Just how important is having a growth mindset if you want to see real change in your life? A growing body of evidence suggests that a fixed mindset can literally prevent us from learning and developing skills.
A Fixed mindset switches us off to learning
Research in neuroscience and psychology has shown that when a fixed mindset is adopted something very revealing takes place in the brain.
Psychologist, Carol Dweck, a world leader in growth mindset theory, conducted a study examining brain activity and mindsets with her team at Columbia University. Participants with either a generally fixed mindset or a generally growth mindset were asked a number of difficult questions. Feedback was then given to participants whilst Dweck’s team measured each person’s brain activity. In this fascinating study researchers found that both the fixed mindset and growth mindset subjects showed a great deal of interest and brain activity whilst being told whether they had answered each question correctly. Any similarity ended here. The growth mindset individuals continued to show a significant amount of brain activity and interest when they had answered a question incorrectly. Growth mindset participants were just as interested in learning the correct answer as they were in finding out whether they were right or wrong.
The fixed mindset group were quite different. Their brain activity was high when being told whether they had answered the question correctly. When told their answer was wrong, fixed mindset individuals lost interest. The level of brain activity literally dialled down when being told the correct answer and explanation. No interest in learning the new information was shown.
Both groups were also given a surprise retest. The fixed mindset group showed significantly less performance improvement than the growth mindset group on the retest.
Growth mindset enables us to learn, change and develop
Another famous study also highlights the problems of a fixed mindset. Psychologists, Robert Wood and Albert Bandura gave MBA students a computer simulated furniture company to successfully manage. The students were divided into two teams. Each team was tasked with placing employees in the right jobs & deciding how best to motivate and guide their workers. Before the students began the task in earnest, each group was primed towards a specific mindset.
One group was told that their performance would enable the researchers to measure their underlying capabilities to succeed at the task. They would either be naturally good at the task or they wouldn’t. In other words, Wood and Bandura encouraged a fixed mindset.
The other group was told that their skills to successfully complete the task would be developed through practice. It was explained that the more they were able to practice the necessary skills to perform the task, the better at cultivating those skills they would become. Wood and Bandura encouraged this group to take a growth mindset approach.
The first task that Wood and Bandura set both groups was deliberately difficult. Unrealistically high production standards were set in the initial task. Both groups fell short of the target. Both groups were then left to manage their company and employees and the progress of each group was monitored over a period of time.
Wood and Bandura found that the growth mindset group worked towards the task consistently. The growth mindset group practiced and developed their skills, they maintained motivation and performed well. The group that had been primed to hold a fixed mindset about the task told a different story. The fixed mindset group gave up on the task. they even did so with tasks that they could easily have achieved. Their performance deteriorated after their failure to succeed at the initial task.
This research perfectly demonstrates how limiting a fixed mindset can be in new learning situations. It also highlights the powerful impact that other people can have on our belief in our own capabilities.
Three tips for avoiding the fixed mindset trap
1) Make the commitment to have faith in your own ability to learn new things and change. Guard against being sidetracked or demotivated by the negative comments of others. Whereas constructive criticism is always helpful, it’s important to develop and listen to your own voice. Filter and decide whether criticism comes from a place of growth or fixed mindset.
2) When taking on a new challenge, be your own cheerleader. Develop the habit of encouraging yourself by using positive self-talk. Focus on how good you will feel when you have mastered your new skill or subject. Think about how you would encourage a friend or colleague if they were embarking on a new learning experience and coach yourself in the same way.
3) Ask yourself, what impact do your words have on those around you? Do you adopt a growth mindset and encourage others to learn, develop and grow? If not, take some time to think of ways in which you can improve the way you interact with others at work and home to encourage a growth mindset culture.
Here at Positive Change Guru we love to talk about all things growth mindset. Get in touch to find out more about our suite of courses and discuss bespoke growth mindset training for your organisation.
Want to test your mindset? Find the test here. Like to learn more about the growth mindset? Take a look at Carol Dweck’s Ted Talk.