Our mindset is the way we think, filter our thoughts and make meaning of a situation. Is mindset fixed, or can we change it – and help others change theirs?

Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck developed the term “growth mindset” after researching motivation, personality and development. Dweck suggests that a growth mindset evolves from an attitude of hard work, learning, training and perseverance. In comparison, individuals with a fixed mindset believe that success comes from innate ability, focus on the rewards of immediate success and dread failure.

Dweck describes a fixed mindset as “believing that your qualities are carved in stone,” which creates an urgency to prove yourself over and over. A growth mindset, on the other hand, is “based on the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts.”

The growth mindset is all about learning, growing and continuing to work hard despite setbacks, while a person with a fixed mindset may be embarrassed by and not willing to admit their personal or professional failures. You can recognize the difference between the two by these examples of statements from each mindset:

  • Fixed: I was born with no rhythm, so I don’t dance.
  • Growth: Dancing isn’t my natural talent, but I become better with practice.
  • Fixed: I’m never able to keep my emails organized.
  • Growth: I’m going to try new techniques to keep my emails organized.
  • Fixed: Nothing is going right. It’s going to be one of those days.
  • Growth: That didn’t go great, but I can learn from it and move on with my day.

Dweck does not deny that people differ in their natural abilities, but she stresses that it is continued effort that makes abilities grow. We need the right mindset to allow this growth to happen.

Growing out of a fixed mindset does not happen overnight. It takes conscious effort to move to a different way of thinking. Coaching an individual to develop a growth mindset can be a challenge. Here are some tips.

  • Encourage them to listen to their inner voice. Their fixed mindset may be telling them that they can’t or shouldn’t do something, as they will fail and look stupid. This inner voice will ultimately limit their thinking.
  • Help them understand that they can change that voice if they believe they have a choice about how they talk to themselves and how they perceive and handle failure.
  • Tell them, “It’s ok to argue with yourself.” Ask them to share when they hear and resign themselves to limiting thoughts, and encourage them to “talk back” to those thoughts. Recognizing and stopping a fixed mindset belief and reframing it into a growth mindset perspective is a big step.
  • Ask them, “If you were to approach this task with a growth mindset, what would you do or say next?” This question may be uncomfortable and difficult now, but it will become easier.

Growth comes down to a belief that we can break free from a fixed mindset and reframe it to set positive expectations, thoughts and behaviors. Coaching someone to tune in to their inner voice helps them recognize when they are in a fixed mindset and make a conscious choice to switch to a growth mindset. The more they practice, the more natural it will become, and they will develop their own growth mindset.