Growth Mindsets: Creating Motivation and Productivity

Posted by | Feb 28, 2013

The key to success and achieving our goals is not necessarily persistence, hard work and focus. These behaviours are the by-product of something else. What is actually critical to our success is our mindset. Mindsets are beliefs about ourselves and our most basic qualities, such as intelligence, talents and personality.

We all have innate talents and skills, things that we are naturally good at or that set us apart from other people. The trap that we can fall into is believing that we are special, that we are smarter than other people and do not have to work hard to be successful. The moment we think success is defined by an internally fixed level of ability, we will be brittle in the face of adversity. Researchers like Carol Dweck, the Lewis and Virginia Easton Professor of Psychology at Stanford University, have defined two types of mindsets. Some people see intelligence as a fixed concept (fixed mindset), while others see it as a quality that can be developed (growth mindset). Fixed mindsets and growth mindsets lead to different behaviours and results.

The key to success is the adoption and development of a growth mindset that creates persistence and focus. Trying to directly address persistence, focus and hard work is not as effective as addressing the mindset that underlies the behaviours. In order to fulfill our potential we have to address how we think. Many of the most accomplished people of our era were thought to have little or limited ability, for example, Charles Darwin, Lucille Ball, Michael Jordan, etc. For more on this topic see the video here.

When we realize we can change our own abilities, we bring our game to a whole new level. How does it work? Neuroscience and brain imaging have given us some insight. For people with a fixed mindset, their brain becomes most active when receiving information on how they performed, such as a grade or a score. They are most worried about how they are judged. In contrast, for people with a growth mindset, their brain becomes most active when receiving feedback on what they could do better next time. They are most concerned about how they are learning.

Similarly, people with a fixed mindset see hard work and effort as a bad thing, something only people with low capabilities and intelligence have to exert. People do well at something because they are smart. When we inevitably hit a roadblock, challenge or failure, people with fixed mindsets tend to conclude that they are incapable. They protect their ego by losing interest or withdrawing. What appears to be lack of motivation is actually the result of a fixed mindset.

In contrast, people with a growth mindset see effort as a good thing, the thing that makes us smart and as a way to grow. When people with a growth mindset hit an obstacle, they tend to believe there is a way around it, that setbacks are part of growth, and that they that will figure it out. Growth mindsets view success as a result of effort and process.

How do we move from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset? When faced with challenges, listen for a fixed mindset inner voice and counter with a growth mindset voice.

Fixed mindsets ask:

  • What’s wrong (about me, the other person or the situation)?
  • Whose fault is it?
  • How can I stay in control (or avoid going out of control)?
  • How can I “look good"?

A growth mindset asks:

  • What’s right (about me, the other person or the situation)?
  • What am I responsible for?
  • What are my choices?
  • What can I learn?


Dweck, Carol S. Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. New York: Random House, 2006. Print.

"The Power of Belief - Mindset and Success: Eduardo Briceno at TEDxManhattanBeach." YouTube. YouTube, 18 Nov. 2012. Web. 27 Feb. 2013.