• Fixed mindsets believe talent is innate and cannot be created, view challenges as insurmountable, make excuses, and run away from problems.
• Growth mindsets believe talent can be grown and improve, view problems as challenges to be aid growth, dive into issues, and face problems head on.
• Growth mindsets can replace fixed mindsets over time.
• Watch TED talks.
I read/listen to a lot of inspirational books, podcasts, and articles. I’d recommend that for everyone, especially writers, as writing can be mind-crushingly depressing. I don’t remember where I first ran into the concept of growth vs fixed mindsets, but I recently listened to NPR’s TED Radio Hour where one of the highlighted talks was from Carol Dweck, a psychologist from Stanford, who spoke extensively on the power of these two concepts.
Essentially, a fixed mindset says, ‘I either have or do not have an innate talent. I cannot develop it beyond what I possess. I am good at writing or I am not.’ A growth mindset, on the other hand, says, ‘Talent can be grown and developed. Challenges can be viewed as learning opportunities.’
Dweck’s full TED talk (which I highly recommend) can be found here http://www.npr.org/2016/06/24/483126798/should-we-stop-telling-kids-theyre-smart. She’s also written a book on growth mindsets called Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. I haven’t read it but if it’s anything like her talk, it’s probably good.
Fixed Mindset The Iron Machine
A fixed mindset is just that–it’s fixed. As Dweck relates, those with a fixed mindset tend to view problems as catastrophic and insurmountable. If they can’t ‘get it’ in the first or second try, they decide it’s just not their thing and give up. They flee problems, ‘knowing’ no matter what they do, they won’t be able to learn and grow. They focus on things they’re already good at, refusing to explore beyond the boundaries of comfort. They also tend to compare themselves to others they’re better than as a form of feeling better.
I view having a fixed mindset like being a machine that only performs a set number of tasks. A machine can’t grow, it can’t learn. As the machine sticks to what it’s good at, everything is fine. But everything outside its fixed parameters is off bounds.
This would be utterly depressing if it were true, and I’ve had most of the above generalizations fit me at one time or another. I struggled to get math in school, believing I just wasn’t good at it. I often believe I have a plateau of talent where I can only progress so-far and only attain mediocre results. I’ll never have the creative talent of some of my favorite authors. I’ll never create such unique settings, or develop such grand emotional stories or characters. Some of that might be true. As much as I’d like to produce stories along the lines of JK Rowling and Brandon Sanderson, I probably won’t. But having a fixed mindset only limits whatever potential I do have. And I can’t grow my ability unless I believe I can improve.
Growth Mindsets The Learning Mind
As opposed to the fixed mindset, growth mindsets view the world as one of opportunity. Limitations are meant to be tested and overcome. Challenges are perceived as opportunities instead of despotic machinations conspiring to destroy us. Talent can be grown. Difficult things can be mastered. Growth can and will happen. This doesn’t mean that growth mindsets believe in unlimited potential or that growing won’t be hard.
People with growth mindsets are the most successful people I know. While I struggle to get out of my fixed mindset, they push forward, unhindered, learning new things, believing in themselves. It’s a small difference, but it opens up hundreds of doors.
The best thing about the growth mindset is it can be learned. Dweck points out several studies that indicate this is the case. No matter what our age is, we can change. It’s like the quote from Henry Ford: “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t–you’re right.” If you don’t think you can grow, you won’t. If you think you can grow, you will.
How to Change
So how do we change from a fixed mindset into a growth mindset? All of us probably have a mixture of these two mindsets during different times or situations. Dweck has some great answers for how to change.
1) Believe you can change. Dweck’s talk is a great starting place to learn the research behind this concept and the power it can have.
2) Remember examples from your own life. Write them down. We’ve all had moments where we had to learn something very difficult that we thought would be impossible. For me, one was learning to play the bagpipes and math (I ended up playing a bagpipe band for a year, and eventually went on to major in a math heavy major for my bachelor’s degree). For you, it might be something related to writing or not. Review your list/success stories when you need a boost.
3) Focus on adopting a growth mindset. Start changing today! When something gets hard, view it as an opportunity for growth. This can be like exercising a new muscle. Try doing hard things. In my choir, we got, “Comfort Zone Assignments,” where we had to pick something outside our comfort zones, do it, then write a report on our experience. You may think this had nothing to do with singing, but being in a choir requires doing things outside your normal comfort zone. So does writing (and publishing, and querying, and self-promotion, etc.). So try this. Send out a report of your efforts to friends or family. It doesn’t matter if it’s big or small. Find ways to grow through uncomfortable situations.
4) Access the power of the great of learning. Put in the time to learn how to write. Read books, attend classes, search the internet, etc. Do diligent practice. Work on your craft and writes stories, short fiction, novels, or whatever it is you want to improve. Get feedback. Find people you trust to tell you what they really think including friends, fellow authors, strangers, beta readers, teachers, etc. And throw some diligent time at this. And also READ!!! Read other’s work and learn from them to see how they write.
5) Be careful with comparisons. Comparisons can be useful. They can show us where to grow and reveal new avenues to explore. They can also be severely damaging. Keep in mind who you’re comparing yourself to. If it’s an author who’s much older or who has much more experience than you, chances are you’re making a bad comparison. We also generally only see the final products of someone’s work, not their first draft. Other authors often have teams of editors behind them, helping make their books even better. So cut yourself a break. Compare to learn, but don’t compare to get bogged down.
Growth can happen. For example, my writers’ group has an annoying tendency to give stretch assignments for things we need to work on. It turns out, I stink at writing teenagers. My group noticed and, true to form, began assigning me to write about teenagers more often.
I HATED IT! But I did it. I also read up on how teenagers thought, asked some teenagers or other people about their experiences, reflected on my own, and read some teen literature. After a few submissions, I showed a marked improvement. Some of my teenage stuff is still terrible, but it’s MUCH better than it was and that’s the important thing.
So what are you? Do you tend to have a fixed mindset or a growth mindset? Do you believe you can learn to write great action, stunning romance, incredible settings, and engrossing plots? If you don’t think you can, you’re not alone. Maybe you can’t just yet but you can grow into it. That’s the final point I’ll bring up from Dweck, the power of replacing the concept of “failure” with “not yet.”
We can learn. We can grow.
I’d love to be an enormously successful author, but I’m not there yet. I hope to one day be. And I’ll be working on growing there in the meantime.