Why Moving From a Fixed Mindset to Growth Mindset is Harder Than You Think

Why Moving From a Fixed Mindset to Growth Mindset is Harder Than You Think
Joshua Smalley

When all else fails, fail again. A growth mindset requires a person’s utmost tolerance and embrace of failure. It’s all about changing your internal monologue and external conversation from “I can’t” to “I can’t yet.”

It is a critical shift from feeling fixed and locked into a particular way of thinking, skill set, or general ability, to the freedom of realizing you have the power to make changes, subtle as they may be, in your life. Suddenly, failure is seen as the necessary road to success. Failure is the journey and there are no shortcuts. There’s heightened intentionality around learning from failure and growing from failure. The tough road brings the opportunity to become the hero in your own story and venture through those scary woods. At ICS, we often discuss this navigation as moving through the “learning pit” and is part and parcel of question 3 in our four essential questions of a PLC.

However, common knowledge often falls short of common practice. While we do our best to make this change and start embracing our struggles with learning, we find that the external measures tend to cut us off at the knees. These external measures include family expectations, societal expectations, in-class exams, IB exams, college entrance requirements, job application requirements, etc. It seems that what’s ultimately rewarded is an end product (you or your creation) that satisfies some external benchmark. Thusly, we are reminded, ever so starkly and consistently, that we don’t measure up and that we “ultimately” fail.

For example, if a child “fails” a unit of study, where’s the process in that? Does it not feel to the student that the end of the journey itself is a failure? What about if the same occurs for an entire year? How can the child see this as a journey? Furthermore, in college, this is further ingrained in our psyche. You can fail at pursuing your major. With all the money, time, and energy lost, what’s next? How was the journey worth it? The same goes for us adults in pursuing various jobs and careers. We can be sacked so many times that we feel the journey was horrid as was the final destination. Even for us teachers at ICS, it is very difficult to accept our own failures. We feel we have to be invincible and near-perfect. Due to so many factors, we all, from the youngest to the oldest, have a long way to go in this regard.

What if the problem lies in our mindset? What if we’re just too conditioned to focus on what we will specialize in and become? What if our job titles, career titles, and student titles are the very things getting in the way? Isn’t living more about being curious about the world around us? What if we started thinking more like a scientist and became more curious about the world around us every day? Or what if we started thinking like a treasure hunter, looking for the beauty in each moment? Instead of students seeking grades and teachers seeking positive evaluations, we’d be more interested in the process because the process itself IS the goal. What if we let go, ever so slightly, of our tight rein on arriving at some perfect ending place—be it a job, title, or grade—and instead derived pleasure in the here and now? What if we found joy, learning, value, growth, fulfillment, and so much more in just using our senses to take in each moment fully?

We have but one life to live. Is it worth it chasing external measures? Is it worth it chasing that elusive college, career, or grade? So, the issue, as I see it, is that the growth mindset creates a bit of cognitive dissonance for us. We talk one way but still work to satisfy another way.

I myself wrestle with these ideas constantly. I’d welcome a thought, confirmation, disagreement, or idea to consider. Email me at joshua.smalley@icsaddis.org to send me anything germane to these ramblings.


Joshua Smalley is a High School teacher at ICS whose life's work is to show people the beauty in the world around them and experience it with them.