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Growth v Fixed Mindset

Updated: Jul 11, 2022

Carol Dweck, the professor of psychology at Standford, has spent over 40-years researching and conducting numerous studies to attempt to understand how we face and confront difficulties and threats in life and how our mindset plays a crucial role in success or failure.

According to Dweck, individuals can be placed on a continuum according to their views and beliefs of where ability comes from. This continuum has a growth mindset on the one side and fixed mindset on the other.

Those with a growth mindset show greater resilience and the ability to bounce back from setbacks. For example, in sport, people who exhibit a growth mindset are better able to handle threats, take criticism and problem solve than those with a fixed mindset, who are typically more likely to avoid the threat altogether, blame other factors for failure and ultimately give up.

Furthermore, those with a growth mindset have a hunger for learning and a desire to work hard to get results. There is a love of the process around a task or challenge sometimes even more so than the result. With a growth mindset, people see failure as feedback, and they can reframe threats into a challenge as an opportunity to learn and grow from. Those with a growth mindset have a relationship with failure. This is best summed up in this quote from Denis Waitley:

“Failure should be our teacher, not our undertaker. Failure is delay, not defeat. It is a temporary detour, not a dead end. Failure is something we can avoid only by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing”

Whereas those with a fixed mindset disposition have a need for approval as explained by Dweck,

“Every situation calls for a confirmation of their intelligence, personality or character. Every situation is evaluated; Will I succeed or fail? Will I look smart or dumb? Will I be accepted or rejected? They are seeking constant validation for all areas of their lives.”


Dweck has dedicated a large part of her career to numerous studies to begin to theorise and understand how growth or fixed mindset traits are grown and developed. What some of the findings are showing is the way children get praised has a huge influence.

In a repeated study over several decades, children that were praised on their intelligence and talent for solving a problem were far more likely to exhibit fixed mindset characteristics in future difficult situations.

Whereas children that were praised on the process, the effort, their strategies, their focus, their perseverance showed vastly improved growth mindset traits for future difficult situations. This form of praise produced kids that were hardy and resilient later down the line.

Furthermore, what Dweck discovered later on was that the children who had a fixed mindset disposition, when given the choice, would choose a test that they knew they could pass with little effort.

The opposite was true for the growth mindset children, often choosing a test that would stretch and challenge them even if the answer was unattainable. The growth mindset children leant into and embraced the struggle over and above the fact whether they got the correct answer at the end.

The growth mindset children had their identity so wrapped up in getting the answers correct and looking a certain way in front of their teachers and classmates. What was even more striking was that when these children were asked to present their marks back to the class, they often lied and exaggerated their final grades so as "not to look dumb" or to seem "less intelligent".

Another groundbreaking bit of research was conducted in a high-performing inner-city school in a vastly underprivileged area of Chicago. This school had a track record of producing hardy and resilient students who often outperformed their wealthier contemporaries at private schools in the region and produced students who went on to do amazing things with their lives and for the betterment of their communities. What Dweck found is that when it came to teachers grading the students tests scores, rather than marking the answer as wrong or incorrect, the teachers would give the grade of NOT YET. This seemingly simple yet profoundly impactful small adjustment gave the students a feeling of being on a journey of growth and self discover. Rather than a cold, hard stop of a wrong answer.


If you feel you have a strong fixed mindset setting, it's not all doom and gloom however. The process can be reversed with time and the correct practices no matter your age or years of avoiding threats or difficulties.

So how can we relate these amazing findings to our own lives and look to cultivate more of a growth mindset in all we do?

Language and the way it is used in regard to our belief systems and behaviours is immensely powerful. The language we hear from others plays a crucial role to our identity, but what is of higher value and importance is the language we use ourselves to tell our own story. In sports this is often referred to as our inner voice.

First and foremost, we need to work on becoming more aware of our inner voice and the tone and words we use to describe threats and difficulties to ourselves. Once awareness of our inner voice takes place a huge step in the right direction has occurred. Awareness is the first step of the 4 A's (awareness - acceptance - action - assessment) in George Mumfords model of mental toughness. Awareness is a fundamental tool that needs to be practiced and developed.

Professor of psychology at Santa Clara University, Shauna Shapiro talks about the brain and the strengthening of neural pathways, synapses and ultimately our identity in this wonderful saying: “What we practise grows stronger”. If we practice judgement, we grow judgement. If we practice impatience, we grow impatience. If we practice doubt and fear, we grow doubt and fear. This is what our inner voice is doing. We are strengthening these pathways in the brain when the language we use is of this negative nature.

Try and make it your goal to make awareness of your inner voice your first port of call. Once awareness of the inner voice is more present then you need to begin to reframe the way you speak to yourself. Practice traits and behaviours of growth mindset people, and like anything, with time and practice you will form strong and permanent habits.


A tool I use and recommend to help to reframe your inner voice involves 2 very simple and powerful words: YET and GET.

Let me explain, if you are struggling to do something and your inner voice has made its mind up, add the word YET to the end of the sentence, similar to how teachers graded their students papers in the above research. For example;

  • I am not going to be good enough to compete at that level / I am not going to be good enough to compete at that level YET

  • I cannot execute that shot like I want / I cannot execute that shot like I want YET

  • I get frustrated playing this opponent and cannot beat them / I get frustrated playing this opponent and cannot beat them YET

Observe how the word YET added to these sentences gives the feeling of being on a journey of growth and discovery. This should assist in reframing some fixed mindset sentiments.

Secondly if there is a sentence you tell yourself that has the word have in it, take a moment and replace it with the word GET, for example;

  • I have to go to the courts and train again this week even though I am tired / I GET to go to the courts and train again this week even though I am tired

  • I have to spend time working on my mental side of the game / I GET to spend time working on my mental side of the game

  • I am feeling unconfident and driven but I have to play this match / I am feeling unconfident and driven but I GET to play this match

Think of how lucky you are and how many less fortunate people in the world would love to GET to do the things that you deem you have to do?!

So, in closing, become aware of the inner voice and the language you use when confronted with difficulties or threats. Are you perceiving them with a fixed or growth mindset? If you have a fixed outlook on them, you are likely to continue to see them as a threat. But alternatively, if you can reframe this threat into a positive challenge by using a growth mindset outlook, you may just find a lot of learning, success, and positivity along the way. Awareness is a fundamental tool that needs to be practiced and developed.


- Try and make it your top-level goal to make awareness of your inner voice your priority

- Once awareness of the inner voice is more present then begin to reframe the way you speak to yourself

- Practice traits and behaviours of growth mindset people (see below image), and like anything, with time and practise we form strong and permanent habits

- Use the tools of YET and GET in your language when your inner voice is of a negative or defeatist tone. This can really help turn a negative into a positive and help you realise you are on a journey

- Journal. Write down times and events where a fixed mindset trait highjacked a difficult situation and how you will deal with the same or similar situation in future. Being able to reflect on a negative experience gives you an improved psychological immune system for future difficult events

- Try and use the line “I’m having the thought that…” when you become aware of your inner voice that may be exhibiting fixed mindset characteristics. This is a powerful distancing tool from a fixed mindset perspective and gives you the ability to reframe how you are perceiving this challenge

Observe the below image of phrases and sentences that are attributed to the two mindsets.

If you liked this blog, please do share with others that may be interested on this subject and find it of use. I work closely with players on all aspects of their game and mind. I offer online Zoom lessons and become a mentor and accountability partner for players. I find 1:1 online lessons immensely powerful for learning and am now using the court more so for practice. Being able to learn away from the ‘distractions’ of playing is proving to be highly valuable.

“Learn online, practice on-court.”

Please do get in touch by emailing me:

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