A Growth Mindset: Think and Change

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Switch" by Chip and Dan Heath. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What are the two types of mindset? What’s the role of mindset in behavior change?

There are two primary types of mindset: a fixed mindset and a growth mindset. If you have a fixed mindset, you believe that you’re wired a certain way and can’t change. If you have a growth mindset, you believe you can grow if you put in the effort. You’re far more likely to change when you believe that you can.

Here’s how having a growth mindset can help you make behavior change a reality.

A Fixed Mindset vs. a Growth Mindset

There are usually numerous setbacks throughout the process of change. Approaching these setbacks with the right mindset is the difference between change that succeeds and change that fails. There are two main types of mindset: fixed mindset and growth mindset. 

1) Fixed mindset: You believe that you are “wired” a certain way—there are things you’re good at and bad at, and they don’t change. The way you act is simply a reflection of your natural abilities. For example, you avoid social situations because you’re naturally shy or you volunteer for presentations because you’re naturally good at public speaking.

  • People who have a fixed mindset usually don’t take on new challenges because they fear failure and the judgment of others. To them, failure indicates a lack of ability—that presentation didn’t go well, so you must actually be a bad public speaker.  

2) Growth mindset: You believe that ability is something that can be practiced and built up over time. Those with a growth mindset value effort over ability—they’re more likely to be successful because they’re not afraid of the hard work it takes to get there. 

  • People who have a growth mindset aren’t afraid of challenges because they know that trying new things will help develop their abilities—and they see failure as a learning opportunity. 

Imagine the student trying to be more environmentally conscious takes her car to work—a half-mile walk—every day for a week due to iffy weather. 

  • If she had a fixed mindset, she would say, “I’m a bad environmentalist. I can’t even stick to this simple challenge. I should just give up.” 
  • If she had a growth mindset, she would say, “This wasn’t my best week, but I learned that I’m prone to being thrown off by inconvenience. I’ll have to be more aware of that.” 

Developing a Growth Mindset 

The good news is, fixed-mindset people can develop a growth mindset. When facing a personal change or leading a group through a change, think about the different parts of the process and the inevitable failure you’ll meet. Change processes usually have two distinct parts: 

  1. The first part of change involves gathering information about the best way forward and finding solutions to problems. This stage comes with a strong sense of hope and motivation.
  2. The second stage involves synthesizing all these hopeful ideas into a coherent plan and starting action on it. This part often doesn’t go entirely to plan, and can feel cumbersome and messy—it’s demotivating because it feels like failure. 

When you reach this second stage, it’s crucial to remember that what looks like failure is in fact a learning process. Normalizing failure in this way reassures you (or the group you’re leading) in several ways. 

  • Failure is seen as an essential part of the process rather than a dreaded or shameful event. 
  • It affirms that failure isn’t the end of the road—there’s an “other side” of failure to reach. 

When you feel reassured enough to push through the messy stage of failure—rather than quit—your chances of success increase. Getting through the failure and seeing problems untangle boosts your confidence and builds momentum. 

(Shortform note: Read our summary of Mindset for more tips on fostering a growth mindset.)

A Growth Mindset: Think and Change

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Elizabeth Whitworth

Elizabeth has a lifelong love of books. She devours nonfiction, especially in the areas of history, theology, and philosophy. A switch to audiobooks has kindled her enjoyment of well-narrated fiction, particularly Victorian and early 20th-century works. She appreciates idea-driven books—and a classic murder mystery now and then. Elizabeth has a blog and is writing a book about the beginning and the end of suffering.

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