Researchers have found that a person’s mindset can be one of two different types: A “fixed mindset” or a “growth mindset.”
Of course, a person can also have a “mixed mindset,” but that’s rare. So, what exactly does it mean to have a fixed or growth mindset? Why I am writing about this? And, does it have anything to do with the prevailing issues in our society?
Believe it or not, the topic of mindsets has a lot to do with our society, and all the problems we have been facing so far. But let’s begin from the basics.
Research shows that the views we adopt profoundly affect the way we live our lives. Our ideas, thoughts, and personalities are shaped by it.
The growth mindset
This is based on the belief that our basic qualities are things that we can cultivate and change through our effort.
Although we differ in every way -- in terms of intelligence and aptitude, interest to temperament -- every one of us can change and grow through application and experience.
People with growth mindsets don’t believe that they all can be Einsteins, but they do believe that their true potential is unknown, and it is impossible to foresee what can be accomplished with years of “passion, toil, and training.”
They believe that there is always room to improve.
Such people don’t hate to fail. They love challenges. They learn from every fall, and stand tall to learn further.
They cherish the means and, at the same time, focus on the ends. They believe that there is a way to be good again.
The fixed mindset
On the other hand, people with fixed mindsets believe that their qualities are set in stone. They are unable to change it.
This mindset creates an urgency to prove themselves over and over and show off their talentss and achievements.
These people are always scared of revealing their weaknesses. They feel insecure. They crave wealth. They expect rewards for everything they do and see competition in everything. They want to reach the end no matter the means.
In almost every organisation (both private and state-sponsored), we inspire fixed mindsets -- in the name of talent and genius -- and discourage learning-oriented growth mindsets
Research shows that students with fixed mindsets are more likely to cheat in the second test if they fail to achieve the expected results in the first. Or they will try to comfort themselves by comparing their results with worse performers. They don’t try to learn from the mistakes, nor work harder to do better.
In short, people with fixed mindsets are afraid of failure, rejection, and challenge. It’s more like people are always trying to convince themselves and others that they have a royal flush while they are secretly worried about holding a pair of 10s.
Though people with fixed mindsets may sometimes achieve big things (mostly through manipulation, and our society proudly facilitates this most of the times), it is a grave problem and a great threat to the ultimate growth and prosperity of a society.
Tough reality checks
In almost every organisation (both private and state-sponsored), we foster fixed mindsets and discourage learning-oriented growth mindsets.
It probably worked in the older times, but it doesn’t work anymore.
The world is moving fast now, technology is changing the rules of each and every game.
People cling onto their fixed mindsets and deny every opportunity to learn. Moreover, they pull others into this vicious cycle and corrupt their views as well.
In effect, first a society and then the whole nation becomes of a fixed mindset. It thinks it is moving forward, when in reality, it is racing backward.
Where does it begin?
Everything starts with family. And so, if a family possesses a fixed mindset, it is most likely that its new members will also have fixed mindsets. Corrupt and unethical family members usually raise corrupt and unethical souls.
However, family members mostly learn from school. Our schools (in fact, the entirety of our education system) promote fixed mindsets.
The system literally diminishes the curious side of a child’s mind by dividing a classroom into “talented” and “untalented” students based on grades earned.
Teachers praise only the talented students and take them to a point when these students can no longer tolerate failure; and so they lose their appetites to learn and grow.
On the other hand, teachers mostly ignore untalented students (unless there is a monetary incentive on the table) which ultimately shuts down almost every door for those students to learn -- failing to fathom that every child is born with immense potential to learn and grow. Every one of them could learn and become a good human being.
If we want to solve our society’s problems of corruption, radicalism, inequality, poverty, and rape, we must ensure an education system that teaches, inspires, and promotes the growth mindset.
If our policy-makers fail to understand the gravity of this fact, we will simply keep moving backwards.
SM Musa is a PhD candidate at ERIM, Erasmus University, the Netherlands. He can be followed in Twitter @i_amMusa.