Your Mindset Matters

Everyone experiences failure. What can you learn when something goes wrong?
Photo: Katherine B. Turner

Patterns in the way you think can have an effect on how easily you bounce back from failure and challenges in your work or your relationships. Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck found in her research that mindset can have a powerful impact on almost every aspect of our lives. While these belief systems often develop when we are children, they can be changed. With a little conscious attention, practicing a growth mindset can make you happier and more successful in your life and work.

A Fixed Mindset

In a “fixed mindset,” people believe that things like intelligence, character, and creative abilities are fixed traits. They may have been praised for their abilities when they were younger and may feel like they don’t need to put in a lot of effort because their achievements have always “just come naturally.” When people with a fixed mindset encounter a genuine challenge, they begin to doubt their abilities and avoid taking risks in the future, for fear of looking like a failure or having their deficiencies exposed. They’re also not very good at hearing critical feedback, because what they hear is that someone is disappointed in them, not that there are ways that they can improve their work, or their relationships.

A Growth Mindset

In contrast, people with a “growth mindset” believe that qualities like intelligence, creativity, and even the capacity for positive relationships can be developed through effort and practice. They are not defined by their failures, but see them as an opportunity to try harder next time. When they encounter a challenge, they’re motivated to find a solution and may encourage themselves with the thought, “I don’t have the answer…yet.” In addition, people with a growth mindset welcome critical feedback, because they know it will tell them where they need to place their effort in order to succeed, in their work or relationships.

You may have a fixed or growth mindset at different times in your life, or in different areas of your life. It’s worth learning more about these mindsets, as well as strategies for altering fixed beliefs. A growth mindset will help you improve your attitude toward failure, your comfort taking risks, and your chances for success. Practice it now, and it will serve you well into the future.

About the Husky Experience Toolkit

The Husky Experience Toolkit is designed to help you make the most of your time at UW, wherever you are in your university career. The articles address four interconnected dimensions of the Husky Experience: Know Yourself, Know the World, Make Your Way, and Weave it Together.