Fixed & Growth Mindsets

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The term fixed and growth mindset, originates from research conducted by world-renowned Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck, who concludes that people can be placed on a continuum according to their implicit views on where ability comes from.

In a fixed mindset, when you fail you are a failure. In a growth mindset, when you fail, you are learning.

– Carol Dweck

What is a fixed mindset?

When people are at the fixed mindset end of the continuum, they believe that their basic qualities, such as talent or intelligence, are fixed traits. In other words, they view their talent and intelligence as being inherent, and are more inclined to agree with a belief such as “I/you/he/she was born to do this”.

Fixed Mindset
Fixed Mindset

What is a growth mindset?

In a growth mindset, people believe these basic qualities can be developed through persistent effort which is channeled in the right direction. As a result of this perspective, those with a growth mindset will become more intrinsically motivated, developing greater resilience and a deeper love of learning – characteristics which are essential for great accomplishment.

Growth Mindset
Growth Mindset

The power of language

The language we use has a significant impact, particularly with developing athletes, so be mindful of the effect that your words may be having on the recipient. 

Below are two exchanges that have the potential to create a fixed mindset in the receiver…

Fixed Mindset Exchange #1
What the coach/parent says: “You make the game look so easy.
What the athlete/child thinks: “I’d better not appear like I’m really trying hard – I need to make things look easy.”

Fixed Mindset Exchange #2
What the coach/parent says: “You’re so naturally gifted, you were born to do this.
What the athlete/child thinks: “I’d better not try anything too difficult, otherwise I might show that I’m not that talented.

Essentially, in these exchanges, the coach/parent is broadcasting the message, “You have permanent traits and I’m judging you.

Now compare these exchanges with the two below, which are much more likely to foster a growth mindset

Growth Mindset Exchange #1
What the coach/parent says: “You’re making good progress with all the effort you’re putting in.”
What the athlete/child thinks: “The effort I’m putting in is making me a better player.

Growth Mindset Exchange #2
What the coach/parent says: “I admire the way you tried different methods until you found one that works.
What the athlete/child thinks: “Even though it was difficult to start with, I kept going and found a way.

With these exchanges, the message communicated by the coach/parent is, “You are a developing person, and I’m interested in your journey of growth.” 

Creating a growth mindset

So how do you develop a growth mindset in your athletes or children? Skilful questioning is a good starting point, so frame your queries to encourage your athlete or child to think about how they’ve improved rather than how good they are. Examples of this include…

What did you learn from today’s performance?”

What steps did you take to make you successful today?”

Can you think of any different strategies which you could have used?”

How did you keep going when things got tough?”

What can you learn from your opponent today?”

Feedback is equally as important as good questioning, and again it’s vital that you highlight the effort and learning process…

This may be a challenging concept to learn, but I believe you can master it.

You haven’t got it yet, but you will if you keep working and thinking about it.

I really appreciated your effort today.

It’s ok to take risks, that’s how we learn.

Getting better takes time, and I see you improving.”

In summary, here are the takeaway points for helping to promote a growth mindset… 

  • Praise the process, not the person. 
  • Provide reassurance that you are supporting, not evaluating.
  • Frame challenges as opportunities to improve, not outcomes to be judged.
  • Encourage a love of learning and developing, not a desire for winning at all costs.

The evidence is clear – those with a growth mindset are far more likely to achieve sustained success, than those with a fixed mindset…and as a coach or a parent, you possess a great deal of influence as to which mindset your player or child develops.

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