Fixed vs. Growth mindset #Part 2

Growth mindset fundamentals — the journey

In-depth dive into fixed mindset detection tools and growth mindset best practices.

Aviran Revach

--

In my previous article, I introduced growth and fixed mindsets and their different beliefs that can lead to significant side effects. But knowing about and understanding fixed and growth mindsets is not enough.
As my frustrated friend, let’s call him “Benny,” said:

“You got me- I have a fixed mindset! What now, smart guy? How do I prevent or FIX a fixed mindset..!?” — Benny

Turns out there is plenty we can do. We can get unstuck, increase our potential success, and enhance our happiness. We can turn a fixed mindset into a growth mindset. In this article, I’ll map out every step of our mindset journey, identify areas where we can spot a behavior, and define a “To-Do” task for each situation. Let’s visit our milestones:
1.Effort → 2.Obstacles → 3.Mistakes → 4.Failure → 5.Challenges → 6.Criticism → 7.Compare to peers → 8.Achievements

The mindset journey : Effort, Obstacles, Mistakes, Failure, Challenges, Criticism, Compare to peers, Achievements.

1. Effort ⛰

Effort = your brain is growing

Ethan, the class “genius,” participated in a special memory-improving activity at school today. Ethan nailed the first easy puzzle — as did everyone else — and he felt on fire. “This is fun!” he thought, “I’m going to finish first!”. As the following puzzles became more difficult, he started to struggle. He felt embarrassed and even slightly panicked… This was hard for him!

His classmates were also struggling, but some were advancing to the next levels. Ethan didn’t know why, but he felt so ashamed- he tried to avoid the teacher’s and the other kids’ eyes. Before long, he gave up and joined Joe in the back of the classroom, loudly mocking the activity and their classmates. He turned in an empty assignment with a fake smug smile, complaining he was tired and this was “too boring”.

☝️An effort has to do with how much work you’re putting into something and usually refers to the process of “trying”. Effort has to do with how hard you’re trying. If something is easy, it doesn’t take much effort.

Fixed mindset: Fixed mindset people think “effort” is for unskilled people with low abilities, and they see it as a threat. Effort threatens to unmask their flaws and turn them from winners into losers, from smart to dumb, from beautiful to ugly. And in a fixed mindset (as I explained in part1), your talents are innate, which means “a loser,” as with any label, is forever. That’s why they give up very easily. Sometimes, they’ll fold even before they try.
When they are given such a task, it’s like they’re hearing, “Now I’m measuring you and ranking you forever. Let’s see what you got,” and to that, their reply is, “Oh no, you won’t.”

When someone they know introduces the effort, it’s even worse. That person will remember this and be a close-by reminder of their weakness. That’s why when they suspect something will take real effort, they will want to keep it extremely private.

“Is this workshop going to be with the whole design team? It’s not for me. I'd rather do things quietly at home.”

This low-effort syndrome is not saving them any effort because a fixed mindset means endless effort and anxiety in protecting their ego; instead of investing these resources in developing their skills, they’re missing a whole lot of opportunities.

However, it’s important to recognize that some individuals, like those who are neurodivergent or have specific learning styles, may genuinely need a quieter, more private setting for effective learning. This isn’t about avoiding effort, but rather creating an environment that best supports their learning process. Distinguishing between a fixed mindset’s aversion to effort and these legitimate learning needs is essential for understanding and respecting diverse learning preferences.

Growth mindset: For people with a growth mindset, an effort is an opportunity. Working hard does not indicate vulnerability; it’s the path to mastery, so it doesn’t make sense to stop trying. They acknowledge their progress in micro-milestones and know they are on the correct path, even though it takes time and mental resources. A growth mindset helps them get used to jumping into an effort when needed and not using every trick in the book to avoid it or just waiting for easy and comfortable tasks.

💡Effort — Take away
Get comfortable with effort, and embrace it.
First, recognize when a fixed mindset pushes you to fear and avoid effort. If you are years into a fixed mindset, you will neet to train yourself to pick up tough tasks and making yourself believe you can do it. This is one of the most important keys to unlocking a growth mindset.
Train your mind to picture your brain getting bigger every time you feel the struggle and the effort.
Instead of thinking “this is hard, I can’t do this”, think “I can feel the effort, my brain is training and growing!”
Instead of thinking “this is too hard”, think
“this may take some time.”
Instead of thinking “I can’t have people see me making an effort”, declare proudly
“this is tough, but I love training my brain and skills.”

Don’t tell me how talented you are. Tell me how hard you work. ― Artur Rubenstein

2. Obstacles 🚧

In spite of setbacks, persist.

- The CEO is flying out on Thursday! Our presentation is totally screwed.
- Okay, so one sick team member, tons of comments from “legal,” AND we will need to approve this all by mail with the CEO. Perfect, thank you, universe!

☝️An obstacle is a thing that blocks one’s way or prevents or hinders progress. It can be expected or unexpected, but sometimes there is no way of knowing how to remove it to go forward. Multiple obstacles can be a real test for one’s persistence and motivation.

Fixed mindset: The fixed mindset sees an obstacle as an excruciating and sometimes unknown length of effort. In the “effort” milestone, we established that effort is ineffective and even a threat to those with a fixed mindset, so they give up very easily whenever an obstacle surfaces. Persistence is a waste of time and a source of pain that can be avoided.
But hey, you know what obstacles are good for? They can be a perfect excuse for gracefully quitting challenges and efforts.

But, like it or not, life is full of obstacles. This can cause them a lot of misery and bitterness or make them work hard on protection from obstacles, which fix them in their place or position and prevent growth.

Growth mindset: The growth mindset persists in engaging the obstacles and challenges and is curious to discover ways to solve them. An obstacle becomes not only a bump in the road but another indicator that they can influence and even vanquish these external forces that hold them back.

💡Take away
When an obstacle arrives, be curious. Instead of giving up, train yourself to persist and pick up strategies for overcoming it.
Instead of thinking “this is hopeless”, think “this is interesting! What else can I try next?”

“It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.” Albert Einstein

3. Mistakes 🧯

☝️A mistake is when one acted wrongly in a situation or reached unwanted results because of a misguided decision or action. A mistake usually does not count as a “failure” because it isn’t centered on a goal.

Fixed mindset: For someone who believes that skill and traits are permanent, a mistake is dangerous. They can unmask your ability and reveal “the truth” that your intelligence is flawed; you are unworthy. That’s why it’s best to avoid mistakes at all costs. If and when they happen, people with a fixed mindset might try to ignore them, hide them, blame others, or claim there are no mistakes.

And that’s not all. It’s not enough to look smart and talented; you have to be pretty much perfect. Flawless. That’s when fixed mindset people feel smart. “When I finish something with zero mistakes,” or “when something is easy for me but hard for everyone else,” that’s when they feel smart. And that’s not all; they want to feel smart right away when they try. Which means, as they say, zero mistakes or it’s worthless.

Growth mindset: To a growth mindset person, mistakes are seen as a learning opportunity. It’s a way to see where they need to put their minds and where to improve. They’d never want to hide or ignore these mistakes. On the contrary, they know taking responsibility is the first step towards improving. They even like the pressure of other people holding them accountable for not making these same mistakes again.

💡Take away
When you make mistakes, own them. Even if you make several of them. Don’t let them define who you are, let learning from mistakes be who you are.
Instead of thinking
“this mistake has turned me into X ”, think “I must learn from this and do better next time!”

“Good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment.”
— Rita Mae Brown, Alma Mater

4. Failure 🥊

Despite all his hard work, it was a month before the launch, and Ben’s design system still had many problems and deficiencies. Jess, his supervisor, invited him to a one-on-one meeting. She gave him great positive feedback on his creativity and passion during this project but also criticized his lack of cooperation regarding including some key team members in the work process, making it very difficult to have the system operational for the whole team. Ben sat with his hands crossed, looking away with a frown. “This is ridiculous,” he said. “Okay, why is this ridiculous?” Jess asked patiently. He then listed all the things he thought were in his way the whole time — the unrealistic schedule, the difficult platform, his unorganized and clueless teammates, the broken work process, and the product itself, which he doesn’t even believe in. Even Jess was added to this list for changing her mind several times during the work process and blocking his progress.

Jess listened but eventually said that, regretfully, this project would have to be reassigned to a more experienced team member due to the tight schedule. Ben left the talk crushed, feeling angry and humiliated. “How could they do this to me??” he thought, “Everyone knows about these problems, this isn’t MY fault…and how can I show my face in the office again??” He was known as “the design system guy.” now he felt like he had nothing left. “I HATE this place.”

☝️Failure is the result of not achieving one’s goal. It usually refers to the sum of actions and decisions that led to mistakes and unresolved obstacles, which resulted in falling short of the goal. A failure is usually also larger in scale than a single mistake.

Nobody likes to fail, not even growth mindset people. But this whole mindset concept revolves around what happens in failure, before, during, and after.

We already know that people with a fixed mindset will do anything to avoid mistakes. But failure is much worse. Failure is a mark they can carry forever, painfully tattooed on their forehead. Many of them feel superior and entitled up to that moment, and failing can hurt like hell when you believe that you MUST be better than everyone else. Either that, or they actually feel like a fraud who has been caught red-handed. Both getting your title slashed and getting caught red-handed can be humiliating. Feeling humiliated is often a good clue for being affected by a fixed mindset.

So, how do fixed mindset people deal with failure? In short, by deflecting, hiding, or giving up entirely. In any of these options, there will be nothing to learn from this failure.

Deflecting. When blaming “them,” there is nothing to learn because “they” are the ones who should learn from this failure. “This is just my luck” — blaming luck is also a good way to avoid responsibility but also a learning opportunity. They can try to hide or ignore their failure — “I was sick,” “I wasn’t really trying” — or say anything to make others think this wasn’t a fair way to measure success.
Giving up is their way of taking responsibility. “I suck at this” and “this is probably just not my thing” are both ways to say “there is nothing for me to learn here.” Because if they are not good at this, there is no way of changing that. You can LOOK like you are good at this, but when you’re busted, there is no point in continuing; it’s too much work. They’d rather start fresh.

“You are not a failure until you start blaming others for your mistakes.” — John Wooden

Growth mindset people don’t like to fail, but they immediately concentrate on learning and going forward. They don’t associate the failure with their intelligence and see the opportunity for developing their abilities.

Growth mindset people also feel pain and disappointment when they fail, but there are some major differences in how they react to failure and carry on. First, they can disassociate the failure from their identity as the symbol of their faults; they can also recognize the progress and development they have accumulated during this experience. Instead of avoiding this failure, they will try to dig into it and find more lessons on how to improve for next time, how to understand it better and develop new tools and strategies to overcome the inabilities they spot. Trying to overcome this challenge next time can actually raise their excitement and curiosity.

Growth mindset people are no fools; they can tell when and where other people are becoming obstacles and problems for them, but they are determined to persist, improve, and succeed, step by step.

💡Take away
Failure happens to the best. It seems like the end of the road, but your mind has no boundaries. Regardless of the costs of this failure:

Recognize when fixed mindset attacks. You’ll find yourself on the defensive and take it very personally. Don’t let this happen. Don’t blame others or your luck, or look for excuses. But don’t blame yourself and your fixed abilities either.
Instead of thinking “I suck and this”, think “I’m not good at this YET”.
If you feel humiliated this can also be a sign that you have a fixed mindset.

This is how you move to a growth mindset:
Let it go: Don’t let this failure define you. Persisting in spite of it will be what defines you.
Take what you can: Appreciate the progress what did you achieve? How did it all help to get you on the right path?
From blame to contribution: Other people and situations may have contributed to your failure. But contribution is different from blame. Analyze all sides, with a considerable amount of focus on your contribution. This is needed to develop a strategy, and to achieve meaningful learning.
Insist on deliberate learning: What can you do better next time? What else can you try? What different strategy can you use?
Embrace challenge: Be curious and look for ways to get motivated for the next chapter.

Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm. — Winston Churchill

5. Challenges ⚡️

A common misconception is thinking that “challenges” means exploring or doing something new. It can be, but a true challenge is putting yourself way out of your comfort zone. It can be an uncomfortable task, vague or long missions, or something boring, painful, frustrating… even hard! These are the not-so-fun attributes of a real challenge in an organization. Sometimes it’s a situation where you think you have little or even no control over real-life obstacles. And then you have to ask yourself, are you still up for a challenge?

☝️Challenge: A difficult task or situation that tests someone’s abilities, while also giving them an opportunity to stretch and grow them. In a challenging moment, one can see an effort and obstacles lying ahead with no promise to overcome them, knowing they can end in either success or failure.

Fixed mindset: Fixed mindset people thrive on the “sure thing” when things are safely within their grasp. That’s where they feel clever and talented. This is, after all, their concept of fun.

When they think of “challenge,” they think about things they can do within certain parameters. Maybe it’s a long task, with long hours. Maybe it’s just a small difference, improving a bit, fixing this and polishing that, and maybe it’s trying some small new thing. Either way, there has to be no risk involved and no uncomfortable “unknown” effort. It's like playing the same levels in a game you’ve already mastered. They think challenges should be time and again result in a perfect example of their specialty, adding more badges to their perfect, fixed resumé.

But what if things get too challenging? If they don’t succeed right away? That’s the point where they don’t feel smart or talented anymore, and they quickly lose their interest and enjoyment. Not only will this not be a testimony to their perfection, while definitely not being fun, it can really mess with their confidence and reputation.

Growth mindset: People in a growth mindset seek and thrive on challenges. They know this is the way to stretch their abilities — the bigger the challenge, the more they grow. They are trained to fail and then try and try again, so when they fail, they recover quickly and get curious immediately, trying to figure out how to beat this obstacle the next time. When there are challenges ahead, they embrace them. They may even get addicted to this.

“Challenges are what make life interesting. Overcoming them is what makes life meaningful.” — Joshua J. Marine

6. Criticism 👎

Eddie is a very hardworking employee, but he’s been feeling unappreciated for a long time. His boss is acting differently toward him during team meetings — something isn’t right. If something like this were to happen in the past, Eddie would have just avoided his superiors and took advantage of their busy schedules to buy time before facing “the talk.” This time, he decided it was time to step up and grab the bull by the horns. “I’m glad you were the one to approach me. I do have some feedback for you, but since your team is having a hectic week, I was afraid a talk would throw you off.”

Eddie felt uncomfortable receiving slightly harsh feedback, but the fact that he was the one who asked for it helped him recover very quickly from the talk and create new goals and tasks immediately. Over the following weeks, he worked much closer with his superiors and teammates, and he could feel the improvement in his work and deliverables.

☝️Criticism is negative feedback, the practice of judging the merits and faults of something. It’s usually done by analyzing and evaluating the quality of someone’s performance by certain criteria, and pointing out mistakes and unfavorable outcomes.

People with a fixed mindset tend to avoid criticism; it refutes their character and makes them doubt their worthiness.

How will they deal with it? They can become very defensive and reject the feedback to the point of anger. Even if the feedback giver is very gentle with their approach, the feedback will be received as an attack on their ego. And that’s no surprise since a person with a fixed mindset doesn’t really think someone CAN improve; they see criticism as a ranking mechanism, and they will do whatever they can to avoid this permanent grade. At the very least, they can ignore the criticism as something untrue or not really about them or dodge a situation where negative feedback can occur. Either that or “they’re out”; they’ll get depressed or want to quit.

People with a growth mindset will learn from criticism. Even when they don’t fully agree with the feedback, they will go deeper to see how they can improve themselves or the situation next time. They will try to gather feedback as often as possible and actively ask for it when they feel they can be better.

This doesn’t only help them develop their skills very fast; it also creates a very good and open environment around their workplace where everyone knows they don’t need to worry about this person being offended, even when things get tough, and the performance bar is set high.

💡Take away
Don’t shy away from feedback. Actively ask for feedback even before it is suggested to you. Feedback really is a gift, but it’s uncomfortable to give it, so make it very clear you appreciate it in your surrounding.
Act on your feedback. Convert the feedback into actual goals.

“Feedback is the breakfast of champions” ― Ken Blanchard

“Feedback is a gift.” — Jim Trinka and Les Wallace

7. Success of others🥉

A person’s environment can impact their perception of themselves. How fixed and growth mindset people relate to others is quite different.

A common fixed mindset perception is that someone was born “special.” Being special doesn’t just motivate them; it makes them feel entitled, as the world owes them something because of these “special,” natural-born abilities. This would have been fine if being entitled didn’t mean that you need to be better than others in comparison while also getting special treatment forever.

On the flip side of “special,” a fixed mindset can make one feel like a natural-born fixed failure.

That’s why fixed mindset people are threatened by the success of others. Whenever they see someone succeed, they see their own failure, so they usually try to partner with someone they see as lesser than them so they can feel smart, superior, and needed.

When they are around successful people, they feel the need to protect themselves, and they start to wither away as if they are slowly being poisoned. They move from a place of anger for being “robbed” of their abstract place to the point of depression.

How do they deal with it? They may try to dismiss those successful people or even diminish their achievements to make themselves feel better.

They will probably lose interest in whatever they’re competing over altogether and drop out — drop out of projects, skill-building, learning, everything. If you’re not the best, if you’re not special, everything is worthless.

Growth mindset people are very much driven to be the best, but they are inspired by others' success. Not only will they not avoid those successful people, but they’ll also try to get closer to them, learn from them. It keeps them ever-challenged and learning.

Ending a journey - Achievements 🏁

As this journey ends, the main difference between people with fixed and growth mindsets is not about the sum of their achievements but about how they live their lives and how they reach their potential.

When analyzing fixed mindset efforts in Dweck’s research, it becomes apparent that most of their resources are invested in looking successful, getting the approval they need, and being in a place when they feel smart. This comfort zone will push them to plateau early and achieve substantially less than their full potential. This circular behavior will keep confirming their deterministic view of the world.

People with a growth mindset can reach higher levels of achievement. They can reach their dreams and deepest needs when they put their minds and great work into it, resulting in a greater sense of free will.

“Of course *I* have a growth mindset” — said everyone. “Those poor fixed mindset people” — said everyone.

“Of course, I have a growth mindset,” you must think. I keep reading those articles to develop my skills; I love my work and am always looking for interesting new projects. Oh, those poor fixed-mindset people.”

No one is 100% growth OR fixed mindset. Everyone has a fixed mindset, triggers, and blindspots.

We all have both mindsets active at the same time. One can be more dominant and prominent in one area, but it doesn’t mean the fixed mindset triggers aren’t there. You can also have a growth mindset in one area and a fixed mindset in another. Your fixed mindset can be activated by your triggers and blind spots. Not only that, but it can also be triggered by other people’s fixed mindsets or even fixed mindset companies.

If you’ve gotten this far, you probably know more about developing your growth mindset than most people.

Developing your growth mindset is a commitment, but if there’s one thing I’d like you to take away from this long article, it’s the word “yet.” It represents the essence of the growth mindset — optimism, persistence, and grit.

💡Last take away
Instead of saying “I can’t do it”, say “I can’t do it YET”.
Instead of saying “I‘m not good at this’”, say “I‘m not good at this YET”.

For me, it made a big difference. “Yet” became a word I remind myself to use almost every day, especially on days that seem a bit darker than others. I hope it will help you too.

Share your experiences and strategies in the comments below, or connect with me. If this article resonated with you, please clap, share, and follow :)

--

--

Aviran Revach

Design & Tech Geek. Head of design & UX at Soluto TLV. Writes about design leadership & product design.