Four Types of Fixed Mindsets
That may be holding you back.
Mindsets are the mental framework that we rely on to guide how we perceive and interpret the world.
According to Gary Klein’s book Seeing What Others Don’t (which was also featured on Psychology Today), mindsets help us “orient the way we handle situations — the way we sort out what is going on and what we should do.”
Fixed vs Growth Mindset
Carol Dweck is an American psychologist and professor at Stanford University, who is most famously known for her research on what we now know as “fixed” versus “growth” mindsets.
Having a fixed mindset can be conceptualized as believing that traits and qualities are a given. For example, this means that if you do not naturally portray yourself as being smart or funny, then you never will be.
In other words, who you are is “fixed” and already determined by genetics or nature. However, it is quite limiting to look at the world through this lens.
A growth mindset reinforces the idea that traits and qualities can be obtained, reinforced, and strengthened through work, effort, and dedication. It is almost similar to the concept of grit, which was popularized by American psychologist Angela Duckworth.
A growth mindset means that we are capable of developing ourselves into who we want to be — and it seems that our potential is not innate, but carved and manifested by our efforts.
Fixed Mindset Personas
Recently I have been working on a training program called the Radical Resilience Training Program by Nikita Gupta. Within her fourth module called ‘Mind,’ she talks about fixed mindsets where some cultivate and exacerbate stress.
In other words, these mindsets take on their own “personality-like” manifestation within us that may cause us to feel more overwhelmed by everyday situations because of the detrimental mental viewpoint these mindsets reflect back to us.
1) The Worrier
The worrier mindset is reflective of what many personalities and social psychology researchers refer to as the neurotic personality trait.
The worrier is more on edge about things, seeing the worst-case scenario as the “most likely” scenario. Their hypervigilance, anticipatory anxiety, and catastrophization cause them to feel fearful and overwhelmed about many life situations.
A common way they may express this worry is through “what if” statements such as:
- What if I embarrass myself?
- What if they think I’m not good enough?
- What if I mess up?
2) The Perfectionist
The perfectionist mindset can be almost thought of as the “Type A” personality. They hold high standards for themselves when it comes to their work and performance, and have very little to no tolerance for setbacks and mistakes.
Health-wise, perfectionist may sacrifice their health and push their physical limits to feel good.
People with a perfectionist mindset may speak to themselves with phrases that start with “I should…, I have to…I must…”
For example, this may include saying things like:
- “I have to be at the top of my class.”
- “I should work harder.”
- “I must be good and kind to everyone.”
3) The Critic
The critic mindset can almost be seen as high and overarching as the perfectionist but is a more negative form of the conscientiousness personality type.
The critic is quick to negatively judge and point out flaws, limitations, and mistakes. This mindset is also really good at ignoring or undermining positive strengths and accomplishments.
A critical mindset shows itself through negative labels and comparison thinking. This may look like, “She’s so much smarter and prettier than me,” or “Why can’t I ever get things right?”
4) The Victim
Lastly, the victim mindset has a similar resemblance to what we see with depression. This does not invalidate the experiences of depression but is something to be mindful of when you are clinically depressed.
This mindset is fogged by feelings of pervasive helplessness and hopelessness. There is the belief that there is something inherently wrong with oneself, but others or the situation are to blame for the things going wrong.
Phrases that can be expressed by someone that has a victim mindset may include:
- “Things always go badly for me.”
- “What’s the point in trying?”
- “Nothing ever goes right.”
Personality Versus Mindset
Though I compared some of these mindsets with personality types, the current scientific research does not refer to them as the same thing.
Technically, personality traits can be changed just like mindsets. However, traits have an environmental and genetic component where they are toggled within a spectrum.
Comparatively, mindsets however are solely cognitive. They’re a matter of personal perception and interpretation.
For example, let’s say you’re high in neuroticism (as a personality trait) and have an exam coming up. With just this personality trait alone, you may feel anxious about studying, going to school, sitting down for the test, and actually taking the exam.
Therefore, all things affiliated with “taking the exam” are seen as anxiety-provoking.
If you have a worrier mindset in addition to your neurotic personality, your thoughts of “what if I fail my exam” can get so overwhelming, that you may decide not to study for the exam or not take the exam altogether.
Thus, the mindset of “what if I fail” establishes a negative synergy to your already neurotic personality.
However, let’s say you’re high in neuroticism — but have a growth mindset. You may think something like, “….the exam is scary, but if I study hard enough and get to school with enough time to relax, I think I can do well.”
This framework may help you shift your actions. Instead, you might dedicate a few days to studying and take some extra time to get to school early, relax a bit, and mentally prepare for the exam.
Therefore, we are not limited by personality alone, but by our mindsets, and they influence how we see and respond to the world.
Of course, there are our natural inclinations based on past experiences, environments, and genetics, but we have a choice of how we take on new challenges, especially in daily life.
Changing a Fixed Mindset to a Growth Mindset
A good first step to changing or challenging a fixed mindset to a growth mindset would be to identify the types of mindset(s) you manifest and how they manifest for you.
It is possible that you actually use all four fixed mindsets listed, but they come up for you at different times. Simple awareness of this (and even the ability to break down when and how they come up for you) is helpful.
Next comes the small incremental change of practicing using thoughts or positive affirmations that ascertain a growth mindset.
For example, this may look similar to work done in cognitive-behaviour therapy (CBT) where you might catch your positive and negative thoughts, question whether it is true, and reframe it in a way that allows you to take a step forward.
The goal is to practice this enough so that a shift in perception becomes automatic, ultimately leading you to behaviours that are more aligned with a growth mindset.
The Power of Positive Affirmations
Positive affirmations help change your internal belief systems about yourself and others. This is also utilized in CBT, and they are often called “core beliefs.”
Positive affirmations are also seen in mindfulness and meditation practices. However, in these practices, they are usually known as mantras.
Positive affirmations and mantras are often repeated over and over again. The repetition will eventually have a subconscious encoding in our minds, making us attuned to accept the affirmation/mantra as our own truth.
Finally, it is good to purposely take on new challenges. This may include learning something new through a course or setting a higher goal on a skill you have already mastered. Constantly testing your ability to take on new challenges will help with incremental change.
Along the way, you can also receive constructive feedback from others. Perhaps it is difficult for you to see how exactly you’re approaching a difficult situation, but your sibling or trusted friend may even be able to repeat back the words you said or describe the emotions you were feeling.
Overall, when it comes to growth versus fixed mindsets, growth mindsets are the way to go. Coupling our mindsets to our self-identified personality traits, we can find subtle ways to make incremental changes. This may include doing therapy, mindfulness, observing our thoughts and behaviours, challenging our thoughts, and always striving for change.
As Carol Dweck used to say,
“Picture your brain forming new connections as you meet the challenge and learn. Keep on going.”
Dweck, C. S. (2016). Mindset: The new psychology of success. Random House. https://icrrd.com/media/01-11-2020-205951Mindset%20by%20Carol%20S.%20Dweck.pdf
Gupta, N. (2021). Radical resilience training program. https://nikitas-healing-school.teachable.com/p/radical-resilience-training-program
Klein, G. (2015). Seeing what others don’t. PublicAffairs.
Rector, N. A. (2010). Cognitive-behavioural therapy: An information guide. Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. https://www.camh.ca/-/media/files/guides-and-publications/cbt-guide-en.pdf
Weed, N. & Kwon, S. (2007). Neuroticism. Encyclopedia of Social Psychology https://www.researchgate.net/publication/317170729_Neuroticism
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