Life Hack: Consider Shifting From Fixed To Growth Mindset

Photo by h.koppdelaney

Photo by h.koppdelaney

There is nothing in a caterpillar that tells you it’s going to be a butterfly.” ~ Buckminster Fuller, Author, Designer and Inventor.

Far too many of us live with a fixed mindset. Fixed mindset assumes that our skills, intelligence, talent and capacity are in-born and hence largely fixed throughout our life. On the other hand, a growth mindset presumes that our skills, intelligence and talent are changeable with conscious effort; that they can be acquired and honed.

A person with a fixed mindset would think or say: I don’t have the talent to be an engaging presenter; I can never be super fit; my child has a gift for numbers but not for languages; or this colleague has limited future because of his low EQ. Subconsciously, believing that our smarts, relationship skills or motivation levels stay the same through life. If we are a certain way as an adult, or even as a child, we would stay that way forever.

A growth mindset appreciates the inherent potential for people to change. A person with a growth mindset would think or say: What can I learn from great presenters to be a better presenter; with commitment and proper training, I can become super fit; if my child develops a love for reading, her language skills can improve dramatically; or if I can support this colleague to become more aware of his limiting emotional responses, he can enjoy much better relationships.

Wide-ranging relevance

The idea of mindset as a psychological trait, first introduced by Stanford’s psychology professor Carol Dweck, has wide-ranging relevance. It directly impacts our work and leadership outlook, parenting style, quality of relationships, personal well-being and level of happiness.

Children and parenting

This trait gets built early on in our childhood. Parents with a fixed mindset tend to praise children for their talents rather than for their efforts. You are a natural at tennis or you are born to be an engineer. These messages inadvertently instil in the children the idea that their life is going to unfold based on the talents they are born with.

They then process any setback as a reflection of their lack of talent rather than lack of effort. This in turn is discouraging and creates self-doubt and lower self-esteem. Further, it shapes the way children approach learning. They subliminally become more focused on demonstrating how smart they are and how little effort they invest in their work.

To inculcate a growth mindset, we need to compliment a child’s efforts rather than talent; support them in recognising that hard work, commitment and perseverance are key to developing and honing any skills; that it’s not how you start, but how you choose to finish. They then experience school tests as a way to measure their current level of learning rather than their inherent smartness.

Work and leadership

People with a fixed mindset believe leaders are born. They operate with the premise that you either possess the required skills or you don’t. For a leader, this thought process is self-limiting and impacts their motivation to strive for higher goals. Further, it affects their perception of other colleagues, particularly their team members. They are more likely to assess their colleagues based on their inherent strengths and weaknesses; rather than see the latter essentially as opportunities for development.

Leaders with growth mindset view life as a learning journey. They do not perceive lack of knowledge or capability in any area as an inherent limitation and hence do not feel threatened in such situations. They don’t thus pretend to be smarter than they are to protect their ego and are very willing to be vulnerable in order to learn. Besides, such leaders are more supportive of developing and nurturing their team members – because they deeply believe the team members can.


Our judgmental nature hinders deep relationships. With a fixed mindset, we tend to judge others a lot more. He is lazy, irresponsible and uncaring. She is too aggressive and overbearing. Not only do such mental labels then bias our interactions, but also our judging presumes the other person’s personality traits to be permanent. That the other person is a certain type and would always stay that way.

A growth orientation encourages us to be more empathetic to the person for whichever way they are. While we can be honest in our assessment of their current traits, we do not judge them in any way. We recognize that people change over time and we are more willing to engage with them in the meantime. Moreover, among our closest relationships, we are then more open to actively supporting any positive changes that, for example, our partner or family member is trying to make.


A fixed mindset negatively affects our sense of well-being. We feel seriously constrained by our inherent traits, sometimes unable to see the possibility of personal growth and change. We judge and blame ourselves for our limitations. To avoid being seen as lacking in any way, we pretend to be more knowledgeable and skilful than we are. All these tendencies contribute to feeling inadequate, unhappy and unfulfilled within.

With a growth mindset, we see life as an unfolding journey of continuous learning and growth. Instead of pretending, we are willing to be curious and use every opportunity to learn. Rather than focus on our weaknesses, we see them as opportunities for growth. We focus on creating a plan to address those. Likewise, we don’t then see failures as a reflection of our inadequacies. We view them as lessons to be learnt for ongoing growth, making us emotionally more resilient.

Embracing growth mindset

As Marianne Williamson said, “You must learn a new way to think, before you can master a new way to be.”

As the law of impermanence reminds us, nothing stays the same and everything is changing all the time. 98% of atoms in a human body are replaced annually; our stomach lining dies and rebuilds itself every five days; and our brains have neuroplasticity – the ability to learn and rewire even until a late age. Likewise, people change, in their mental-emotional make-up, as age and life invariably teach us new lessons all the time.

We need to become actively aware of our mental commentary of the fixed mindset. That way we can catch it as soon as it rears its head and can consider making new choices. We can choose to be less judgmental of others and ourselves. We can focus on acknowledging our team members at work, and children at home, for their efforts and not merely their inherent strengths. Lastly we can commit to being open to learning at all stages of our life.

To learn more about Rajiv's book, 'Discovering Your Sweet Spot', or to place an order online, please click here.

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6 Responses to “Life Hack: Consider Shifting From Fixed To Growth Mindset”

  1. Arjun says:

    Dear Rajiv, outstanding piece. Thank you very much. Warm regards, Arjun

  2. Vasu B says:

    Very Insightful Rajiv.

  3. Manish Lalwani says:

    Hi Rajeev, I found this article very useful. The piece on praising Effort vs talent is classic! Thanks.

  4. Sudhir Goyal says:

    Thanks Rajesh for this insightful article.

  5. Surendra Soni says:

    Dear Rajiv,

    The Growth Mindset – What an inspiring thought to begin the new year with!

    This mindset thrives on the constant ‘learn, adopt, adapt & evolve’ cycle. Just like the learning cycle states that while being in a state of Conscious Incompetence, one becomes aware of the their own shortcomings (areas of development) & hence takes on the internal challenge of overcoming them.

    The mind is a superpower by itself and if one believes in something, then with the right efforts one can achieve those goals.

    Keep inspiring!

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