The word “mindset” is used quite often in current discourse, whether referencing a profession like the “mindset of a croupier“ or offering a solution to a personal problem such as “you just need to change your mindset”. Many people are talking about mindsets, but what do they really mean? Can understanding mindsets benefit you?
A mindset is a set of inner beliefs that shape our mental attitude and have a profound effect on how we handle the situations we encounter in our lives. Mindsets are usually informed by life experiences — the environment, education, culture and beliefs and attitudes of the people around us. It’s a type of inner monologue that colors how we see the world.
Stanford University Psychologist Carol Dweck first popularized the concept of mindsets in her seminal book “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success” (2006). During her research, she found that many of the beliefs we hold about ourselves are linked with our personality. Her discovery was that most people have either a “fixed” mindset or a “growth” mindset. A mindset that is “fixed” has the assumption that all the unique qualities of a person — their character, creative potential and intelligence — are unchangeable and that success in life comes from measuring up against a fixed standard. The typical attitude of an individual with a fixed mindset is that success and failure are black and white opposites; if you don’t reach one, then you must be the other.
A “growth” mindset, however, takes the opposite viewpoint. An individual with a mindset of growth sees failure as an opportunity for development and positive change, not evidence of unintelligence or inability. Challenges are met wholeheartedly by people with growth mindsets; setbacks are motivating and a reminder that if something isn’t working, it’s because it needs to change. Dweck found that these two mindsets can manifest at an early age, and are either encouraged or hindered by the environments that individuals grow up in.
Numerous other mindsets have been identified through research, self-inquiry and psychological study; however, they can mostly be grouped under growth or fixed. A common example of a fixed mindset is that of the “settler”. This is an individual who has built up a network of “settled” pathways in their brain in which they feel at home and comfortable. Although this is a necessary phase for any developing mind to go through as it develops confidence, security and stability, it can also become a restricted mindset to have in adulthood. A mindset of this nature is stuck in a single idea of how to be, creating beliefs about the self and others that won’t change and adapt over time. If one is too settled, it can lead to behaviors like giving up too quickly, feelings of stagnation, fear of the new and closed-mindedness.
A more empowered mindset is that of the “illuminator”. An illuminated mind is one that has transformed from being fixed and closed to being open and willing to change and adapt. Individuals with this type of mindset tend to be much more aware of how they need to adapt their belief system to ensure that they can successfully navigate all the different situations they will face in life. Because people with this type of mindset have gone through a phase of having a more restricted worldview, they are very well suited to positions in leadership or education. We all know that the best teachers are the ones who have experienced the process of learning and growing, and an illuminated mindset is one that always sees the true value of this process.
If you have a tendency toward a more fixed mindset, changing that can have a profound impact on every aspect of your life from your career to your personal relationships. Unlearning cognitive habits that have been with you for many years isn’t an easy process, however, and it certainly won’t happen overnight. But if you start with making a simple change, an attitude of non-judgment with yourself and your current situation, you’ll soon awaken that appetite for learning and growth that is needed to rewire your brain and adapt your mindset for the better.