As the school year gets underway, there is a well-laid trap many students may fall into over the course of the semester and even over the course of their life.

This trap comes in myriad forms. It can manifest as feelings of inadequacy over a bad homework score. This trap may make you think you are a bad athlete for not beating your record after months of training and that you should stop trying to train for that record. It may even have you revel in the schadenfreude that comes when your ex-partner can’t find a date.

While these examples may seem disparate, they are all indicative of the mental trappings of the fixed mindset. 

The fixed mindset, simply put, makes people believe aspects of their lives are fixed. This mindset can apply to nearly every aspect of the human experience, such as intelligence, social or sports ability, financial wellbeing or even business acumen. This mindset is often characterized by the belief that one does not need to work towards a goal, as they are inherently superior (or in some cases, inferior) to others in a specific trait. This can lead to a whole host of problems, including depression, narcissism and a decrease in academic ability.

Conversely there exists another mindset that believes greatness or superiority in a subject is achieved by hard work and effort. This mental model is unsurprisingly called the growth mindset. This mindset has been well researched and has clear benefits over the fixed one.

Instead of seeing another person’s success as their own failure, people with the growth mindset often find motivation and inspiration from the success of others. People with this mindset see hard work as the way to master a difficult subject or task. These are a few of the advantages the growth mindset has over the fixed one.

The effect of the growth mindset can be found in astonishing areas. A good example of this is Wilma Rudolph. As the result of poor childhood health, she suffered notable instances of scarlet fever, polio and pneumonia by the age of four. The polio had paralyzed her left leg and Wilma’s doctors said she would never walk again. After eight years of dogged training, she was able to walk without a leg brace. Eight years after that, following her astonishing performance in the track events of the 1960 Rome Olympics, Wilma became the first female athlete to win three gold medals in track events and even set an eight-year world record for the 200-meter dash. Commenting on her amazing turnaround in physical ability, Wilma is quoted by Tom Biracree in his book “Wilma Rudolph” saying she “just want[ed] to be remembered as a hardworking lady.” That’s the power of the growth mindset.

Thankfully, the fixed mindset is not forever. Anyone can change how they think about the world and continue their growth as an individual. This all starts with realizing there is no ceiling to any skill and you can always learn more about running a business, raising a family or a subject in school. From there, seek out challenges that will put your mind to the test. Ask others for help and don’t be afraid of setbacks. Do these things and you will certainly be happier and achieve more in your life.

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(1) comment

Steve Gregg

Grayson, you’re on to something here. Another way to put the fixed vs growth mindset is fatalism versus free will. A fatalist believes everything is fixed and you can’t change it. A fatalist believes he has no agency. A believer in free will sees everything as up for grabs. He can change anything with enough work. He can bend the future to favor him.

The way to become intelligent is to do intelligent things. You should think of college as a gymnasium for the mind. If you do enough mental pushups, you will become mentally stronger, more intelligent. If you work your brain hard in college, you can come out of it ten or twenty IQ points higher. If you just do enough to get by, you’ll probably graduate not much smarter than you started.

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