The Mindset Continuum: Get a Nudge in the Right Direction

Most of our attempts to change students’ Mindsets are failing. Why? 


1. We’ve been teaching about a Growth Mindset, instead of for a Growth Mindset

We’ve treated Growth Mindset like a topic. We’ve taught people about what it is and why it’s important, and told them they should have one. But that hasn’t worked. The people who Professor Carol Dweck describes as iconic examples of a Growth Mindset in the first chapter of her book, Mindset, never had a Growth Mindset lesson. They didn’t have a poster on their wall telling them what they should think and say. They hadn’t even read Dweck’s book! These people had developed what I term an Authentic Growth Mindset. This Mindset is the accumulation of a lifetime of experiences that developed and reinforced their belief in their capacity to change their most basic characteristics.

2. We thought it would be quick and easy. It’s not

We wanted quick fixes and fast results. But you can’t simply choose to have a Growth Mindset. Deeply held beliefs that have been developed throughout a lifetime aren’t changed quickly or easily. You can’t simply “change your mind” when it comes to your Mindset. As Dweck has pointed out, a Growth Mindset is not a declaration, it’s a journey. And in the beginning, we did not recognise the complexity of implementing Growth Mindset strategies.

3. We fell victim to the False Mindset

Our Mindset is comprised of deeply held and often unexamined beliefs, which are part of what psychologists call our unconscious bias. They guide our actions when we are not paying attention. So, sometimes, even our best Growth Mindset strategies backfired.

4. We didn’t understand the Mindset Continuum
To understand Mindsets, it’s useful to view them from the dichotomous perspective of fixed and growth. But when we seek to change Mindsets, it’s more helpful to recognise that they fall along a continuum. There aren’t two types of people in the world, those with a Fixed Mindset and those with a Growth Mindset. In reality, we are all somewhere on the Mindset Continuum. Recognising this opens the door to effective Growth Mindset interventions. 

Mindset Continuum: Towards interventions that work!

Where we find ourselves on the Mindset Continuum is the net result of all the positive and negative Mindset Movers we experience in our lives.  

A positive Mindset Mover is a message or experience we create to help shape a more growth-oriented Mindset in the people we lead. It might be as simple as encouraging Effective Effort, or helping students understand the backstory that created the extraordinary talents of someone they admire. Positive Mindset Movers move you towards the growth end of the Mindset Continuum. 

Of course, the reverse is true of negative Mindset Movers. For example, categorising people as a “type” pushes the people we lead towards the low-growth or fixed end of the Mindset Continuum. 

Give yourself a nudge and create positive Mindset Movers

The challenge of creating environments full of positive Mindset Movers is the fact that our unconscious bias governs most of our actions. So, we fall victim to the False Mindset. We try to create a positive Mindset Mover, but instead, we accidentally create a negative one. 

For example, the rule of “praise effort”, when filtered through our more Fixed Mindset lens, unintentionally becomes “praise struggling students for effort”. Struggle becomes associated with a lack of ability, and a negative Mindset Mover is created. 

What we need is a “nudge” in the right direction, something to help us overcome our unconscious bias. 

A “nudge” is a term from behavioural psychology. It is something that encourages or influences you to take a particular action. In the context of changing Mindsets, a nudge encourages us to create a positive Mindset Mover when there’s a chance we might create a negative Mindset Mover. 

I recently wrote about two nudges we can apply to our efforts to create positive Mindset Movers: “group by verbs, not adjectives” and “attach time stamps to performances”. Both help create positive Mindset Movers on a daily basis. 

So, if you want to implement Growth Mindset interventions that work, you need to use nudges that help you create positive Mindset Movers. 

My Growth Mindset workshop outlines more than 30 nudges you can easily apply in your classroom, home or workplace. They will help you create an environment rich in positive Mindset Movers. 

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be talking about nudges and how the analogy of the Learning Landscape helps create positive Mindset Movers in our classrooms. 

(I wrote a book about The Mindset Continuum and how it can help you implement Growth Mindset strategies successfully. Download it for free from here.)


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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In The Mindset Continuum, James Anderson gives deep insights into the practical application of Carol S. Dweck’s work. He explains why most current Growth Mindset interventions are failing and provides clear and compelling direction for schools wanting to implement Growth Mindset strategies that work!

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