Promoting Self-Care and Resiliency


Skillbuilder 4: Practicing a Growth Mindset vs. a Fixed Mindset

Substantive studies by Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D. and others have shown that learning and development actually increase our brainpower.  These findings are contrary to more conventional thinking--that intelligence is fixed--we are born with certain strengths and weaknesses; certain gifts, such as athletic or artistic prowess, certain aptitudes, and so forth.  Yes, we are each born with a unique genetic code.  But according to these research results, continuous learners have considerably more success in reaching their goals than those with a ‘fixed mindset.’ As they continue to face new challenges and learn new things; as they continue to grow--their brains are growing too.

One of the problems with a fixed mindset is that people are more likely to avoid challenges and give up when the going gets rough.  They take failure personally.  They are more sensitive to criticism.  The inherent belief that intelligence is stagnant keeps them from trying new things, especially when they think they might fail.  

Keeping the ‘synapses firing’ by acquiring knowledge and developing skills enhances one’s ability to confront and conquer new challenges.  Growth mindset individuals see challenges as an opportunity to learn and criticism as a chance to grow.  

Let’s say two Student Affairs employees, Mark and Maria, are told that recent organizational changes require that they move to other departments.  Mark has more of a fixed mindset and Maria, a growth mindset.  At the risk of asking the obvious, which do you think is going to make the most successful transition?  Maria, of course.  

Since new jobs often involve learning new skills--Maria will embrace the challenge thinking, “Good, I can add more skills to my professional toolkit--plus, I really enjoy learning new things.  I’ve always wanted to know more about finance.”

Mark is more likely to think, “I like my job here.  I don’t want to learn a bunch of new processes and information or have to get to know a whole lot of new people.  Besides, I’m not familiar with finance--I probably won’t be any good.”

Exercise: Your Mindset

Look at the chart below.  Overall, how would you describe your mindset?  It’s possible, even likely, that you have traits on both sides. Put checkmarks next to mindset traits (Fixed or Growth) that you possess, rather than what you believe you should have.

Think about a situation, either in your personal or professional life, where you can practice one or more ‘growth mindset’ behaviors.  This exercise going to involve earnest effort on your part.  Notice how you feel afterward.



Intelligence is static


Intelligence is malleable


Avoid challenges

Embrace challenges


Gives up easily

Persists in the face of setbacks


Sees effort as fruitless or worse

Sees effort as path to mastery


Ignores useful feedback

Learns from criticism

Success of others

Feels threatened

Finds lessons and inspiration



Using the chart above, think about your staff.  When you think of each member, which mindset comes to mind?  Think about what your approach would be if you more ‘fixed’ than ‘growth’ mindset individuals. Choose one ‘fixed’ employee.

What can you do to move him/her toward growth?  Following are a few scenarios that may help.

  • Staff Member: A change is coming. The individual says, “I’ve been through enough change in the last few years.  Nothing seems to happen except more change!”

  • Manager:  Remind the employee that change is the new normal, not only at the University, but in organizations around the country and the world. Let’s think about what new skills/knowledge have you acquired in the last couple of years? It may not seem like it to you, but I have watched you grow over the last few years. I think the changes you have had to make are contributing significantly to that growth.”

  • Staff member:  Jane is frustrated.  She’s been writing a progress report about a complex project--different players, a tight budget.  She comes into your office saying, “I give up! This thing is driving me crazy; I just can’t finish it.”

  • Manager:  “It is a challenging assignment.  But it looks like you’ve made significant progress.  Let’s go through it together--break it down, and determine what needs to be done.  Perhaps you can ask others on the project team to write or edit what you have so far.  With a little help, I know you can get this done.”

When working with ‘fixed mindset’ individuals, coach with growth behavior.  If they are not too deeply entrenched in fixed thinking, redirecting their perspective and behavior  may be a simple as reminding them how far they’ve come, complimenting them on their progress, or lending a hand to get them over the speed bump they are facing at the moment.