Fixed mindset is a way of thinking about your own intelligence and abilities. Specifically, it describes viewing your intelligence and abilities as innate and unchangeable. When faced with a task that seems too challenging, someone with a fixed mindset may think “There’s no way I can do that, so why bother trying?” This mindset is very outcome focused; instead of looking at failures as learning experiences, someone with a fixed mindset will feel that hard work, when yielding no direct result, was “all for nothing.” Their successes and failures may also be an important part of how they define themselves, meaning that they may avoid taking risks so as to not make themselves look bad in the case that they should fail.
Fixed mindset is one end of the spectrum of how people think about their intelligence. At the other end is growth mindset, which refers to thinking about your intelligence and abilities as changeable. Growth mindset treats intelligence like a muscle that will get stronger as you continue to work it. It also focuses more on the process of learning than on the outcome. Failures are seen as opportunities to learn something valuable and no attempt at problem-solving is ever considered wasted.
Research into mindsets has shown that a fixed mindset is less adaptive than a growth mindset. This is in part because the fixed mindset increases stress and pressure to perform and also because it leads people to believe that they know the extent of their intellectual capabilities and are limited by them. It has been argued that our potential is unknowable, so we should not give up simply because we think we cannot accomplish something. We cannot know what be are capable of and, with dedication and hard work, the extent of what we are capable of is certainly subject to change.1