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  • Writer's pictureCandy Widdifield

Fixed vs. Growth Mindset

Updated: Jun 23

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Our beliefs about whether our intelligence, personality and moral character are set in stone or are changeable can have a big impact on our approach to brain retraining and our progress over time. Understanding the differences between a fixed and growth mindset and learning the tools to develop a stronger growth mindset are the focus of this blog.

Fixed Mindset

People with a fixed mindset believe that we simply are who we are. Our intelligence, personality, and moral characteristics are innate and cannot be changed much, if at all. This leads to a reluctance to take on new challenges. With a fixed mindset we are more likely to:

  • Think negatively about ourselves and others

  • Give up easily

  • Avoid difficult tasks or challenges

  • Act defensively

  • Struggle with anxiety and/or depression

"If you have only a certain amount of intelligence, a certain personality, and a certain moral character— well, then you’d better prove that you have a healthy dose of them. It simply wouldn’t do to look or feel deficient in these most basic characteristics....I’ve seen so many people with this one consuming goal of proving themselves— in the classroom, in their careers, and in their relationships. 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? Will I feel like a winner or a loser?" - Carol Dweck, Author of Mindset

Instead of seeing failure as a natural and unavoidable part of the learning process, it is seen as a character flaw. This creates a fear of failure, which limits our potential for growth and development.

Growth Mindset

"There’s another mindset in which these traits are not simply a hand you’re dealt and have to live with... In this mindset, the hand you’re dealt is just the starting point for development. This growth mindset is based on the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts." - Carol Dweck

People with a growth mindset hold an internal belief that talents and intelligence can be developed through hard work and dedication. With a growth mindset we are more resilient, persistent and motivated. We:

  • Love learning

  • Embrace challenges, discomfort and uncertainty

  • Are good at developing new skills

  • Have faith in ourselves

  • Learn and grow from mistakes

  • Are open to feedback

  • Set goals focused on learning and development rather than achievement and outcome

Failures do not define someone with a growth mindset; they are seen as an opportunity for learning. Failure gives us an opportunity to reflect on our mistakes and to think of new ways to approach a challenge. This assists us in developing new skills and strategies that we can apply to future situations.

"The passion for stretching yourself and sticking to it, even (or especially) when it’s not going well, is the hallmark of the growth mindset. This is the mindset that allows people to thrive during some of the most challenging times in their lives." - Carol Dweck

The beliefs that we hold about whether our qualities are fixed or changeable lead to a whole host of thoughts, feelings and actions. It is easy to see how these beliefs could shape not only our approach to brain retraining but also how we respond to setbacks or down dips in our recovery journey. People with a growth mindset are more likely to stay motivated, put in effort and persist with difficult tasks. This doesn't mean that people with a fixed mindset aren't motivated, but their beliefs about what they are capable of (or not capable of) impacts their effort and willingness to persist.

"Whether you think you can or you think you can't, (either way) you're right." - Henry Ford

Developing a Growth Mindset

Developing a growth mindset is a skill. It takes intentional effort and practice, but like any skill our ability to engage from a growth mindset will improve over time with deliberate practice. As we stretch out of our comfort zone, learn new things, embrace failure and mistakes, and try doing things differently, we are forming new neural connections in the brain. These new connections will help us to enhance our skills and abilities. Some ways to develop a growth mindset include:

  1. Take a bigger picture perspective. By stepping back and seeing things from the bigger picture we are less triggered and more able to see the options and possibilities ahead of us. This enhances our understanding, calms the nervous system, and allows us to bring online more of our executive functioning tools in the brain (including problem solving and creating thinking).

  2. Embrace challenges. See them as an opportunity for growth and learning. Stretch the edges of your comfort zone and take risks. Remember that you didn't learn to walk the first time you tried. It took lots of practice and lots of falling down to develop that skill. We are wired to learn from mistakes. It is part of our nature. Embrace it. By doing hard things we build our confidence, develop our skills, and it reminds us at times to ask for (and be open to) help.

  3. Reflect on what went wrong (or isn't currently working) and how you can improve. This kind of self-reflection can really help us to grow. Instead of perceiving it as, "I'm not capable", see it as, "I'm not there yet". Adding the "yet" helps us recognize that it is a work in progress and that it is changeable. Sometimes this step includes asking for feedback and being open to receiving it. This is where coaching sessions can be useful.

  4. Notice the skills you already have. Because people with fixed mindsets tend to be focused on the negative, reflecting on the skills we do possess not only brings them to the forefront and makes them more available for us to use, but also helps us to balance out the negativity bias. This can help us build confidence.

  5. Engage in self compassion. Be kind to yourself. Have faith in you. This expands our window of tolerance for challenges and stressors and helps us persist even when things get tough.

A growth mindset can go a long way in supporting the rewiring process. With a little effort we can start to expand beyond the limitations of a fixed mindset and gain the benefits!

Best wishes on your retraining!

Caelum's Insights (A Functional Neurology Perspective):

Generally speaking, there are some distinct differences in the brain's of men versus women. As we know, the brain is split into two halves: the right and left hemisphere. These hemispheres are connected by a structure in the middle called the corpus callosum. Women develop a thicker corpus callosum than men and this area develops at a younger age. Men tend to be more left brain dominant, whereas women tend to be more right brained. This is why when little kids are mad, boys are more physical and girls are more vocal. The left side of the brain is more logical and movement based. The right brain is more creative and thinking based. (This is also why some women rant and their husbands try to logically fix it instead of just listening).

We also see these differences play out with the center for our emotions, known as the amygdala. The left side amygdala drives past-based emotions and the right drives future based emotions. Given the left brain dominance of men, this explains why they tend to have higher rates of depression and like to reminisce about the good old days, whereas women have higher rates of anxiety and future based thoughts.

In order to counteract the effects of the amygdala you can stimulate the opposite side of the brain. You can stimulate the left side of the brain by doing math, listening to rock music in the right ear only, or by talking. To stimulate the right side of your brain you can colour, draw, look at pictures, and listen to jazz or classical music in the left ear only.

Also, given the topic of today's blog, if you are interested in a really great (and short) You Tube video about learning from failure, click here.

If you have any questions you would like answered in this blog, please email me at


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