Growth vs Fixed Mindset

There are more and more articles coming out about how a “Growth Mindset” is key to improving, no matter what age you are. And rightly so, it’s the mindset I guide my clients towards to help them continue improving once they’ve left my care.

If you’re yet to come across the concept, people with a “Fixed” mindset believe qualities such as talent, intelligence or ability are fixed and unchanging throughout your life. People with a “Growth” mindset believe that, whilst there will be some inherent level in each person, these, and more, are qualities that can be developed and improved over time. More information can be found about this concept here.

The main article about this that keeps popping up my Facebook feeds and elsewhere is this one by Upworthy. And I have a problem with it.

There’s nothing wrong with the article itself, nor the advice given, in a way. However, I disagree with the final example they give:
Growth vs Fixed Mindset Example

Whilst I 100% agree that Growth Mindset is the way to be, especially for children, who so often are led to believe that they can’t do something because of ridiculous ‘reasons’ like their gender or the colour of their skin, I think relentless pursuit of this mindset can be just as detrimental.

There are times when someone will have tried the most they have ever tried before and they may be absolutely thrilled with getting that 80%. They have achieved something monumental. Something they never thought they ever would have achieved before. If that were you and you got told the “Growth Mindset” line, how do you think you might feel? I think, for many people, that it would be akin to pouring icy water on a fire – to be told that your amazing achievement still just wasn’t good enough. That sort of thing, in that sort of situation can be just as stifling as the belief that you can’t change – If the best someone has done still isn’t good enough, then why should they continue to try?

As with most things in life, there needs to be a balance. Sometimes, it’s appropriate to say “That’s great, how much better do you think you can manage next time?”. But sometimes, individual achievements need to be recognised for what they are, with no qualifiers attached. The reward of recognition needs to stand on its own, for the self-confidence and self-esteem such an event can bring. Like the article says, you don’t want to say that every tiny thing is awesome, or else there will be no growth, and the praise becomes insignificant. But recognising the occasional big achievement here and there, without the pressure of “But what could be better?” can be so valuable. It can stop the Growth Mindset becoming an unattainable goal which, although that would be an illusion as there are always new things to learn, makes the concept feel much more achievable, and therefore maintainable, to the brain.

For the example above, perhaps a better phrasing would have been “You got an 80% on your test – that’s brilliant! It really shows how much hard work you’ve put into learning it.” It recognises the achievement, without diminishing it by essentially stating that it wasn’t enough, but also recognises how they reached that goal, which can encourage further learning. If you really wanted to still push the Growth part, you could perhaps add “Now that you know that much, it’s going to be so much easier to learn the rest”. It’s softer than the “do it again but better” attitude of the article’s example, but still encourages the drive to grow in what I believe is a more positive way.

Whatever you choose, keep the balance. After all, even Everest isn’t climbed in one day – you pause, rest, and look for the right opportunity in the weather to continue. Growth is great, but so is recognising that something is enough for today. Tomorrow is another day.

Leave a comment