How a Fixed Mindset is Holding You Back

Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t–you’re right.

~Henry Ford

Carol Dweck first coined the term “fixed mindset” back in 2006 through her book “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success”, as part of her decades-long study of implicit theories of intelligence. This form of psychology dives into whether or not the intelligence and abilities of students can change. With all the new focus on mindset and motivational focus in the self-help circles, it’s becoming clearer now more than ever the pains of a fixed mindset – and the benefits of its sister, the growth mindset.

What is a fixed mindset, and why is it ‘bad’?

“Believing that your qualities are carved in stone — the fixed mindset — creates an urgency to prove yourself over and over. If you only have 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 deficient in these most basic characteristics.”

Those with a fixed mindset tend to hide failures, focus on the outcome only (if it’s not a success, what’s the point?), and think of skills as ‘natural’. If it doesn’t come naturally, they tend to not jump into a task or sport. Not only is this pretty limiting on what you think you can do, but it also leads to pessimism and avoidance. This isn’t inherently ‘bad’, as we all don’t like to do something we have no talent or interest in. But those with a fixed mindset wouldn’t even try.

What’s so good about a growth mindset?

“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. Although people may differ in every which way — in their initial talents and aptitudes, interests, or temperaments — everyone can change and grow through application and exercise.”

A growth mindset is one that ‘fails forward’ or focuses on ‘failing often and failing early’ – both mottos of agile IT development, for example. Those with a growth mindset know that failure is simply part of the learning process and that it takes time and effort to truly learn something. Tasks, sports, or entire fields of study aren’t immediately out of the question because ‘my brain just doesn’t work like that’ – no, they’re handled with more care than tasks, sports, or fields of study that come easier.

Why should I care?

There’s speculation that there’s actually a spectrum of mindsets; no one is completely fixed in all aspects of their life and no one is completely at a growth-level mindset for all aspects of their life. Instead, we tend to cycle between the two. This goes back to centuries-old thinking of visualizing success, and the thought that what we believe is what we become.

If you’re “not a language person”, I urge you to think again of how your mindset is holding you back. I’m honestly a little jealous, since Math and Science never came easy for me, though I still learned a fair bit in school. Not knowing how to apply or remember vocabulary words or helpful sentences is a huge detriment when traveling, and could be the way you learned language more than your brain not being wired to pick up languages. I wholeheartedly accept your challenge of not “being a language person” – with a growth mindset and the right application, anyone can become “a language person”!

Source for “Mindset” book definitions:, “Fixed v. Growth Mindset”


Megan Miller
Megan Miller
As one enamored with deep thinking and deep conversations, Megan Miller shares her findings and experiences as a word nerd and language lover worldwide. With more than 2 decades of Spanish under her belt, Megan has experienced firsthand the benefits of bilingualism. Megan is the founder and owner of Aprovechar Language Solutions, a translation and Spanish/English language coaching business that focuses on mindset, habit, and real-world examples to improve people’s confidence and comfortability in speaking and communicating. When she’s not coaching or translating, Megan uses her communication skills as an IT Project Manager to produce technological solutions and likes to travel and bake in her free time

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  1. I love this piece, Megan! It is both interesting and fascinating – and resonates. My motto is to keep an open mind, and you’re never too old to learn. It’s what keeps me motivated, focused, and enables me to grow.

    However, I can identify with the fixed mindset also, having swum in that sea. It’s what we are conditioned to believe, but it is possible to break out of the mindset. As with anything, it takes work!

    Thanks so much for sharing your insights with us.

    • Thank you for reading and commenting, Laura! I absolutely agree – you’re never too old to learn! I’m glad to know I’m not the only one ocean-hopping between the fixed and growth mindsets. 🙂

  2. I love this summary of the importance of mindset and the idea that it’s a spectrum!!! I definitely feel like I’m on the spectrum depending on the situation. Sometimes I’m very growth-minded but then these shadow elements will come up and I’ll realize I’ve been programmed into a stuck mindset, and I’ll have to unwind all that.

    Thank you for this powerful reminder! So well done!

    • Thank you! It’s both more difficult and more freeing when we realize that we have so much out there for the taking, and sometimes it’s just the space between our ears that’s holding us back. Our brain matter really does matter (I couldn’t help the wordplay there)!

    • Thank you! I saw Angela Duckworth’s TED Talk a few years ago and went down an internet rabbit hole around grit, perseverance, and mindset. Our minds are certainly powerful!