Fixed Mindset vs. Growth Mindset: Which One Are You?

Here is an excerpt from an article about Carol Dweck, a professor of psychology at Stanford University:

Through more than three decades of systematic research, [Carol Dweck] has been figuring out answers to why some people achieve their potential while equally talented others don’t—why some become Muhammad Ali and others Mike Tyson. The key, she found, isn’t ability; it’s whether you look at ability as something inherent that needs to be demonstrated or as something that can be developed.

To anyone who is into personal growth and self-improvement, this seems obvious. But clearly, it is not obvious to everybody: look at this diagram by Nigel Holmes representing the two types of mindsets and I’ll sure you’ll recognize the attitudes of many people you know.

Fixed Mindset

Let’s have a look, starting with the Fixed Mindset side:


People who hold these beliefs think that “they are the way they are”, but that doesn’t mean that they have less of a desire for a positive self-image than anyone else. So of course they want to perform well and look smart. But to achieve these goals…


By definition, a challenge is hard and success is not assured, so rather than risk failing and negatively impacting their self-image, they will often avoid challenges and stick to what they know they can do well.


Same with obstacles. The difference here, as I see it, is that challenges are things that you can decide to do while obstacles are external forces that get in your way.


What’s the point of working hard and making efforts if afterwards you are still on square one? If your worldview tells you that effort is an unpleasant thing that doesn’t really pay dividends, then the smart thing to do is to avoid it as much as possible.


Useful negative feedback is ignored in the best of cases, and taken as an insult the rest of the time. The Fixed Mindset logically leads you to believe that any criticism of your capabilities is criticism of you. This usually discourages the people around and after a while they stop giving any negative feedback, further isolating the person from external influences that could generate some change.


The success of others is seen as a benchmark against which the person looks bad. Usually when others succeed, people with a Fixed Mindset will try to convince themselves and the people around them that the success was due to either luck (after all, almost everything is due to luck in the Fixed Mindset world) or objectionable actions. In some cases, they will even try to tarnish the success of others by bringing up things that are completely unrelated (“Yes, but did you know about his…”).


As a result, they don’t reach their full potential and their beliefs feed on themselves: They don’t change or improve much with time, if at all, and so to them this confirms that “they are as they are”.

Growth Mindset

Let’s now look at the Growth Mindset:


People who hold the Growth Mindset believe that intelligence can be developed, that the brain is like a muscle that can be trained. This leads to the desire to improve.


And how do you improve? First, you embrace challenges, because you know that you’ll come out stronger on the other side.


Similarly, obstacles – external setbacks – do not discourage you. Your self-image is not tied to your success and how you will look to others; failure is an opportunity to learn, and so whatever happens you win.


Effort is seen not as something useless to be avoid but as necessary to grow and master useful skills.


Criticism and negative feedback are sources of information. That doesn’t mean that all criticism is worth integrating or that nothing is never taken personally, but at least the Growth Mindset individual knowns that he or she can change and improve, so the negative feedback is not perceived as being directly about them as a person, but rather about their current abilities.


The success of others is seen as a source of inspiration and information. To Growth Mindset individuals, success is not seen as a zero-sum game.


And so, Growth Mindset individuals will improve and this will create a positive feedback loops that encourages them to keep learning and improving.

What Now

The good news – especially if you just recognized yourself as being someone who holds the Fixed Mindset worldview – is that it is possible to change from one to the other. In fact, I think this should be taught to all children.

What’s more, Dweck has shown that people can learn to adopt the latter belief and make dramatic strides in performance. […]

The most dramatic proof comes from a recent study by Dweck and Lisa Sorich Blackwell of low-achieving seventh graders. All students participated in sessions on study skills, the brain and the like; in addition, one group attended a neutral session on memory while the other learned that intelligence, like a muscle, grows stronger through exercise. Training students to adopt a growth mind-set about intelligence had a catalytic effect on motivation and math grades; students in the control group showed no improvement despite all the other interventions.

“Study skills and learning skills are inert until they’re powered by an active ingredient,” Dweck explains. Students may know how to study, but won’t want to if they believe their efforts are futile. “If you target that belief, you can see more benefit than you have any reason to hope for.”

Does the Fixed vs. Growth Mindset theory fits with your personal experience? Does it describe well the people around you? Please let me know in the comments below.

Thanks to Guy Kawasaki.

Images credit: Nigel Holmes

See also:

Update: Carol Dweck recently published The Secret to Raising Smart Kids in Scientific American.

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71 Responses to “Fixed Mindset vs. Growth Mindset: Which One Are You?”

  1. Dave Atkins Says:

    This is a great description (with cool graphics) of the fixed vs. growth mindset. However, one thing I gained by reading the book, was an insight into the often highly-successful people with the fixed mindset.

    Your distinction, like most summaries of Dweck’s book, oversimplifies the mindsets, making it hard to imagine how anyone could tolerate having a fixed mindset…it is so obviously lame. But the fixed mindset can be hidden from ourselves and wrapped in a sense of entitlement and selective self-validation. People can have both growth and fixed attributes in the way they view the world, so they choose their challenges well, managing risk, but fundamentally approaching life from a fixed view.

    When someone recommended I read MindSet, my initial reaction was to say, “No way, that is NOT me!” I am a growth person! But as I more fully understood the fixed mindset, I came to realize that while I have attacked many challenges in my life, and told myself I could do anything and be anything, I did have some fixed mindset baggage that was limiting me. I highly recommend people read the whole book. If this stuff “bothers” you…you need to read the book!

  2. Growth Mindset Accounts for Achievement Differences Says:

    […] Here is a great entry with commentary using the diagram. […]

  3. Sandy Says:

    All your pictures are gone.

  4. Michael Graham Richard Says:

    Thank you for the heads up, Sandy. It should be fixed now. I think it’s because I upgraded to a Pro Flickr account recently… Somehow that changed some URLs for pictures.

  5. scottwitter Says:

    describing the difference is enlightening but I want more.

    What about people who change / want to, from fixed to growth? Is that possible? what happens? what are the chances of the changes taking permanent hold / what is the likelyhood of going back? and i guess visa-versa…

  6. Irrationality Can Screw Your Life « Michael Graham Richard Says:

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  7. stephen Says:

    My teacher wrote a blog on the same topic.

    I gave a hyperlink to this blog so they could check it out. Great information!

  8. “Failure”-An Intergral Part of our Personal Brand? « Davidwesson’s Digital weblog Says:

    […] an integral part failure is our personal branding as without what Carol Dweck called the” Growth Mindset” in her book “Mindset” how can we learn from failure and grow as […]

  9. Sally McLaughlin Says:

    Michael! I concur that your graphics are particularly engaging in introducing Carol’s concepts of Fixed v. Growth Mindsets. I had the pleasure of hearing her speak about mindsets at a recent conference at the University of Washington. I’m excited to share her theories (which feel like truths to me!) with my current 8th grade class at Seattle Girls’ School!

    On a side note (and a bit of a challenge to you, should you be of a fixed mindset)…I noted two “typos” in your article that you might want to fix. In the “Lets now look at the Growth Mindset…” sentence, you dropped the apostrophe in Let’s… a bit later, you wrote “thought” instead of “taught” in your observation that “this should be TAUGHT to all children.” Again, I completely concur and am eager to do so, at least with my students!

    Once an English teacher, always an English teacher! 🙂 Keep up the interesting, thought-provoking reflections! Sally (McLaughlin)

  10. Michael Graham Richard Says:

    Thanks Sally. Will fix the typos 🙂

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  14. Joe Says:

    Is changing things about your appearance to be accepted by society at large operating under the growth mindset? For example, a middle aged, overweight, unattractive male might believe his desireablility to be fixed. But upon adopting the growth stance, he may start to use the gym, buy brand name clothes, die his hair, get an expensive car and pay $20,000.00 for a face lift. Using the growth stance, he now realizes he has the ability to change his situation. Is this the correct approach under the growth stance? Or is there something missing here?

  15. Michael Graham Richard Says:

    Joe, I think this can fit in the broad sense, though I’d probably phrase it as:

    Fixed mindset = “I believe I’m not attractive, and that’s just who I am”

    Growth mindset = “I’m going to learn how to become more attractive to others and improve myself.”

    It doesn’t necessarily imply the steps you wrote about, but for some people I suppose they could be part of it.

  16. Choirul Umam Says:

    It’s great and meaningful for me as a principal because i have to support and motivate my teachers and also students. On the other hand, i frequently faced that my teacher was not patient in handling this kind of ‘incredible’ students. Would you please, give me description in applying this material?


  17. GC Says:

    This article somehow made me think and reassess myself. Thanks for posting this 🙂

  18. [ ] » Mindset Says:

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  20. 10 things ‘a school’ can do in preparation for 1:1 (laptops) in classrooms « Darcy Moore’s Blog Says:

    […] 2. Support for staff to develop professionally – needs to be innovative, especially in the creation of time and space to learn. Using Year 10 -12 examination time (by hiring invigilators) allows staff to have extra hours throughout the year. See earlier posts in this series (faculty/teacher posts). Models of continuous learning rather than outdated one-off training programs are needed. Mostly, it is about a changed mindset. […]

  21. Emotion » Build-A-Bear Says:

    […] be learned and honed.  They learn from criticism and make efforts to better themselves.  (Read Fixed Mindset vs. Growth Mindset: Which One Are You? by Michael Graham Richards.)  Even astrology allows for change.  Premised on the notion that our […]

  22. L. Phoenix! Says:

    Throughout my life questioning myself and everything in my surroundings. I have always liked to think of myself as an expanding perspective in life, which always inspires a constant growth in reaching and understanding further knowledge. Allowing to look at life in a positive outlook seeking meaning and understanding in the smallest of tasks, challenges and general experiences.

    Mindset is not easily divided into two simple definitions in my eyes however, like earlier said people can contradict many of the differences between the two of the mindsets inspiring multiple thought process’s of expanding contributions of change in everyday life. I myself have just turn seventeen and with a long and eventful seventeen years of challenging myself with new idea’s of personnel expansion.

    Please don’t misunderstand me, I really enjoyed your diagrams. I also think the idea to teach this in schools would not only inspire a highly productive growth in students in academic potential but there way of approaching life. It would inspire teachers to teach on a more connective level of understanding. Which would produce stronger student relations, fun & maturer students and higher qualifications.

    Would love to here more feedback. Love to see contributions from all kinds of people wanting to reach higher personnel development and self understanding! XD

    P.s Sorry for the essay… 😉

  23. Demrek Says:

    I have read the book Mindset (from Carol Dweck) with a great deal of interest, it has been a great read
    I’ve been able to diagnose myself as a fixed mindset person lacking self esteem,
    however I’m working hard to adopt a growth mindset …

    This has obviously had terrible impact on my daily life,
    I’m an entrepreneur (one man band in the software industry) and there are many challenging projects that I can’t get done, or started due to lack of will power, motivation, unability of getting and staying in the zone for a long time, lack of concentration and so on

    I’m guessing that this is related to my fixed minset state

    I’ve sometimes the feeling that my life is just passing by, that I’m worthless and that I’m just a plain procrastinator or a lazy person which lack the self discipline required to get things done in a timely manner, sometimes even the most mundane things such as shopping.
    As a result of that I’ve always got the feeling of being overwhelmed with zillions of things to do which leads to anxiety and stress and then I don’t know by what which I should start, which lead to a constant status quo in my life

    Would you have any tips & advises you could give me to get out of this trap ?

    I’m a useless drawer (kinder garden level) and I’ve decided to read Betty Edwards book to see if I can manage to draw better

    Best Regards from France,

    PS : Sorry for the mangling English but I’m French 🙂

  24. boone Says:

    Truth be told this article hit both sides of who I am.For many years I was told by many of my teachers that I was smarter then what I let out.It was only when I worked at a warehouse for 8 years that i learned that I actually needed to learn.Though I am good at my job I fell meaning less because it does not take much brains to do it.I felt my brain was waisted on me.However since I realized that I don’t know everything & that learning don’t mean that u are dumb.I have a new hunger to seek knowledge and find out who am and let go of my fixed mind.

  25. The Simple Dollar » The Simple Dollar Podcast #15: Fixed and Growth Mindsets Says:

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  26. The Simple Dollar Podcast #15: Fixed and Growth Mindsets : Frugal Living News Says:

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  27. Sam Says:

    I have always known that i have had more drive/motivation to learn/do things than all the people surrounding me but never knew why. This mindset theory explains a lot…..a lot about why certain people are in the positions that they are in….and i think this heavily explains why the world isnt what it could be today……instead of helping each other to learn and be better…..people have a fixed mindset and are rejecting the help offered and seeing it as a disrespect. Im 19 and i see this everyday with my friends….this can explain why people get shot and stabbed……why people spend their lives in and out of prison….or stuck in a dead-end job on minimum wage in housing projects… ambition…desire…no awareness of capabilities! If only the schools helped us to adopt a growth mindset so that everyone had desire to be something….to get out of the rubbish lifestyles we may have been brought into….its a good thing that mindsets can be changed…. but im sure theres many that cant!

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  29. tah Says:

    how can we train or nurture a teen or a kid toward motivating growth mindset. since i am an educationist and helping many kids and teen, i would need some tip on this subject. so pls help me…

    • Sam Says:

      A lot of kids, probably more than most nowdays, simply dont care how they act, in order for someone to adopt a growth mindset, they would have to care about what their mindset is, understand why they act the way they do, and understand that they can change, and the reason for change, which would be to become a better person, which they would also have to care about.

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  31. Yogesh Kinkhabwala Says:

    Excellent information. It gives me a clear thought about myself. It gives me a clear idea about my attitude towards my work. Thanks a lot

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  34. Anthony Zelinko Says:

    Interesting article.
    The key in my opinion is to hoe on both sides of the row. let me explain.
    Nature by definition is set up to perpetuate a species that is adaptable yet aware of its environment. The fixed mindset provides a direct route for assimilation and acceptance. It is the path most CEO’s and Politicians take. They both remind me of a saying my brother usese in tounge and cheek, “If you want’t the answer just ask me”. Having a fixed mindset allows one “At least in their own minds to be masters of the Universe”.
    The problem with this scenerio is that the balance of power starts to shift with Fixed Mindset people in charge. That is what we have now. A recent example of this is how Tony Hayward from BP just dodged all the questions and would not take any responsibility for the oil spill. I have experienced this a number of times throughout my corporate career. No one with a fixed Mindset In my opinion actually takes responsibiulity it’s against the grain. as you pointed out they will “Duck and Cover”.

    Ok, how about the “Growth Mindset” If we all approached life with only the growth mindset, we wouldn’t get anything done. We would sit around learning and dreaming and not actually following through. I would love to do that problem is I’m growing one of the most dynamic distribution centers for low cost medical equipment ever. I don’t have the luxury. I also can back that up by mentioning I’m an International inventor, and I have other accomplishments.
    This response isn’t about how great I am it’s about how I mentioned some of my capabilities and accomplishments to substantiate why I can say some of these things.

    Fast Forward to all the teachers and mentors. The ideal learning environment should justify caution and not penalize one for exploring or questioning. Praise needs to be introduced every step of the way, and Oh by the way a sincere hug and a sense of caring needs to be allowed in our school systems. Some children don’t get any affection at home. In no uncertain terms they will fail in school.

    You can read more of my ramblings at


  35. Dan Johnson Says:

    I bet those who read this post is excited to post something. As a person who believes that being hardworking, and believes that hardship is not a problem but rather a challenge, I would chose the Growth Mindset. Why? I was raised with my parents who told me everything that if you would like to achieve or buy something, you should be hardworking, mature with a great deal of effort to attain something. Being a growth mind set person I consider that having principles in life and managing pressure and trials in life is a positive view of life that means the having intelligence is more necessary that having affective domain which doesn’t know how to use his emotions in a proper manner.

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  38. dexter Says:

    very true article. I am ashamed that i am victim over some points in fixed mind concept. I am aspirant of a national level exam in India but hadn’t applied my complete efforts because i was thinking that i have wasted lots of time already and now i can’t compete other students, this made me more laggard in my mid term tests.

  39. Kamesh Says:

    its excellent and explained clearly mentioned the difference between two mind sets.

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  44. Kat McKean French Says:

    This is a very true article. I have noticed the battle between these two mindsets in my students and in myself. Three years ago, I took the hardest math class I had ever taken. At first I wanted to withdraw, but then my parents convinced me that I was capable of growth and consequently success in the class. I listened to them, and after succeeding in that class, I now hold a growth mindset. When I can convince my students that they are also capable of growth, I see their ability rise. My goal is to now let every student know that their intelligence is malleable.

  45. Sam Says:

    I am a fixed mind set. I had no idea until I read this book. I now realize why I have screwed up so many good opportunities throughout my carrier. I wish I found the book 15 years ago! I am going to work at changing and see how it goes.

    I would be a great person for the author to study.

    Thanks for the book! I bought 4 and gave them to my children’s teachers.

  46. Chris Bradshaw Says:

    The article doesn’t include the factors that cause the individual’s mind of be of one type or the other. I theorize that the two kinds of minds are differentiated by the cycle they use to siphon information from their reality, either the “learn cycle” or the “burn cycle.” The first would produce Growth, according to Dweck’s findings, and the latter would produce the Fixed mindset.

    My “burn cycle” consists of two processes, resentment and reward, that keep the crank turning, giving life its dynamism. Resentment comes from a feeling that one is under the control of other forces, and how they are _treated_ as part of that subjugation. Since it is threatening to them to try to challenge these more powerful people and their institutions, they instead seek resolution through rewarding themselves, like buying Faith Popcorn’s “small indulgences.” Much of our consumption of food and of buying things feeds this half of the cycle, the “burn” cycle. As a result, their resentments are not ‘solved,’ but only masked for a short period of time.

    The “learn cycle” is, as suggested, a constant churning of the mind, mixing refraction and reflection. The terms are from optics, but used here to refer to the way the mind builds mental models. One acts through a refractory medium, one’s surroundings, and we actively use slow periods and sleep to reflect on how our actions impacted other people and things in our locality, if any. That reflection is used to refine our mental model of reality, sometimes by tearing some component down and building it in a different way, and more usually, continuing to add to it in ever-widening circles of complexity, as in a fractal (a major rebuild can often be viewed by others as a kind of mental breakdown.)

    The “burn cycle” is self-defeating, as the cost of rewards, both in money and in other factors such as poor health and stress, cause each person to have to expose themselves to more and more situations that produce more unequal- (asymmetrical) power situations, each of which simply increases the feelings of resentment. One descends gradually (or dramatically) into a pit of one’s own making (of course, few people in this situation feel they were their fate’s author).

    But the “learn cycle” person soars ever higher, with a mental picture that continues to explain more and more. But, the fate of such a person is never to be satisfied with their knowledge and understanding, but to continue to work for more insights and enlightenment.

    Could this explanation produce the same dichotomy as Dweck’s model? (see my earlier treatment of this at:

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  53. Jonathan Says:

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    Reblogged this on ONE IDEA. No bullshit. and commented:
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