Fixed vs Growth Mindset

Michael Jordan is the greatest basketball player of all time. During his first four seasons, he scored only 18 percent of shots in three-point range shooting. He worked very hard to improve his skill and ended up with a career average of 33 percent. He tells that If you try to shortcut the game, then the game will shortcut you. If you put forth the effort, good things will be bestowed upon you.

John McEnroe is a former World No 1 tennis player who has won seven Grand Slam singles titles. He is also known for his confrontational on-court behavior. If he started losing a match he would blame everyone else instead of making adjustments to correct his mistakes.

Social psychology professor Carol Dweck tells that Jordan has a growth mindset and McEnroe has a fixed mindset. In the excellent book Little Bets: How Breakthrough Ideas Emerge from Small Discoveries – Peter Sims writes

Dweck has studied motivation for several decades. Her research has demonstrated that people tend to lean toward one of two general ways of thinking about learning and failure, though everyone exhibits both to some extent. Those favoring a fixed mind-set believe that abilities and intelligence are set in stone, that we have an innate set of talents, which creates an urgency to repeatedly prove those abilities. They perceive failures or setbacks as threatening their sense of worth or their identity. Every situation, therefore, gets closely evaluated: “Will I succeed or fail? Fixed mind-sets cause people to be over concerned with seeking validation, such as grades, titles, or social recognition. Conversely, those favoring a growth mind-set believe that intelligence and abilities can be grown through effort, and tend to view failures or setbacks as opportunities for growth. They have a desire to constantly challenge and stretch themselves.


Dweck conducted an experiment by giving easy puzzles to the 5th grade students. Afterward she divided the students in two groups. She praised the abilities of one group by telling “Wow, you got x number correct. You must be smart at this”. She praised the effort of the other group by telling “You must have worked really hard”. In the next round, students were given a choice of either choosing an easy or difficult task. It turned out that majority of the students praised for their abilities chose the easy task and those praised for their effort chose the difficult task. Why? Those who were praised for their abilities wanted to look smart all the times. The only way to do that is to solve easy problems.

How are kids measured in majority of the schools? Those who score high marks are called as intelligent. Kids are graded only on their abilities for scoring high marks. This leads them to develop a fixed mindset. The real world is full of challenges and one cannot find answers in a textbook. You need to experiment and fail several times to come up with a solution. This requires a growth mindset. It is very important that schools praise students for their efforts. Also kids should have freedom to experiment and fail. This way they will take up challenging problems instead of resorting to rote memorization. This will result in the development of growth mindset.

The students praised for effort were able to keep their intellectual self-esteem in the face of setbacks. On the other hand, the students initially praised for their intelligence performed significantly worse on the harder test and had nearly the opposite reaction to the results. They did not want to take the problems home to practice and the experience caused them to doubt their intelligence. The students who had been praised for their intelligence received an initial boost to their egos, but their view of themselves was quickly shaken when the going got rough.

Is it possible to develop growth mindset at any age? Yes it is possible. Brain is like a muscle and we can mold it however we want it to be. All you need is (1) Be Inquisitive (2) Experiment (3) Fail Fast (4) Learn from failures (5) Repeat.

Many people think of the brain as a mystery. They don’t know much about intelligence and how it works. When they do think about what intelligence is, many people believe that a person is born either smart, average or dumb – and stays that way for life. But new research shows that the brain is like a muscle – it changes and gets stronger when you use it. And scientists have been able to show just how the brain grows and gets stronger when you learn. When you learn new things, these tiny connections in the brain actually multiply and get stronger. The more that you challenge your mind to learn, the more your brain cells grow. Then, things that you once found very hard or even impossible – like speaking a foreign language or doing algebra – seem to become easy. The result is a stronger, smarter brain.

11 thoughts on “Fixed vs Growth Mindset

    • Hi Ragu,

      I will listen to the lecture and thanks a lot for sharing.


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