outside their current scope of knowledge and expertise.

Individuals with a growth mindset see difficult tasks as opportunities for self-directed learning. They strive to develop new skills and learn valuable lessons from potential failures.

4. Appearance

People who are fixed-minded want to present themselves as smart and capable to others. They achieve this image by sticking to tasks and projects at which they know they are adept.

They often avoid tasks that make them appear as a novice rather than an expert or a seasoned professional. People with fixed mindsets are also often seeking validation to prove their worth to others and themselves.

On the other hand, growth-minded people are not afraid to make mistakes, even in front of others. They understand that mistakes have lessons to teach them. They are eager to learn those lessons and keep trying until they are proficient in a new skill.

5. Trying new things

Those with a fixed mindset are more likely to stick to what they know rather than try new things. It’s important to note that this is not necessarily a negative thing. Their focus on their strengths can make them experts on certain topics and tasks.

Growth-minded people enjoy trying new things and growing their skill set. They are driven to achieve new goals and gain new skills and proficiencies.

Which one is better?

Fixed mindsets tend to be viewed as inherently negative and problematic. In contrast, growth mindsets are seen as positive and beneficial.

However, each has its own unique set of pros and cons.

Fixed mindset advantages

  1. Fixed mindsets produce experts.

Those with fixed perspectives tend to focus their efforts on a few key skills and abilities. They know they can perform exceptionally well at these things. Their focus on these skills over years, and even decades, may turn them into highly knowledgeable specialists on certain topics.


  1. A fixed mindset preserves existing structures.

People with fixed mindsets are often willing to adhere to certain corporate structures and frameworks. This helps to uphold them within the company environment and encourages other team members to follow suit.

  1. People with a fixed mindset do well at what they do.

Fixed-minded people are generally quite self-critical. This can be advantageous, as it motivates them to improve their learning curves and minimize the errors they make. They may also be less likely to quit when the going gets tough.

Those with a fixed mindset have the necessary skills to guide them through the tasks that they are comfortable with.

Fixed mindset disadvantages

  1. A fixed-minded person may not always be willing to learn from others.

This is especially true if this learning involves cultivating new and unfamiliar skills.

The success of others often intimidates fixed-minded people. They may also avoid criticism from others. Some may struggle to accept feedback, even from managers and superiors.

  1. Fixed mindsets provoke dissatisfaction and disappointment.

Someone with a fixed mindset who fails at a task will often feel disappointed at their performance. Instead of embracing failure as a learning opportunity, they may view it as a personal failing on their part and become demotivated. In some cases, their feeling of failure can cause imposter syndrome.

  1. People with a fixed mindset may cut off opportunities.

They may steer clear of opportunities to grow personally and professionally. They’ll also avoid learning new things if they are unwilling to enter unfamiliar waters.

Their lack of deliberate practice may also exclude them from opportunities for promotions and career advancement.

Growth mindset advantages

  1. A growth mindset produces achievers.

People with this perspective may be more willing to choose a new challenge. They also want to learn new skills and persist at projects for longer.

These characteristics generally make them more driven to achieve. This can be extremely beneficial when it comes to reaching company objectives.

  1. Growth-minded people focus on productivity.

Research has found that people with a growth mindset display improved self-regulation. This empowers them to remain productive, even during challenging or busy times.

  1. Growth-minded people learn from others.

More and more research is associating a growth mindset with increased prosocial behavior and a general willingness to be wrong. And a willingness to learn from other, more knowledgeable people.

Growth mindset disadvantages

  1. People with a growth mindset obsess more over effort than learning.

Adept employees can strike a balance between persistence and working ‘smart’ through the use of concrete knowledge and skill. Some growth-minded people may focus more on time spent learning and less on the outcome obtained, which can leave them with certain skills gaps.

  1. Growth-mindedness can harm self-esteem.

People with a growth mindset who battle to reach their ideal achievements may become discouraged and despondent over time. They can also become overly competitive in the workplace, which could ultimately lead to burnout.

This may alienate them from their peers and negatively impact your company culture.

Can you shift from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset?

Research has proven that it is possible to promote a growth mindset in fixed-minded people due to the plasticity of the brain. Neuroscience indicates that the brain is flexible and always making new connections. Because of this, we are capable of change and growth at any age.

There are numerous ways to develop a growth mindset, including:

  1. Accepting that you are scientifically capable of change. People who challenge themselves with new experiences can form and strengthen neural pathways. This enables them to learn and reinforce new skills and abilities.
  2. Minimizing fixed mindset inner talk. Negative self-talk can impair your ability to progress. Instead of saying, “I can’t do this,” try re-framing the thought to, “I can do this with enough practice and determination.”
  3. Rewarding both the process of achievement and the effort exerted during the process.
  4. Seeking honest feedback on your work and using it as motivation to continue trying. You should strive to do this even if you receive negative feedback.
  5. Being brave and leaving your comfort zone. This can help you foster a growth mindset by showing you that you still have a lot to learn and that learning is possible with the right attitude.
  6. Accepting failure as part of the learning process. Failures can be valuable learning opportunities if you are willing to learn from them.

Overcoming a fixed mindset

There is no one right mindset for successful people. Our own growth is dependent on ourselves as individuals and our approach to the world.

Through doing some hard work and learning new strategies, we can develop a growth mindset and become lifelong learners. But we should also remember that fixed mindsets have some advantages, too.

For more insights on exploring the human potential, request a demo with a BetterUp coach. See how our personalized coaching can help you unlock your professional and personal growth.

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Published November 18, 2021

Shonna Waters, PhD

Vice President of Alliance Solutions

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