This is NOT a Growth Mindset

Usually, I try to make my blogs thoughtful and considered. I spend quite a bit of time crafting them, reflecting on them and clarifying my message. (Hopefully, you’ve noticed and appreciated that!)

But not today! Today, I’m fed up. I’m frustrated. And I’m over it! Today, I want to take aim at the “wisdom of Pinterest”, and the incomplete messages that are so often repeated there.

So, please, let it be known that contrary to what you’re led to believe on Pinterest (and quite a few other places online), this is NOT a Growth Mindset:

  • I can learn anything I want to
  • When I’m frustrated, I persevere
  • I want to challenge myself
  • When I fail, I learn
  • Tell me and I’ll try hard
  • If you succeed I am inspired
  • My effort and attitude determine everything.

These are the symptoms of a Growth Mindset.

Your Mindset, as psychologist Carol Dweck describes it, is the culmination of your beliefs about your most basic characteristics, such as your intelligence, talents and abilities. When you believe that these are malleable and subject to change based on your efforts, you have a Growth Mindset. As a result, your actions align with your beliefs. You take on challenges, persist and listen to feedback to change your abilities (assuming that’s what you want to do).

Incomplete messages about the Fixed Mindset also abound online. The following is NOT a Fixed Mindset, it highlights the symptoms of a Fixed Mindset:

  • I’m either good at it, or I’m not
  • When I’m frustrated I give up
  • I don’t like to be challenged
  • When I fail I’m no good
  • Tell me I’m smart
  • If you succeed, I feel threatened
  • My abilities determine everything

A Fixed Mindset is the belief that you can’t significantly change your most basic characteristics. In light of this (incorrect) belief, the above statements and behaviours make sense! Why would you persist at changing something that’s unchangeable? Why would you listen to feedback that can’t help you? Why would you take on a challenge that might result in people seeing you as less than they do now?

The trouble, of course, is that the Fixed Mindset view of the world is wrong. We can change our most basic characteristics. (I outline how in my book, The Agile Learner).

But let’s be 100% clear, our Mindset is NOT a set of behaviours. It’s a set of beliefs. Or, more accurately for a Growth Mindset, it’s a set of understandings about how abilities are changed. If we want to make a real impact on students’ Mindsets, we must ensure they understand that their abilities can be improved, and we must teach them how to do that (see The Agile Learner).

We are not working effectively with Mindsets when our only strategy is to tell students to “do” this:

These are actions, not beliefs! To change beliefs, we need to address where they come from and correct any misunderstandings. This takes time – more time than I’ve got in this rant!

If you want to know more about how to change beliefs, how to create Mindset Movers, and how help develop robust and enduring Growth Mindsets, have a look at The Agile Learner.

So there. I’m done and pressing send on this blog. I apologise for any spelling or grammatical errors.

Mindsets are not a set of actions. They are a set of beliefs. Changing Mindsets means changing beliefs.



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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