wavy pattern


Can we switch our fixed mindset for a growth one? Or are we stuck with our inherited disposition forever?

- Posted byHannah Miller

Last week’s blog had a flipping spelling mistake*

So what, you say?

I can’t bear it when I do something like that. You know, make an ERROR. Exposing the reality that I am not (quite) perfect and even in my areas of supposed expertise (I’m an ex-teacher – should be able to spell) I can get it WRONG. I much prefer giving off the perfection vibe to you all and I’d much rather stage manage any mistakes so I can orchestrate the outcome thank you very much.

But, although this mistake has proved quite useful because I can now use it to seamlessly tie in to this week’s blog, I didn’t actually mean to do it and it embarrassingly bruised my ego a teeny bit. I am sure none of you would handle mistakes this way… it’s all par for the course, right?

Wrong. Not in my experience.

So many of us have what has become catchily referred to as a Fixed Mindset, rather than the much preferred Growth Mindset. If you’re a parent, you may well have heard your keen 8-year-old talk to you about this (many schools have gone all-in with mindsets) but the work doesn’t originate in children or education in mind.

Carol Dweck (amazing woman, reminds me of Edna from the Incredibles) has spent her life researching what holds us back, and what pushes us to succeed. She believes it is to do with our mindset.

Fixed, or growth.

A fixed mindset runs from challenge (prefers to do what they know they can do), hates the idea of being exposed, covers mistakes, thinks talent is mainly inherited, compares and competes, hates improvement feedback and will do their best to act like they know what they are talking about even when they have no idea. Essentially: I must not let you know what is really going on here because if you do you will no longer accept me or think that I am clever/capable/insert any word you prefer. It pushes people to hide, limit and avoid responsibility for outcomes. I’ve watched this play out in schools – most dangerous when I saw students strive for perfection and do anything rather than ask for help. This is setting up capable students for a life of competing and feeling like they are falling short.

But a growth mindset enjoys a challenge, sees mistakes as the route to growth, focuses on their own lane rather than competing with others, listens to feedback and knows that talent is a combo of inheritance AND a lot of hard work.

All sounds ideal doesn’t it but it’s not always that easy. It drives me mad when I can see my own kids behaving in this way (I can’t do it, it just comes easier to other people, can you just tell me the answer, I don’t know what I have got to do, I’m just not very good at maths blah blah blah) but if I am really honest, even though I would probably say I have a growth mindset to most things, there are some definite whiffs of a fixed mindset lurking for me, especially in relation to certain activities.

I was a musical child, playing three instruments (as well as my mouth as my dad likes to tell people) to a reasonably high standard. My parents fostered this in me, taking me to regional orchestras, making me practice, getting me to do my grades and so on. But I wasn’t very sporty (apart from swimming – I’ll have you know I was pretty good at that once upon a time, oh and high jump but that was just because I got tall before anyone else).

This meant I adopted a mindset that sport isn’t really my thing and I can’t really get any better at it.

I mean, in some ways, this is true.

I don’t believe you can be brilliant at everything.

You have to pick stuff to pursue that you have both aptitude and passion. BUT to count ourselves out of things because we have decided it’s not our thing, that we can’t make progress and we won’t go back to beginner is limiting.

It’s a limiting set of beliefs that we have to kick into touch.

I reckon you’ll all be with me that a growth mindset is definitely better. I mean, it’s not really a hard sell.

But can we switch our fixed mindset for a growth one? Or are we stuck with our inherited disposition forever?

Good news – we can do something about it.

And in my usual preferred style, as your helpful sidekick, I’m going to give you a few suggestions as to what you can do about it. It won’t change overnight but hopefully you’ll be able to spot it in your thinking and speech and send it packing as quickly as possible.

As a human

  • Something that scares you a little bit? Something that stretches you (just a bit, not too much)? Then do it.
  • Next time you don’t know something, don’t fudge it. Just ask the question and learn. Everyone breathes a sigh of relief when someone is willing to admit they don’t know.

As a leader

  • Ask for feedback on how you’re doing – not just what you are doing well, but also what you can do better, cultivate enough trust with your team so they can tell you what you need to work on
  • Give people scope to make mistakes. It’s one thing making the same mistake over and over and I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about projects and responsibilities that mean they have to grow and be stretched – something that might not be done quite like you would have done. I love this great example of turning a huge mistake around into something genius.

As a parent with a child

  • Use the word ‘yet’. When your child doesn’t feel they can do something, annoy the heck out of them by saying ‘yet’ at the end of their sentences.
  • Demonstrate your own ability to grow. Show them that you don’t know everything and that you are trying to learn, too.
  • Don’t just give them the answers. One of the most annoying things about my dad was that when I couldn’t spell something, and I went to ask him how to spell it, and he ALWAYS, without fail, told me to go and look it up in the dictionary. The dictionary was on the top shelf in the lounge (which I couldn’t reach) and I never understood why he wouldn’t just TELL ME? No, it wasn’t because he couldn’t spell (he’s actually very good with words), it was because he was teaching me to find things out for myself (thanks, Dad).

So, embrace today, your work, your family, your relationships, your challenges, with a can-do (doesn’t matter if I can’t-do) attitude.

It’s really all about the progress.


Hannah x



*the spelling mistake was Irratic. Which OF COURSE should be Erratic. Perhaps Irratic can be a new word, for being both erratic and irrational.

P.S. If you feel you’ve got a mistake to deal with, in an area you really should know better (i.e. like me with my spelling error as an ex-teacher who should know better), perhaps reading this will make you feel better.

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