The notion that mindset plays a role in our daily lives is hardly a new one. For thousands of years, the world’s greatest philosophers, writers and thinkers have expounded on the virtues of mastering your mind to improve your quality of life. Fortunately, science can now confirm this notion as truth, offering a research-backed pathway towards greater wellbeing and high performance.

Decades of research from Carol Dweck, world-renowned psychologist and author of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, shows that the view you adopt of yourself profoundly affects the way you lead your life. It can literally determine whether or not you accomplish the things you value and become the person you wish to be. Research shows that mindset is so powerful, it has the capacity to improve your relationships, bolster your confidence and reduce the risk of depression.

The first step towards leveraging this high impact concept is to deepen your self-awareness and identify which mindset you embody most frequently:

Fixed Mindset
The fixed mindset is rooted in the belief that your intelligence and abilities are carved in stone, and no amount of effort or practice will affect positive growth. If you’re smart, it’s because you were born that way. If you’re talented, the talent comes from your genes. Not much you can do about it either way. This mentality leads to a desire to look successful to others and ultimately results in:

  • An urgency to constantly prove yourself → if you only have a certain amount of talent/charisma/etc., you better prove you have a healthy dose of them!
  • Avoidance of challenges → risks might reveal your inadequacies and shortcomings
  • Giving up easily → if you have to work at something, you must not be good at it so what’s the point in trying?
  • Lack of effort → trying and still failing is a waste, so better to only put effort towards things you know you can accomplish
  • Ignoring useful feedback → criticism damages your confidence
  • Feeling threatened → the success of others breeds insecurity and perpetuates the need to prove yourself

Those in a fixed mindset thrive when things are safely within their grasp. If things get too challenging (causing them to feel ignorant or untalented) they lose interest and tap out.

Growth Mindset
The growth mindset is rooted in the belief that intelligence and abilities are malleable; they can change and grow through effort and practice. Those in the growth mindset think about their brain like a muscle: challenging exercises develop strength and resilience. This perspective leads to a desire to learn and ultimately results in:

  • Embracing challenges → stretching yourself to learn something new is fundamental
  • Persisting in the face of obstacles → setbacks are opportunities for growth and learning
  • Seeing effort as the pathway to mastery → potential is unknowable, so keep working towards your next level
  • Learning from criticism → feedback is a tool for improving and developing
  • Feeling inspired → success leaves clues, and when people around you succeed it motivates and empowers you to keep forging ahead

Those in a growth mindset thrive when they are being pushed out of their comfort zone. Challenging circumstances act as fuel to propel them forward, and as a result they continue to uplevel their performance. Experiments and studies show that people with a growth mindset not only learn more new things, but they learn those new things faster and better.

Are mindsets a permanent part of your makeup or can you change them?
Most people have a default mindset, but it can be changed (and believing in this capacity for change is your first step towards cultivating a growth mindset!) Simply learning about the two mindsets can jumpstart the self-reflection that leads to deeper self-awareness around thinking patterns. You can’t change something that you’re not yet aware of, so this is a critical first step. From there, intentional shifts can be made to notice when you’re getting hooked by fixed mindset thinking and make a conscious effort to refocus your attention on growth mindset thoughts.

Do we have just 1 mindset? Can we be half-and-half?
Mindsets are seemingly black and white, but the reality is that many people have elements of both and often vacillate depending on the topic at hand. For example, you might think your athletic ability is fixed, but your intelligence can be developed. You might think of yourself as someone who is willing to grow and change, but you might think of your co-worker as an old dog who can’t learn new tricks. The research shows that whatever mindset you adopt in a particular area will guide you in that specific area.

What if I like my fixed mindset? Knowing what my talents and abilities are gives me clarity about who I am and what I’m capable of—and I like that.
If you like it, stick with it! Just remember that the fixed mindset creates a false sense of comfort by convincing you that you know the absolute truth about your level of ability. It’s possible that you may be robbing yourself of an opportunity by underestimating your ability in the first place. Studies show that in general, we are terrible at estimating our abilities. Dweck’s research takes this a step further by confirming that it is those with a fixed mindset who account for almost all of the inaccuracy! To that end, it could be worth experimenting with the growth mindset, even in areas you think you may lack ability or talent.

Can everything about people be changed, and should people try to change everything they can?
Not everything can be cultivated—for example, if you’ve always hated opera music or detested mayonnaise, it’s not likely that taking a growth mindset approach will change your personal taste. And just because something can be changed doesn’t necessarily mean it should be changed. If you tried to improve every tiny facet of your life, you’d probably wind up depleted. A certain amount of acceptance about your flaws and imperfections (particularly the ones that aren’t causing any harm to you or others) can free you up to focus on developing the areas that will give you the greatest return on your investment of time and energy.

Mindset is a simple but profound concept that can be the defining difference between you becoming a high performer and plateauing before you maximize your potential. Whether you apply this concept to your personal or professional life, your mindset is crucial to upleveling your game and achieving your loftiest goals.