What Is a Growth Mindset?

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Define the concept of a growth mindset and discuss ways you can strengthen yours in order to move closer toward your goals.

[Featured Image] A group of coworkers in an office discuss the concept of growth mindset and how it contributes to their work everyday.

In simple terms, having a growth mindset means that you believe you are capable of developing your talents. The opposite is a fixed mindset, which is the belief that your talents are innate and cannot be developed.

When you have a growth mindset, you tend to feel confident, motivated, and optimistic—even when things don’t go exactly the way you’d hoped. When you have a fixed mindset, you may feel easily discouraged, insecure, or like you’re not good enough.

While the ideal state may be to always maintain a growth mindset, it’s more likely that you experience both mindsets at different times. However, research shows that having a growth mindset is key to experiencing success, so, in this article, we’ll further define the concept of a growth mindset and discuss ways you can strengthen yours in order to move closer toward your goals.

Growth mindset definition

A growth mindset is the belief that abilities and intelligence can be developed over time. When a person has a growth mindset, they tend to see all experiences—positive and negative—as learning opportunities. Rather than view a setback as a failure, they’ll receive it as information to make their path forward more productive.

For example, consider a student who receives a C on their math midterm exam. With a growth mindset, this student may review the exam and seek additional help to understand the concepts they didn’t grasp. They may also look for opportunities to improve their grade further with extra credit assignments or by changing their study routine for the next exam.

The concept of a growth mindset comes from the research of Dr. Carol Dweck, a psychologist and Stanford University professor who studies success and motivation. She identified the concept when researching the differences between people (namely, students) who succeed and those who don’t. One glaring difference between the two groups: their mindset. Those with a growth mindset tended to find success more frequently and easily than those with a fixed mindset.

Growth mindset vs. fixed mindset

A fixed mindset is the opposite of a growth mindset. While a growth mindset embraces the possibility of growth and change, a fixed mindset believes that abilities are set and immutable. A person with a fixed mindset views setbacks as failures and may even attribute those failures to their inherent lack of talent.

Consider again the student who receives a C on their math midterm. With a fixed mindset, this student will see that grade as evidence that they are just not good at math and cannot, no matter how hard they try, grasp mathematical concepts. For the student with a fixed mindset, there is nothing they can do to get better at math, and so they are unlikely to seek opportunities to improve their grade as they continue through the semester.

There are some cases where a fixed mindset can be a good thing, particularly when it comes to immutable qualities like aging or physical characteristics, but when it comes to skills and personal or professional development, you’ll typically benefit more from a growth mindset.

Before we move on to ways to develop a growth mindset, let’s consider some common signs that indicate whether someone has a growth mindset or a fixed mindset.

Signs of a growth mindsetSigns of a fixed mindset
Embraces challengesAvoids challenges
Excited to try new thingsFears failure
Willing to work toward successSees work as a waste of time or effort
Experiences setbacks, not failure, and seeks ways to overcome themExperiences failure and is discouraged or demotivated by it
Use feedback to accelerate growth and learningView feedback as criticism

How to develop a growth mindset

If you’re working toward a goal, adopting a growth mindset can be one of the most beneficial things you can do to enable your success. With a growth mindset, you’ll be mentally primed to navigate challenges, enjoy the learning process, and see your progress, whether big or small.

However, if you tend to have a fixed mindset, the act of adopting a growth mindset can be a challenge in itself, which can make your goals feel even farther out of reach. In fact, someone with a fixed mindset may even say, “I can’t adopt a growth mindset. My mindset is my mindset.”

In this case, the first thing to do is trust that you can change your mindset. Regardless of the self-perceived truths you repeat about yourself, you are capable of rewiring your mindset. Seek whatever evidence you need in order to start believing that this is true, whether that’s research-based books about growth and change, anecdotes about other people’s growth processes, or a scientific understanding of neuroplasticity.

Believing that you can change your mindset is only the first step. Nurturing a growth mindset can take time and practice. Here are some tips for developing a growth mindset:

Use growth language.

Language has the power to shape our beliefs and behaviors. Growth language, like, “I am trying,” “I am learning,” or “I am practicing,” carries the implication that where you are now is different than where you are going. In other words, growth language implies growth and movement toward something.

Fixed language carries more finality, with the main verb in your sentence being a variant of “to be,” for example, “I am bad at math.” Fixed language makes a statement about your identity, and people tend to behave in line with their perceived identity.

If you tend to use fixed language when describing your skills, one way to start signaling growth language is to affix “for now” or “yet” to the end of your sentence:

  • “I am bad at math—for now.”

  • “I am not good at math—yet.”

These may feel like small words at first, but as you repeat these sentiments over time, you’ll fortify your growth mindset.

Find opportunities in setbacks.

Your path forward may not be a linear set of successes. In fact, it’s likely that you will experience some setbacks or make mistakes as you move toward your goals. With a growth mindset, you accept this reality as a natural part of the growth process, and you take it one step further by exploring what you can learn from these setbacks or mistakes.

Any time you hit a roadblock in your progress, ask yourself, “What’s the lesson here?” Perhaps you’ll gain insight into a tricky concept or awareness of your ideal learning conditions. Use that newfound wisdom to improve your approach moving forward.

It’s okay to feel disappointed if things don’t turn out the way you’d wanted them to turn out. Show yourself grace in those moments, but those moments don’t have to define you. Remember your growth language: You are learning.

Seek growth opportunities.

A growth mindset has a sense of expansiveness—there are always new opportunities to learn and refine your talents. Proactively seeking those opportunities is one way to feed and accelerate your development.

Sometimes, seeking growth opportunities can mean advocating for yourself; identifying projects, resources, or people that can move you forward, and requesting to be a part of them. Other times, this can be a reflective act; thinking back on your development so far and analyzing what’s gone well or what could have been better, and seeking feedback from people in a position to help you achieve your next steps.

Seeking growth opportunities can offer you a sense of control over your growth progress. Ask yourself what you want to get better at, then think about the projects or people who can help you practice those skills.

Celebrate growth.

Growth is a process, not a destination, so to embody the growth mindset, celebrate the process.

Whether you reach a milestone in your journey or figure out the answer to a nagging question, acknowledge the work that you’ve put into your progress so far, and the results that work is already yielding. As you keep moving closer toward your goals, you’ll realize just how much those progress points have added up—and you’ll see how capable you really are.

Keep learning

Continue practicing your growth mindset with Coursera. Explore The Growth Mindset with the University of California, Davis, learn The Science of Success: What Researchers Know that You Should Know with the University of Michigan, or browse all personal development courses on Coursera. Sign up today for a free 7-day trial.

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