Growth vs Fixed Mindset

As I've written about before, attitudes have a big impact on behavior and outcomes. One of the most crucial attitudes for athletes is the growth vs fixed mindset, a concept written about by psychologist, Carol Dweck in her book Mindset. A fixed mindset means that you believe traits such as intelligence, athletic ability, and compassion are static, meaning that you are born with a certain level of a trait and cannot improve upon it with practice. On the other hand, a growth mindset means that you believe traits such as intelligence, athletic ability, and compassion can be developed through practice.

These two simple beliefs, or attitudes about traits and practice have many consequences. One major consequence involves confidence and motivation. People with growth mindsets believe they can improve with practice, therefore they desire to practice and improve, whereas people with fixed mindsets don’t believe they can improve with practice, so they are not as confident and motivated to improve.

A second consequence deals with taking risks. Since people with fixed mindsets believe they are born with a certain level of a trait and can’t change it, they are constantly worried about impressing others and hiding their shortcomings. They reason that if they fail at a task, people will think that they are naturally bad. They are afraid of being labeled “bad” or “stupid” because they believe there is nothing they can do to improve. Because of this mindset, they avoid risks and challenges and instead seek easier tasks to prove that they are successful and good. The problem with this is that without taking risks and challenging yourself, you don’t improve as much. But with a growth mindset, people know that in order to improve, they need to challenge themselves and take risks, therefore they do challenge themselves and take risks because improvement is their main goal. They don’t see failure or criticism as a reflection on their self-worth, they see it more as feedback for improvement.

Attitudes on effort is also affected by the fixed and growth mindset. Since people with fixed mindsets think that exerting effort proves that they are not naturally gifted (since gifted people can succeed without trying), they avoid effort, while people with growth mindsets view effort as the most necessary ingredient for improvement and success, so they embrace it more.

The fixed and growth mindset even affects your relationship with other athletes. When other athletes succeed, people with fixed mindsets feel threatened. They may think they are inferior to successful athletes, therefore they are too competitive with their egos and attempt to bring others down. This can make them bad team captains and leaders, since they don’t like to see others succeed. It is the athletes with growth mindsets that have better relationships with their competitors. Instead of feeling threatened, they are inspired by the success of other athletes and want to learn from them. They are more collaborative with other athletes and train together to help each other improve. This also makes them good leaders.

As you can see, the fixed and growth mindsets are very important. Most athletes fall on a spectrum when it comes to having a fixed or growth mindset. Some athletes have a growth mindset for certain traits and skills and a fixed mindset for other traits and skills. Since a growth mindset is shown to be better for confidence, motivation, effort, success, dealing with challenges and adversity, happiness, and relationships, I suggest you shift your mindset more towards a growth mindset. This can be done through self-awareness and cementing the belief that traits can be improved with practice and the belief that improvement is the main goal.