Growth Mindset

“Greatness isn’t born, it’s made.” Do you believe this? Or do you believe that some people are just destined for greatness?

Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D., author of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, presents the idea that personal success comes down to a central belief about ourselves, which falls into two mindsets:

Those with a fixed mindset believe that we all have inherent traits, abilities and skills. These individuals try to prove their talents by being successful, and avoid situations that will highlight their shortcomings. “I’m just not good at math.” “She’s a natural-born leader.” “I’ve never been musically inclined.”

Those with a growth mindset believe that, while we are all endowed with different qualities, our abilities can be cultivated through concentrated effort. Individuals with this mindset are focused on developing and improving their inherent skills and talents.

While the fixed mindset avoids failure and seeks out success, the growth mindset embraces failure as a necessary means to achieving success. Dweck advocates for the latter mindset because it drives us towards self-improvement, rather than restricting us to our natural abilities. In other words, success is about learning versus simply proving that you are smart. Read more fully about fixed vs. growth mindsets in the article “How Your Beliefs Can Sabotage Your Behavior,” by James Clear.

Adapting a growth mindset means recognizing that success is not about avoiding failures, but rather about embracing them, taking on challenges, and not giving up. As author and art historian Sarah Lewis observes, “We thrive not when we have done it all but when we still have more to do.” In other words, it is our shortcomings that can drive us to be better. If everything comes easy, or if you are constantly reaffirming what you already know or are capable of, then you are also limiting your opportunities for personal progress and growth.  Watch Carol Dweck’s presentation on growth mindset below.

What kind of a mindset do you think you have? One quick way to analyze your mindset is to consider how you would react in the following scenario: You find out that you did really poorly on a research paper and, when you come out of work that same day, you find a ticket on your car. You send a text about the rough day you’re having to your friend who responds, but kind of brushes you off. What would your reaction be?

  1. “I feel like a reject, a total failure. I never seem to get anything right. The world is out to get me.”
  2. “I really need to try harder in class, maybe join that study group. Next time I’ll pay better attention to where I park. I wonder why my friend has been so distant; I should probably check in more often.”

Option 1 is an example of a fixed mindset: “I’m having a really bad day and there’s nothing to be done about it.” Option 2 is an example of a growth mindset: “I can work to make this better.” (Dweck 7-8)

For a fuller assessment of your mindset, take the Mindset Quiz by Carol Dweck.

No matter the outcome of your assessment, realize that you can more fully develop a growth mindset.  Read about 25 Practices that Foster Lifelong Learning.[1]

Finally, read an article based on a study by Ellen Langer on the application of growth mindset: “How Our Beliefs Can Shape Our Waistlines

initial learning activity

Brainstorm personal examples of how your beliefs and positive mindsets have helped you in a work situation.

Then do a second brainstorm, generating ideas about how you can develop more of a growth mindset at work.

Reflective thinking and a growth mindset lead to action.  View the following video on creating an action plan.

Applying a growth mindset, identify one area – a skill or a concept – that you need to work on to more fully develop yourself as a professional. Create an action plan to develop this skill or concept further, specifying your goal and identifying concrete steps that you will take.


  • results from your two brainstorming sessions
  • your action plan

in-depth learning activity

Complete one of the following options.

Option 1

First, listen to a podcast or read the transcript of an interview with Ellen Langer on “The Science of Mindlessness and Mindfulness” from the radio show On Being.

Langer focuses a lot on language and how a more conscious use of language can create mindfulness and a growth mindset.

Consider your situation at work or in a community group, somewhere you continuously interact with others.  Identify a situation or person in this setting that continuously irritates you, for whatever reason.  Use that situation as context to consider the following questions[2].

  1. What do you typically — and privately — think when confronted with this person or situation in this context?
  2. How do you typically respond?  What language do you use?
  3. How could you reframe your language to be more kind, supportive, and understanding, to remember that you’re only human, and to acknowledge things as they are, applying Langer’s concept that “the things that are happening to me are a function of my view of them?”

Based on your consideration, do a brief experiment for 1-2 days, consciously reframing your responses to this person or situation into more supportive language.  Do you find any difference in others’ reactions and in your own?

Submit: a brief essay (4-5 pages) answering the three questions, explaining the actions you consciously took to reframe your response, and analyzing the results of your brief experiment. Conclude with an evaluation of the concepts of mindfulness and growth mindset.


Option 2

First, listen to a podcast or read the transcript of an interview with Ellen Langer on “The Science of Mindlessness and Mindfulness” from the radio show On Being.

Then choose a concept from the podcast and react to it in terms of your own insights, observations, and experience. (e.g., the difference between “can” and “how can,” the concept that “the things that are happening to me are a function of my view of them,” the implications of mindfulness for public life, etc.).

Submit: a brief essay (4-5 pages) analyzing and reflecting on your reaction to and thoughts about this concept.


Option 3

Read the Business Insider article “A radical experiment tried to make old people young again…,” about Langer’s studies on elderly men. Consider the differences in presentation and attitude toward Langer’s studies between “A radical experiment” and the New York Times article “How Our Beliefs Can Shape Our Waistlines.” Then do some basic research into the relatively new field of positive psychology to get a sense of what that is and how its proponents talk about the field as a science. You may want to start with Psychology Today’s article What is Positive Psychology?, and then access 2-3 other resources.

Based on your research and consideration:

  • What are your thoughts about Langer’s studies in terms of positive psychology?
  • Is she conducting scientific experiments?  Why or why not?
  • Posit what Langer’s own response might be to the article “A radical experiment.”

Submit: a brief essay (4-5 pages) analyzing Langer’s approach in terms of the research you found about positive psychology.  Incorporate answers to the above questions in your essay, and make sure to document your sources.


Related college Learning Goals

Active Learning: Assess and build upon previous learning and experiences to pursue new learning, independently and in collaboration with others.

Critical Thinking and Problem Solving: Evaluate, analyze, synthesize and critique key concepts and experiences, and apply diverse perspectives to find creative solutions to problems concerning human behavior, society and the natural world.


For more information, see the College Learning Goals Policy.

  1. This page contains low-contrast text. A text-only version of 25 Practices that Foster Lifelong Learning is available.
  2. Questions based on activities from the Centre for Mindfulness Studies.