Fixed Versus Growth

Four Scary Words.

Whenever I conduct a live Breaking Free workshop, I finish Session 1 with an announcement that some people find really scary:

Remember this week, use the Breaking Free online assessment and coaching program! Take the assessment, and next time we meet we can discuss how you did!

The Breaking Free assessment is a vital centerpiece of the transformation process. We offer it right up front so people can measure where they are and use that measurement as a baseline for transformation. It gives them the ability to celebrate the growth ahead!

But some don't see it that way. For a certain type of thinking, which we will reveal in a moment, all it takes to create instant fear is four scary words: "Let's take a test." Say these four words, and you might as well have said, "Freddy Krueger," "Terrorist attack!" or "Deadly virus."

Why is this? Renowned Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck tells us the answer is in our mindset.

The Fixed Mindset

The first is the fixed mindset. "Believing that your qualities are carved in stone," Dweck writes, "creates an urgency to prove yourself over and over. If you only have a certain amount of intelligence, a certain personality, and a certain moral character - well, then you'd better prove that you have a healthy dose of them. It simply wouldn't do to look or feel deficient in these most basic characteristics."1

For those with a fixed mindset, the test score is forever. It doesn't measure progress. It measures fixed intelligence. It reveals deficiencies that they believe can't be cured. It condemns. It shames. The reason they don't want to take the test is because their inner motto is, "Look smart, don't look dumb." Fixed mindset people are always asking themselves, Will this make me look smart or dumb? Will I be accepted or rejected? For those with a fixed mindset, testing creates fear.

The Growth Mindset

The alternative mindset is the growth mindset, which is based on the belief that your basic qualities are cultivated and developed through effort. "There's another mindset in which these traits are not simply a hand you're dealt and have to live with, always trying to convince yourself and others that you have a royal flush when you're secretly worried it's a pair of tens," writes Dweck. "In this mindset, the hand you're dealt is just the starting point for development." For those with a growth mindset, testing creates excitement. It tells them where they are so they can make progress.

Fortunately, mindset can be changed. We can learn to have a growth mindset. We can realize that most great accomplishment comes from effort, not pure talent. Success is never perfect or immediate, so let's abandon that false idea, and commit ourselves to measure and develop ourselves over time.

1Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D., Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, (New York: Ballantine Books, 2006), p. 6.