How to Fix Your False Growth Mindset

Do you have a growth mindset yet?

What’re waiting for? You’re missing out. Everyone’s getting one.

And rightfully so! A growth mindset helps you learn faster, feel better about yourself, get along better with others, and make the most of your potential. So you need one if you want to become a winner at life.

But there’s a catch…

You can’t have one.

Nobody can. Carol Dweck says so. And since she’s the psychologist who introduced the concept to the world in her sledgehammer of a book, Mindset, it’s fair to say she makes the rules.

So don’t believe anyone who prances around pretending they have a growth mindset. All anyone can do—should do—is work toward this mythical mindset and away from its opposite: a fixed mindset.

I made this post to remind myself of this and to identify and deal with inevitable bouts of fixed-mindedness so I get back on track. I want a growth mindset as bad as anyone so I hope it helps. And I hope it helps you, too.

❌ “My hair is hopelessly horrible.” ✅ “I’ve yet to find the right haircut for me.”

Definitions

First thing’s first is to quickly tidy up what “having a growth mindset” really means, since it’s easy to misconstrue (see Misperceptions, below). Here are the official definitions:

Mindset is simply how you perceive your abilities.

With a growth mindset you believe your abilities can be developed through all three of 1) hard work, 2) good strategies, and 3) input from others.

A fixed mindset is on the opposite end of the spectrum from a growth mindset. With a fixed mindset, you believe your abilities cannot change.

Falling flat on face
❌ “I suck at push-ups.” ✅ “Maybe I should work on my upper-body strength.”

Growth vs. Fixed Mindset Cheat Sheet

How various scenarios can be looked at with either a fixed mindset or a growth mindset:

ThemeFixed MindsetGrowth Mindset
🧗‍♂️ ChallengesAvoid them.Embrace them.
🤦 FeedbackIgnore it.Learn from it.
👩‍🎨 AbilityLies within.Is cultivated.
👎 FailureA setback.A growth opportunity.
💪 EffortIs evidence of lack of talent.Is a talent you can grow.
💘 Perfect mateWorships you.Challenges you.
🏔 ObstaclesCause you to lose interest.Makes things interesting.
👩‍🏫 Being smartIs not making mistakes.Is learning.
❌ Poor gradesLook to those who did worse.Look to those who did better.
📚 StudyingMemorizing.Understanding principles.
🐼 StereotypesAffect your mindset.Don’t affect you.
🏆 WinningNot losing.Giving your best.
🥈 Others’ successThreatens.Inspires.
👤 Identity fromResults.Actions.
Kim getting angry, which helps find what her purpose in life should be.
❌ “It’s all their fault.” ✅ “What can I do about it?”

Quiz

Now let’s test your grasp of what it means to have a growth mindset with a quick quiz:

Imagine you’re interviewing for the job of your dreams. It’s between you and some other bozo. You kick butt in your interview and are sure you locked up the role. But the next morning you get an email saying, “Thanks for coming out. You didn’t get the job, but we’ll keep you in consideration for the future.”

Which of the following is the most growth-minded reaction?

  1. Tell yourself that you didn’t deserve the job.
  2. Reassure yourself that you were clearly the best and that they made an unfortunate mistake hiring the other person.
  3. Remind yourself that you’ll have other opportunities and will get the job next time.
  4. Take the perspective that there are more important things in life than work, so this letdown isn’t that big of a deal.

The correct answer is the eighth letter in the word abracadabra.

Did you get it right?

If so, don’t let it go to your head. That’s a fixed-minded reaction. You probably just got lucky.

And if you got it wrong you’ll understand why after going through the following fixed mindset self-diagnoses and growth mindset misperceptions.

❌ “This does not have ‘hints of mango.'” ✅ “I wonder how they get ‘hints of mango’ from this.”

How to Self-Diagnose a Fixed Mindset

Paradoxically, the surest sign of having a fixed mindset is believing you have a growth mindset. That’s because the mark of a truly growth mindset is knowing there is no such thing as perfection.

And on the other hand, the more concerned you are about having a fixed mindset, the more that means you’re on the right track to being more growth-minded.

If that doesn’t make sense, don’t worry. Here are some less-paradoxical ways, which Dweck calls “fixed mindset triggers,” to catch yourself suffering bouts of fixed-mindedness

  • When do you feel overly anxious, incompetent, or defeated?
  • When do you react defensively to criticism or feel angry or crushed from feedback?
  • When do you make excuses?
  • When do you feel envious or threatened by someone, rather than motivated by their success?
  • When have you said, “I’m not very good at ______” or “I’m really good at ______”?

If you can’t think of something, you’re either delusional or have a horrible memory. Ask your spouse or colleague and they’ll surely be able to help.

Don’t let it get to you. Everyone has a fixed mindset on occasion and in certain areas of life. The first step to having a more growth mindset is accepting that.

Books that change your thinking cover image of Chris reading upside down
❌ “I read a lot, so I obviously have a growth-mindset.” ✅ “I read to find fix-mindedness and fix it.”

Growth Mindset Misperceptions

A “growth mindset” is like designer sunglasses. It’s attractive, highly valuable, and looks great on anyone. And it seems simple to wrap your head around (or vice versa).

Because of this, counterfeits abound. You can find teachers, psychologists, and self-helpers flaunting knock-off versions everywhere. This proliferation of what Dweck calls “false growth mindsets” got so bad that she had to update her book with a chapter about it and go on a media tour to clarify her concepts.

To avoid falling for fakes, here are some common growth-mindset misperceptions to watch out for.

How to stop nagging cover image of Kim nagging Chris the wrong way
❌ “Kim doesn’t understand me.” ✅ “Maybe I don’t understand Kim as well as I’d like to think.”

Nobody’s entirely fixed- or growth-minded.

“…nobody has a growth mindset in everything all the time. Everyone is a mixture of fixed and growth mindsets.”

Carol Dweck interview on The Atlantic

Hopefully I’ve made this one clear by now.

Even so, it’s worth elaborating on.

As Ameet Ranadive put it, mindset is a spectrum rather than a binary trait. So just like any belief, we’re best off putting our growth mindedness on a scale of one to one-hundred and working ramp it up little-by-little.

Keep in mind, too, that your mindset can be different by domain. For example, I think to think I’m reasonably growth-minded when it comes to my (in-)ability to make YouTube videos or play beach volleyball, but I can’t deny that my fixed-mindedness flares up more than it should when arguing with Kim.

People practicing sending de-motivational messages
❌ “These guys don’t get it.” ✅ “Maybe I’m missing something.”

A growth mindset isn’t about trying harder.

Recall the definition:

A growth mindset is the belief that your abilities can be developed through 1) hard work, 2) good strategies, and 3) input from others.

You can’t pick and choose any of the three. You need them all.

Take me and this blog, for example:

If I want to get better at blogging, I can’t just blog more. Effort isn’t enough. Just look at the millions of blogs with fewer readers than posts for proof. To keep progressing toward my mission of dragging as many people out of the status quo as possible, I have to work hard and study and tinker with my strategies and seek and respond to feedback, especially from demotivational speakers.

And if these efforts don’t lead to progress, that’s a sure sign of false growth mindset. I have find out where a fixed mindset is concealing the truth on what’s holding me back.

The same goes for you and anything you’re working hard without much progress to show for it.

Me failing to hit a shot.
❌ “Bad luck. I’ll do better next time.” ✅ “Well, that shot missed the mark. Try to be more balanced next time.”

A growth mindset has nothing to do with positive self-talk and praise.

Saying “Everyone is smart!” and handing out participation ribbons for passing nothing more than gas are more mindset-fixing than mindset-growing.

That’s why the correct answer to the quick quiz above is, “You didn’t deserve the job.” If you deserved it, you would have gotten it.

The Inner Game of Tennis, another excellent book I recommend, best explains what to do instead of positive self-talk and praise:

  1. Observe results without judgement.
  2. Acknowledge the reality.
  3. Incorporate that feedback to keep improving.

This learning strategy may sound robotic, but it’s not. It’s childish. Both Mindset and The Inner Game of Tennis explain that this approach is how the fastest learners on the planet, babies, learn to walk and talk.

Delusion Bubble, Potential, and Comfort Zone diagram
❌ “I can do anything I put my mind to.” ✅ “I have an untapped potential that I can expand my comfort zone into.”

You can’t do anything you put your mind to.

Your talents can be developed, but they aren’t limitless.

That’s why even though I’m taller than average, about 6’3”, no amount of growth mindedness could have enabled me to reach my teenage dreams of making the NBA.

As per the diagrams from my post on how to properly expand your comfort zone, a growth mindset is about knowing that your potential is bigger than your current comfort zone but not confusing it with your bubble of delusion.

Having a fixed mindset doesn’t mean you won’t succeed.

People with enough talent and/or good fortune can make it to the top despite having a mostly fixed mindset. A quick look at the news offers ample examples—cutthroat businessmen, egotistical politicians, and attention-hogging stars.

But being on top isn’t much relief for those fix-minded folk. They are in perpetual fear of losing their spot. And it’ll happen eventually. As legendary basketball coach and mindset maestro John Wooden said, “I believe ability can get you to the top, but it takes character to keep you there.”

For a fail-proof life, we need to to stop competing with others, focus instead on outperforming our past selves, and strive toward our own definitions of winning at life. These corny growth mindset strategies don’t guarantee success just as fixed mindsets don’t guarantee failure. But they’re the best we can do.

Is Rwanda worth visiting cover image
❌ “Now I perfectly understand how to have a growth mindset.” ✅ “I think I’m getting it, but I’ll need to keep working on my understanding.”

Don’t lose your mind(-set).

“The view you adopt for yourself profoundly affects the way you lead your life.”

Carol Dweck, Mindset

When I first read Mindset and learned about the concepts of growth and fixed mindsets, a flip switched in my brain about my abilities and how to develop them.

But my mindset didn’t immediately flip with it. It doesn’t happen that way.

So maybe a better analogy than a light switch is a garden. The book planted its seeds in my mind and showed me what’s possible. Now it’s up to me to tend to my plot, deal with the weeds, and grow something glorious.

You too, if you want to have more of a growth mindset. And every once in a while it’s probably a good idea to refer back to the book, to this post, or some other post you like better for a refresher.

Read This Next:

Disclosure: Whenever possible, we use links that earn us a cut if you pay for stuff we recommend. It costs you nothing, so we’d be crazy not to. Read our affiliate policy.

What do you think? (Leave a Comment.)