Changing Mindsets: Can it be done?

February 2012

in Self-awareness

Post image for Changing Mindsets: Can it be done?

Followup to: Mindsets: Where Do They Come From?

In Why Your Mindset is So Important I introduced the concept of fixed (we can’t change) and growth (we can improve through effort) mindsets detailed in Carol Dweck’s book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.1 The benefits of a growth mindset are plenty: increased creativity, greater success, love of challenge, belief in effort, resilience in the face of setbacks, and more.

Then in my previous mindset post I explained the primary origins of our mindsets: our teachers, parents, and learning environments. A fixed mindset comes from praise for our accomplishments, whereas a growth mindset comes from praise for our hard work and effort.

Given the benefits of a growth mindset and the origin of a fixed mindset, the question remains: Can we change our mindsets? 

Dweck provides ample evidence throughout the book that a person’s mindset can, indeed, be changed. Take one example:

Garfield High School was one of the worst schools in Los Angeles. To say that the students were turned off and the teachers burned out is an understatement. But without thinking twice, Jaime Escalante (of Stand and Deliver fame) taught these inner-city Histpanic students college-level calculus…. But not only did he teach them calculus, he (and his colleague, Benjamin Jimenez) took them to the top of the national charts in math.2

As another example, Marva Collines took a class of inner-city Chicago kids who had failed in the public schools. This second-grade class started out reading the lowest level reader there was. By June they were at the middle of the fifth-grade level, studying Aristotle, Tolstoy, Shakespeare, and others.

In the previous post, I mentioned that Dweck showed how easy it was to change the mindset of groups of children, simply by the type of praise they received. The fact that mindsets clearly arise from our environments and educators shows that it is a malleable part of you.

Of course, all these examples only include kids. What about an adult? The only difference is that after having lived with certain mindsets for longer, they may be more engrained in the mind of an adult than of a child. Thus, for an adult, it will likely be harder to change, but not impossible.

Your mindset is an important part of your personality, but it is not a permanent part. The key takeaway is this: you can shift from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset. In fact, just by being aware of them you can start to think and react in new ways.

Not everyone can achieve everything. It isn’t merely a little effort that could turn you into Einstein or Beethoven. But, an essential fact is that a person’s true potential is unknown and unknowable. As Dweck says, it is “impossible to foresee what can be accomplished with years of passion, toil, and training.”3

Knowing your mindset can change doesn’t instantly change it, or guarantee that it will be easy. Remember, it’s probably buried pretty deeply in that mind of yours.

In the next post we’ll discuss the more important topic: how to change your mindset.


  1. Dweck (2006). Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. Ballantine Books. []
  2. Dweck (2006) p. 64. []
  3. Dweck (2006), p. 7. []