Authentic V’s Learned Mindsets

How you get your Mindset makes all the difference!

Authentic vs Learned Mindset


Recently, I was re-reading the first chapter of Carol Dweck’s book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, and something extraordinary struck me. In just the first chapter, she lists more than 20 examples of people with either a Fixed or Growth Mindset.

Dweck describes Lee Iacocca, CEO of Chrysler, as having a Fixed Mindset; Darwin Smith of Kimberly-Clark as having a Growth Mindset; Mia Hamm, the great female soccer player, as having a Growth Mindset; tennis player John McEnroe as having a Fixed Mindset … the list goes on.

What struck me was the fact that these people all held fixed or growth beliefs about their abilities. Yet not one of them had read Dweck’s book before it was published! They had never been taught about Mindset, and probably had never even heard the term!

It’s easy to forget that Dweck did not invent Fixed and Growth Mindsets. She simply described and named the beliefs people already held about their abilities.

For me, the question for educators is how did these people develop their Mindset before Dweck described and named them as growth or fixed?

Pathways to Developing Your Growth Mindset

In The Agile Learner, I describe how when someone experiences growth, they come to develop a Growth Mindset. People like Darwin Smith and Mia Hamm had put in the right sort of effort, achieved significant growth, and could look back and recognise that their efforts had produced significant changes in their abilities.

These people have what I describe as an authentic Growth Mindset. Their personal experience of growth created the belief that they could grow. Then Dweck came along, recognised these beliefs and called them a Growth Mindset.

This authentic path contrasts starkly with the way most schools approach Mindsets.

The most common strategy is for students to experience a lesson about Growth Mindset! For example, we give lessons on brain plasticity and we ask students to change their language.

This approach gives rise to what I call a learned Growth Mindset. Students learn about a Growth Mindset, but without necessarily achieving or experiencing growth.

We want students to achieve growth. The problem is that believing you can grow is not the same as achieving growth. We don’t believe our way to growth – growth requires action. A Growth Mindset is an invitation to take steps towards achieving growth.

And if students get those actions wrong, they will fail to achieve real growth. In this case, their lived experience of not growing conflicts with their learned experience that growth is possible. And, as I’ve written about before, “not yet” becomes “still not yet”.

Beliefs, Actions and Experience

Understanding that Mindset is the result of a cycle of belief, action and experience is critical to understanding how to change it. To succeed in developing authentic Growth Mindsets in students, we need to focus on all three parts of this cycle. Simply telling students they can grow will ultimately fail, if we don’t also teach them how to grow and ensure they also experience that growth.

This explains why so many of our Growth Mindset interventions are failing to produce significant changes in student performance. We teach students ABOUT Growth Mindsets without teaching FOR Growth Mindsets

Students with a learned Growth Mindset, sound like they have a Growth Mindset, and may respond well to Growth Mindset surveys but may fail to achieve significant growth.

Next week, we will look at how we can use our understanding of the belief, action and experience cycle to describe four pathways to a Fixed Mindset. Importantly, we’ll explore why some people can achieve extraordinary growth but still have a Fixed Mindset.



James Anderson is a speaker, author and educator who is passionate about helping fellow educators develop students as better learners. James’ work combines Growth Mindset with Habits of Mind and Practice to create Learning Agility. He puts the growth back into Growth Mindset. And through creating and describing the Mindset Continuum, he provides the cornerstone for effective Growth Mindset interventions.

James is a Certified Speaking Professional and speaks regularly at conferences around the world. He has published several books including Succeeding with Habits of Mind, The Agile Learner, The Mindset Continuum and The Learning Landscape.

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