You may think your success is determined by your intelligence, experience, environment, or even your personality. But research suggests that it’s your point of view – your mindset – that may be the key.

The mindset you adopt for yourself profoundly affects the way you lead your life, says Carol Dweck, PhD, author of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.

Your mindset — the difference in how you react to feedback or accomplishment — can affect your performance in school, relationships, business and even parenting.

Dweck’s research suggests there are just two different mindsets: fixed and growth. Those with a fixed mindset need to keep proving themselves over and over, while those with a growth mindset believe their basic qualities can be cultivated through their own efforts.

What type of mindset do you have?

Here’s one quick way to find out: Think back to your school days. If you got a bad grade in school, would you often give up, saying the class was just a waste of time, or would you tend to tell yourself you just needed to study harder?

If you were likely to give up, you are likely to have a fixed mindset; if you decided to work harder, you probably have a growth mindset.

Someone with a fixed mindset is typically quick to interpret disappointments as utter failure. “Nothing ventured, nothing lost,” becomes their philosophy, as they get increasingly reluctant to attempt new things and believe in themselves. They’re also likely to under- or over-estimate their abilities, setting themselves up for frustration and failure.

On the other hand, those with a growth mindset tend to be quick to create a simple strategy to deal with problems as they occur. And they’re better able to accurately identify their own strengths and weaknesses.

Interestingly, Dweck says that research done in the brain-wave lab at Columbia University, in New York, shows a link between actual brain activity and one’s perspective. 

In the study, participants with both types of mindsets were asked hard questions. When they got feedback, those with a fixed mindset were only interested in how well they scored, and didn’t want to learn the right answer. Those with a growth mindset listened to information that would enhance their knowledge, and seemed less focused on how they did on the questions themselves.

The good news is that you can actually change your mindset. But there are some things Dweck says you should know:

  1. Your mindset is part of your make-up. Understanding your mindset can help you think and react in a different way.
  2. If you have a fixed mindset, everything is about outcome: getting the grade, or rising to the top of the organization, for example. If you have a growth mindset, it’s about valuing what you do regardless of the outcomes.
  3. Generally, those with a fixed mindset prefer effortless success. It helps them prove their talent.
  4. You’re not always in your dominant mindset. Many people have elements of both mindsets, and you can have different mindsets in different areas of your life. For example, you might think your artistic ability is fixed (“I just can’t draw”) but you hope to develop athletic ability by taking golf lessons. Whatever mindset people have in a particular area will guide them in that realm.
  5. If you have a growth mindset, you most likely believe that abilities can be cultivated. But you should know some things probably can’t be cultivated, such as preferences or values.
  6. People with fixed mindsets have just as much confidence as those with growth mindsets. But someone with a fixed mindset tends to be more fragile and susceptible to setbacks.
  7. Those with growth mindsets don’t always feel confident. In fact, they sometimes plunge into something just because they’re not good at it. They just want to try.

If you want to re-adjust your mindset, how do you do it? Start by catching yourself giving up when something starts to get difficult — say when you’re doing a crossword puzzle, or playing video game or a sport.  “Put yourself in a growth mindset. Picture your brain forming new connections as you meet the challenge and learn. Keep on going,” Dweck suggests.

She also encourages people to leave their comfort zones and seek constructive criticism. “We can choose partners, make friends, hire people who make us feel faultless. But think about it – do you want to never grow?”

Learn more: Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, by Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D., Ballantine Books, 2006.

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