10 Characteristics of Fixed and Growth Mindsets

I Can't

Why do people think differently? Is it their background, genetics, talents, experiences, family life, environment, learning techniques, IQ, personal habits…?

In her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D. quotes Robert Sternberg, a modern intelligence guru, ‘the major factor in whether people achieve expertise, “is not some fixed prior ability, but purposeful engagement.” His forerunner Blinet recognized, “it’s not always the people who start out the smartest who end up the smartest.”‘


Dr. Dweck helps us determine whether we have a growth or a fixed mindset. This is important because,

“The view you adopt for yourself profoundly affects the way you lead your life. It can determine whether you become the person you want to be and whether you accomplish the things you value.”

Read each statement Carol poses, and then think about whether it describes you or not.

  1. Your intelligence is something very basic about you that you can’t change very much.
  2. You can learn new things, but you can’t really change how intelligent you are.
  3. No matter how much intelligence you have, you can always change it quite a bit.
  4. You can always substantially change how intelligent you are.

Questions 1 & 2 represent a fixed mindset. Questions 3 & 4 are representative of a growth mindset. You may be a mixture of both, but in general people tend to lean one way or the other.

The test can be applied not only to abilities, but to personal qualities too.

  1. You are a certain kind of person, and there is not much than can be done to really change that.
  2. No matter what kind of person you are, you can always change substantially.
  3. You can do things differently, but the important parts of who you are can’t really be changed.
  4. You can always change basic things about the kind of person you are.

For this set of statements, 1 & 3 are fixed-mindset, while 2 & 4 reflect the growth mindset. Was it different? It can be.

 Characteristics of a Fixed Mindset

  • Believing that your qualities are “fixed” (unchangeable, carved in stone)
  • Traits are what you were born with and what you have to live with
  • Need to prove yourself (over and over)
  • Experiences are used as confirmation (of intelligence, personality, character)
  • Hide deficiencies
  • Look for relationships to build up self esteem
  • Use what’s tried and true
  • Blame others, full of excuses
  • Label themselves (I am… I can’t…)
  • Failure is a direct reflection of ability

Growth Mindset Characteristics

  • Basic qualities can and should be cultivated
  • Everyone can change through application and experience
  • Passion for learning
  • Don’t need to prove themselves, because time can be used to actually get better
  • Overcome weaknesses
  • Look for relationships with people who will challenge and encourage growth
  • Step outside their comfort zones, take risks
  • Confront Challenges
  • Persistence. Sticking with something even when it is not going well
  • Failure is a learning opportunity

Risk and Effort

What’s the biggest difference in the two mindsets? The approach to risk and effort.

A person with a fixed mindset is more likely to avoid risk, because it’s uncomfortable. They are also less likely to put effort into things because they feel like their abilities are pre-determined. They fear challenge, and devalue effort.

A person with a growth mindset sees the value in challenging themselves. Their focus is on development and they believe that growth comes through effort.

This video posted by Foundr Magazine illustrates these two mindsets beautifully:

“Some people see the thing they want, and some people see the thing that prevents them from getting what they want.” – Simon Sinek


Imagine for me that you’ve decided to learn something completely new to you, photography for example. And you signed up for a class in. A few sessions into the class, the instructor calls you up to the front of the class and starts throwing questions at you. One right after the other.

Picture your self in a fixed mindset. Standing in front of a room of strangers in a subject that’s new to you being asked a barrage of questions. Your ability is on the line. Either you have what it takes or you don’t. Can you feel the class staring at you? Do you feel the tension in the room? What else do you think? Feel?

Now switch places. Picture yourself in the same situation, this time with a growth mindset. Your a beginner, that’s why you took a class – to learn. No one expects you to know all the answers. The teacher has the knowledge that you want, she is a resource. Feel the tension dissipate, feel your mind open up and your protective wall come down.

Dr. Dweck writes,

“A belief that your qualities are carved in stone leads to a host of thoughts and actions, and… a belief that your qualities can be cultivated leads to a host of different thoughts and actions, taking you down an entirely different road.”

Great News! You can CHANGE your mindset.

Go back to the original question: why do people think differently? Using what we now know about mindsets, we can answer that people do not think differently because of what they have (intelligence, personality, character…). In fact, it is the other way around, they have what they do (in many instances) because of how they think.

If you have been living with a mindset that isn’t serving you, you don’t have to keep it! You can make up your mind to see the value in changing and apply effort into cultivating a new way of thinking.

What mindset do you have? Do you want to change it?


  1. Dweck, C. S. (2008). Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. Ballantine Books. p.6, 12-13.
  2. Foundr Magazine (2017). Facebook. Retrieved from https://www.facebook.com/pg/foundr/posts/?ref=page_internal Videos. Feb. 6, 2017. Go After What You Want – Simon Sinek

Krista Palo

I'm Krista, the owner and creator of Evolve. I have a masters degree in Business Administration and I am passionate about development, motivation, and change. I love stories in all of their forms, and believe in continuous learning and the power of positivity.

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6 thoughts on “10 Characteristics of Fixed and Growth Mindsets

  1. I love Dr. Dweck’s work. It’s fascinating to me how much depends on whether or not we *believe* we can change.

    For me personally, I really go back and forth a lot between the two mindsets. I believe strongly that people can change, yet I also struggle with how much of my core personality is change-able. It’s an interesting place to be. 😉 But I guess it’s all in the way I look at things!

    Love that Sinek quote. So true.

    • I have recently been amazed at the power of self-talk. Sometimes even if we are stuck in a fixed mindset, we can move into a growth one when we practice positive self-talk. I struggled for a long time with a fixed mindset and when I get tired or frustrated I find it trying to sneak it’s way back in. I think the biggest thing is not to be hard on ourselves. It takes time to change and sometimes we take one step forward and two steps back.

  2. My girlfriend is a high school teacher and she sent me this link to send to my college daughters. Reading it really resonated with me as I watch my daughters evolve into adults. Both are very fixed in their own way. AS a parent, it is very difficult to get across to a young mind that things can change if you change your thinking and approach.

    • I’m so glad to hear that it resonated with you! I agree it can be a hard thing, but it can be done. And the only reason I can say that with a surety is because I have done it! It’s a choice we make every day of how we see the world. It gets easier and easier but it takes time, encouragement, and lots and lots of practice!