How to Use Fixed Mindset to Discover What Matters Most

If you’ve ever had a 4:00 a.m. thought about something you’ve done and you cringe, you may be experiencing the “fixed mindset.” Maybe it comes back to you as, “I screwed up.” It’s personal. Recalling it brings to life good old-fashioned shame.

For a more than two years, I’ve been recommending Mindset to friends and colleagues. Carol Dweck’s research defines what many people experience: failure calls into question one’s talent, intelligence, and track record. So instead of relishing new encounters, and what we could learn from them, we treat them as pass-fail tests. (I’ll talk more about the fixed-mindset habits and their effect in another post.) I like to think I’m pretty capable, but I saw myself in the symptoms. Understanding the fixed and growth mindsets proved useful.

But I’ve also struggled to help people use the concept. I still recommend the book. The more you pay attention to signs of these mindsets, the more you notice the extent of your habit of proving your talent to yourself and others, or avoiding situations where you may fail.

Still, how do you fix the fixed mindset? What’s become clear to me is that our commitments are where we don’t want to fail. We want to be good parents, ready and able for advancement at work, engaged and active citizens, a good shortstop on the softball team. If we have a fixed mindset, that’s where we will see it at work. And that’s where it will constrict us most, dogging our steps as we try to advance.

Before we fix the fixed mindset, we need to see it. And where we see it, it reveals some commitment that’s important to us. Start from either end. If you are hell-bent to succeed and determined not to fail, that’s the fixed mindset. It’s keeping you boxed in more than you think.

Or, think about what’s important to you. Where do you strive hardest to succeed? In what areas do you protect yourself from even small failures? Underneath the good intention and the effort, there’s a commitment that represents an important element of your identity. Notice these and you’ll start to see them show up in new settings. Don’t worry. The fixed mindset is more typical than you might think.

Take time to get used to your mindsets and where they appear. They’re clues to the most important things you believe. And if you’re noticing them, you’re also feeling an impulse to move beyond their limits.

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