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The Biggest Factor In Your Success – And What You Can Do About It

Growth or Fixed: What Is Your Mindset?

What if there was one attribute of yourself that you could look at and determine how far you were going to go when trying something new? Would you want to know that that attribute is?

If you had the power to change that attribute, once you were aware of it, would you want to change it?

Two Mindsets

Research has shown that people generally fall into one of two groups.

The first group tends to avoid challenges, give up easily when faced with obstacles, see effort as wasted and fruitless, ignores critical feedback and is not comfortable with the success of others.

People in this group tend to plateau early when trying something new and usually do not reach their full potential.

The second group tends to embrace challenges, persist when they are faced with obstacles, view effort as the path to success, accept and learn from criticism and are inspired by the success of others.

This group of people tend to reach higher levels of success and achievement that those in the first group.

Fixed Mindset

The first group of people described above are referred to as having a Fixed Mindset. They believe, consciously or not, that the amount of skill, talent and ability are inherent in each individual and they simply need to be demonstrated.

When a Fixed Mindset is primary, then the need for performance is also primary above the need for learning. When things are going easily for people in both groups, then the differences are not very apparent. However, when obstacles arise, the Fixed Mindset will see each task as a challenge to their self image. Setbacks are seen as personal threats.

Because of this view the Fixed Mindset only pursues activities where it is sure to shine. Yes, these people will take risks and experience growth. However the risks are highly controlled and only in areas that would not result in embarrassment if failure should occur.

If you are afraid of looking bad, you will become defensive and you will never grow to your full potential.

People in this group will also not see any significant value in hard work. The Fixed Mindset tells them that either the skill, talent or ability is there already or it isn’t. Rigorous practice, hard work or long training sessions will have no effect and are therefore pointless.

Either you already have it, or you never will.

Growth Mindset

Those that are in the second group described above are said to have a Growth Mindset. They believe, again consciously or not that skill, talent and ability are things that can be developed in each individual.

Whereas the need for performance is primary in the Fixed Mindset, in the Growth Mindset the need for learning takes precedence. Being right or wrong is not important. Failure is not seen as a personal invalidation, but rather one of many possible ways to solve a problem.

This mindset allows this type of person to be able to use failure in a positive feedback loop that encourages continued learning and growth.

Talent, skill and ability are like any other changeable attribute. Practice, hard work and perseverance will allow you to grow in any area of life.

No matter where you are starting from, you can learn and grow in anything.

You Are Always Right

One aspect of belief that most people have heard before, but rarely internalize is that if you believe that you can do something, or if you believe you cannot, you are almost always correct.

Our belief in our ability will have such a profound effect on our expectations and effort that it becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy.

Unfortunately, these beliefs are not consciously decided upon. They are picked up gradually as we grow. As our personal experiences are compared to our expectations, we grow to believe that we can do what we put our minds to, or we believe that we are just not capable of learning new things.

Choose Wisely

The good news is that our mindset can be changed. The same study that found that most people fall somewhere in these two mindsets also found that by focusing on effort rather than performance, we can encourage a more Growth Mindset in those around us.

When a group of children were praised for their performance instead of their effort, their motivation waned. An amazing 40% of children that were praised only for their intelligence then overstated their scores to their peers. Praising their performance turned them into liars.

Grow And Succeed

If you are finding yourself with a Fixed Mindset, don’t worry because if you want a more Growth Mindset you can change.

Here are five areas that you can focus on to move from a Fixed Mindset to a Growth Mindset

  • Challenges – instead of seeing challenges as a test of your worth, view them as opportunities to learn and grow. They will not be comfortable and will require effort to overcome, but they are the foundation of growth. Thomas Edison determined to invent the incandesent light bulb. It took him over 1000 attempts before he succeeded. In his own words, “I have not failed 1,000 times. I have successfully discovered 1,000 ways to NOT make a light bulb.” When you find yourself saying, “I can’t”, STOP! Change your thought to, “I haven’t before, but with enough time and effort I can.”
  • Obstacles – external challenges – are not a risk to your personal worth. They are places where we can learn, either by success or by failure. “To succeed you must first improve, to improve you must first practice, to practice you must first learn, and to learn you must first fail.” ~ Wesley Woo
  • Effort – In order to adopt a Growth Mindset you must first believe that it is possible to grow. Through training, practice and effort new skills, talents and abilities are attainable.
  • Criticism – Short of scathing, personal attacks which have nothing to do with ability, criticism is simply another means to learning. Criticism is a way for others to let you know what areas they believe you can improve. It is not a statement of your worth as a person!
  • Success of Others – The success of others should not be viewed as a challenge or a benchmark that you must surpass. Others’ success should be viewed as confirmation that success is possible. Their success does not prevent yours. Celebrate the successes of others and they will eventually celebrate your successes.

Most people have a mix of both Growth and Fixed mindset. Growth in some areas and Fixed in others. Because we can go through life and never even consider what Mindset we are using to approach life, we are often victims of our own views. This is the biggest factor in your success. Now that you are aware of the differences, keep them in mind as you go through your day.

When you find yourself responding with a Fixed Mindset, stop and consider how you can change your approach and adopt a Growth Mindset.


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2 Responses to The Biggest Factor In Your Success – And What You Can Do About It

  1. Misha May 2, 2012 at 8:11 am #

    Mike! Again, I’m in awe of your wellspring of inspirational knowledge and your uncanny, spidey-sense to invoke introspection and self-analysis within me!

    I definitely and wholeheartedly agree with your sentiments regarding success- that a disposition to embracing actionable attitude and courageous steps towards developing and honing passions/interests that are interesting to you, sprinkled judiciously with faith in a benevolent universe, is crucial to success…

    This post churned up some old feelings, mostly long trodden, outdated and incompatible beliefs I’ve been harboring- almost to an embarrassing degree…about whether or not I could ever be a great violinist.

    Now 21 and fully realizing that life isn’t promised to me, I realized that I’ve surrendered my power to others opinions and to and restricted belief system.

    I now am going to chose differently. Thanks Mike for all your illuminating insights and courage! they’ve planted a seed of hope and faith that I know is was and will continue to be, in my control 🙂
    Bravo on all your success

    • Mike Routen May 3, 2012 at 11:38 am #


      Thank you for the kind words.

      More often than I would like to admin, I find that I’m the only one that is holding me back from achieving my goals.

      By choosing differently, we can have a profound effect on our future!

      I wish you the greatest success in your journey to being a great violinist.

      Self trust is the first secret to success. ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson