How to develop a growth mindset

What happens when you're faced with a situation that challenges your ability and pushes you out of your comfort zone? Do you run away, avoid it at all cost? Do you think “I can’t do this” or “I’m going to fail”?


Or, does the challenge excite and motivate you to learn and grow? Do you think, “I can’t do this yet, but I can develop the ability and skills to overcome this challenge"? Do you think, “If I do fail this time, I will learn from it for next time”?

In this article, we'll explore fixed and growth mindsets and how they can help or hinder a positive response to challenges or discomfort. We'll look at how we can tap into our growth mindset to overcome the belief that we can’t do something. 

What are fixed and growth mindsets?

When we have a fixed mindset, we believe that our success is due to a natural ability. We assume that our basic skills and intelligence are fixed traits that we either have or don’t have and no amount of effort will improve them.

When operating from a growth mindset, we believe our success is based on the effort we put in. Hard work, learning, training and persistence - and a realisation that our abilities are not innately fixed, but can be developed and improved.

With a fixed mindset, we dread failure and avoid challenges that are outside our perceived skill set or comfort zone. We keep away from (or fear) situations where we might feel embarrassed or inadequate and we don’t ask questions for fear of “looking stupid”. As a result, we do not embrace new experiences and challenges that may help us grow and develop, and instead stay fixed in the now with what we comfortably know we can do. 

With a growth mindset, we see failure as an opportunity to learn and grow. We embrace challenges and find them exciting, and we are not afraid to ask questions. Our inner dialogue shifts from “I can’t do this” to “I can’t do this now, but with effort and motivation I can”.

As humans, we are likely to have a natural tendency to one or the other mindset, embedded by our beliefs, values and past experiences that make us who we are. It is, however, possible to challenge our fixed mindset and tap into our growth mindset. Realising that with effort, focus, motivation and learning we can become better at most things.

The terms fixed and growth mindset were coined by Carol Dweck, an American Psychologist who studied human motivation, development and personality. Dweck asserts that a growth mindset allows us to live a less stressful and more successful life. 

“Adopting a growth mindset means we not only cope better but actively look for opportunities for learning and growth.”

- Carol Dweck (2017)

What are the characteristics of a fixed mindset?

Dweck identified that a fixed mindset (the belief that intelligence is static) leads to a desire to look smart and, therefore, a tendency to: 

  • avoid challenges
  • give up easily
  • see effort as fruitless or worse
  • ignore useful negative feedback
  • feel threatened by the success of others

As a result, people with a fixed mindset may plateau early and achieve less than their full potential.

What are the characteristics of a growth mindset?

According to Dweck, a growth mindset (the belief that intelligence can be developed) leads to a desire to learn and, therefore, a tendency to:

  • embrace challenges
  • persist in the face of setbacks
  • see effort as the path to mastery
  • learn from criticism
  • find lessons and inspiration in the success of others

As a result, people with a growth mindset reach even higher levels of achievement (Dweck, 2006).

How to switch to a growth mindset

Shifting mindset is not easy, and doesn’t happen overnight. Our mindsets are embedded as a result of past experiences that create the lenses through which we view ourselves and the world around us.

However, by recognising when we are operating from a fixed mindset, and taking small steps to shift our thinking and behaviours, we can begin to operate from a growth mindset - and develop and grow our abilities and experiences.

Tips for tapping into your growth mindset

1. Face challenges with courage

If you feel you want to give up when something feels hard, persist! Think of it as an opportunity, an adventure, and recognise that the feeling of fear can be a motivational emotion to drive you to learn and navigate the challenge.

2. Be willing to make mistakes and be vulnerable

Making mistakes in front of others gets easier the more you do it. You realise the judgement you fear from others is often not as significant as your inner-critic has you believe.

Displaying vulnerability shows you are human and can draw out others' sense of compassion, often willing you to succeed. Learn from your mistakes and the mistakes of others. Ask questions when faced with something you don’t know, and believe in the phrase “no such thing as a stupid question”.

3. Embrace feedback

Actively seek and learn from feedback, rather than avoiding it or feeling defensive. Respect and embrace the different perspectives of how others view you or your work and take feedback as an opportunity to develop and grow.

4. Stop comparing yourself to others

Instead, feel inspired and learn from others. Trust your authentic self and your own personal strengths rather than aspiring to be someone you are not.

5. Combat negative thought patterns

When you find yourself saying or thinking “I should do this” change it to “I want to do this”. Replace “I can't” with “I can” or “I can’t yet”. When feeling the judgement of your inner critic, tap into your inner coach’s compassion and kindness.

6. Start from knowing your strengths and build on them

It is human nature to focus on our weaknesses and what we know we are not so good at. By starting from a place of knowing your strengths and how you can build on these as you develop and grow, you can then work on your areas for development with greater confidence, self-belief and self-compassion.

7. Take your time

Mindset shift does not happen overnight, and learning a new skill or process can take time. Embrace the process of learning and growing rather than focusing on the end result.

Ready to make the switch to a growth mindset? This is something coaching can help with, encouraging a shift in perspective and open thinking. Contact Ali below to learn more or use our search tool to find a coach today

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Life Coach Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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London, SE4
Written by Ali McNab, Career & Executive Coach (Dip. Transformational Coaching)
London, SE4

Ali McNab is a Transformational Coach helping people who feel frustrated, stuck or lost to reach a more fulfilled and balanced life. She will help you clarify where you want to be, explore your strengths and obstacles and define what needs to change to get you there.

Ali works with individuals and with charities supporting their staff well-being.

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