Can the way we think about ourselves and our abilities shape our lives? Absolutely. The way we think about our intellect and talents not only affects the way we feel, it can also affect what we achieve, whether we stick to new habits, or if we will go on to develop new skills. A growth mindset means that you believe your intelligence and talents can be developed over time. A fixed mindset means that you believe intelligence is fixed—so if you’re not good at something, you might believe you’ll never be good at it.
At Procera Health, we’re all about growth mindsets and encouraging people to adopt a positive outlook on learning as they age. So, let’s look at growth vs. fixed mindsets together, explore the science, and see how people can change their mindsets over time.
Growth vs. Fixed Mindset Outlook
Some people believe that the human brain stops developing in childhood, however, we now know through neuroscience that the brain is constantly evolving and changing. Many parts of the brain respond to experiences and our ‘software’ can be updated through learning.
Despite the neurological facts, some people still think that you’re stuck with the talents and ‘smarts’ you’re born with. Psychologist Carol Dweck, from Stanford University, was the first researcher to explore the idea of fixed and growth mindsets. In Dr. Dweck’s seminal work, she described the two main ways people think about intelligence or ability as having either:
In this mindset, people believe that their intelligence is fixed and static. People with a fixed mindset typically believe that their level of intelligence and abilities are innate. In Dr. Dweck’s own words, fixed mindset people believe that “they have a certain amount of intelligence and that's that, and then their goal becomes to look smart all the time and never look dumb”. A fixed-minded person usually avoids challenges in life, gives up easily, and becomes intimidated or threatened by the success of other people. This is in part because a fixed mindset doesn't see intelligence and talent as something you develop—it's something you "are".
A growth mindset views intelligence and talent as qualities that can be developed over time.
This doesn’t mean that people with a growth mindset assume that they could be the next Einstein—there are still variables in what we can all achieve. A growth mindset simply means that people believe their intelligence and talents can be improved through effort and actions. A growth mindset also recognizes that setbacks are a necessary part of the learning process and allows people to ‘bounce back’ by increasing motivational effort.
Those who adopt a growth mindset are more likely to:
• Believe intelligence can be improved
• Put in more effort to learn
• Believe effort leads to mastery
• Believe failures are just temporary setbacks
• View feedback as a source of information
• Willingly embraces challenges
• View others’ success as a source of inspiration
• View feedback as an opportunity to learn
The Neuroscience Of A Growth Mindset
Scientists have measured the electrical activity in the brain to understand the brain correlates of a growth mindset. Using neuroimaging, researchers have found a link between a growth mindset and activation in two key areas of the brain:
• The anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) - involved in learning and control
• The dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) - involved in error-monitoring and behavioral adaptation
A growth mindset appears to be linked to higher motivation and error correction. It is also associated with lower activation in response to negative feedback. Additionally, researchers have shown that in growth-minded people, the brain is most active when a person was told how they could improve — for example, tips on what to do better next time. Meanwhile, in those with a fixed mindset, the brain is active when a person is being given information about their performance – for example, the results of a test. This suggests that people with a growth mindset are more focused on the process, rather than the result.
Can A Person’s Mindset Change?
Just as someone can grow and develop their intellect, a person is also capable of changing brain functions and their thinking patterns. Neuroscience shows us that the brain continues to develop and change, even as adults. The brain is similar to plastic in that it can be remolded over time, as new neural pathways form. This has led scientists to identify the tendency of the brain to change through growth and reorganization as ‘neuroplasticity’. Studies have shown that the brain can grow new connections, strengthen existing ones, and improve the speed of pulse transmission. These suggest that a person with a fixed mindset can slowly develop a growth mindset.
How To Develop A Growth Mindset
1. Realize that, scientifically, you can improve - one of the most direct methods of fostering a growth mindset is by understanding our brains are built to grow and learn. By challenging yourself with new experiences, you can form or strengthen neural connections to ‘rewire’ your brain which, in turn, can make you smarter.
2. Remove the ‘fixed mindset’ inner voice - many people have a negative inner voice that acts against a growth mindset. Try to flip thoughts such as ‘I can’t do this’, to ‘I can do this if I keep practicing’ to nurture a growth mindset.
3. Reward the process - although society often rewards those who achieve excellent outcomes, this can work against a growth mindset. Instead, reward the process and the effort exerted.
4. Get feedback - try and seek feedback on your work. When people are provided with progressive feedback about what they did well and where they can improve, it creates motivation to keep going. Feedback is also associated with a pleasurable dopamine response and enhances a growth mindset.
5. Get out of your comfort zone - being brave enough to leave your comfort zone can help foster a growth mindset. When faced with a challenge, try to choose the harder option that will allow you to grow.
6. Accept failure as part of the process - failure, setbacks, and initial confusion are all part of the learning process. When trying something new, see occasional ‘failures’ as positive learning opportunities—try to enjoy the discovery process along the way.