Stanford Professor Carol Dweck has done a lot of research on motivation, personality, and development. In 2006, she wrote a book called Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. According to Dweck’s studies, a major component of mindset is someone’s belief about where ability comes from. She found that some people believe their success is based on innate ability (fixed mindset) whereas others believe their success is based on hard work, training, perseverance, and learning (growth mindset).

The people she studied weren’t really aware of their beliefs, but their behaviors, especially in the face of failure, revealed these beliefs. People with fixed mindsets (those who thought intelligence, skill, and talent are just inherent) dread failure. They see failure as a negative statement about their basic abilities, even a negative judgment about who they are. People who have a growth mindset on the other hand don’t fear failure as much. They know that they can improve their performance and learn to be better because of the failure. These two mindsets play an important role in all aspects of a person’s life.

As Dweck explained it, “In a fixed mindset, students believe their basic abilities, their intelligence, their talents, are just fixed traits. They have a certain amount and that’s that, and then their goal becomes to look smart all the time and never look dumb. In a growth mindset students understand that their talents and abilities can be developed through effort, good teaching, and persistence. They don’t necessarily think everyone’s the same or anyone can be Einstein, but they believe everyone can get smarter if they work at it.”5

People with growth mindsets are more likely to continue working toward their goals despite roadblocks and setbacks whereas those with fixed mindsets give up more easily.

But Dweck’s team discovered that these mindsets could be affected by subtle environmental cues. They found that children who were praised with “good job, you’re very smart” were much more likely to develop a fixed mindset. But if they were given compliments like “good job, you worked very hard,” they developed more of a growth mindset.

Successful people tend to lean heavily toward the growth mindset. They do not give up at the first sign of trouble or based on the first criticism of their ideas. When they believe in what they are doing, they persevere.

A growth mindset is especially important for unconventional thinkers and outliers. Their ideas and projects tend to run counter to the normal flow and are beyond what is known and accepted. Because of this, they will experience even more setbacks and seeming failures.

5 mindset-and-education