Mindsets: Definition, Examples, and Books on Mindset (Growth, Fixed + Other Types)
What are mindsets (growth, fixed, positive, scarcity, etc...)? And how do you cultivate a mindset for success? Learn here about the science behind mindsets and how it can change your life.
*This page may include affiliate links; that means I earn from qualifying purchases of products.
What Is the Definition of Mindset?
Mindset is defined as the set of attitudes or beliefs that we hold. Mindset is crucially important because our attitudes and beliefs affect everything we do, feel, think, and experience. Our mindset influences our perceptions and how we move through the world. Although we have one overall mindset, this can be made up of many smaller mindsets. Some of these help us improve our well-being and succeed in the world. Others hurt our ability to do so. That's why developing certain mindsets can greatly help us reach our goals, enjoy our lives, and be more successful. Here we'll talk about some of the most beneficial mindsets and how you can develop them.
What Are Mindsets?
There are many different types of mindsets that have been explored by researchers and I'm sure there are many other mindsets yet to be discovered. Some of the most well-known (and beneficial) mindsets include:
Each of these mindsets exists on a continuum, which goes from having 100% of this mindset to having 0% of it. So you will fall somewhere on the continuum for each mindset type below:
These mindsets are changeable. If you fall on the low side of any continuum, you can engage in thought exercises and activities to push yourself up the continuum towards more beneficial mindsets. So let's talk a bit more about each of these mindsets and how they can be developed.
What is a Growth Mindset?
A growth mindset is the tendency for people to believe that their abilities can be developed through hard work. With a growth mindset, you try harder, you want to learn new strategies, and you seek out feedback when you are stuck (Dweck, 2015). Growth mindset is the most studied type of mindset. Having a growth mindset has been linked to success in a variety of life domains (Yeager et al., 2019). One way to develop a growth mindset is to learn a bit more about neuroplasticity—or the brain's ability to change and grow. Indeed, we have the power to change our brains, learn new things, and develop new skills. When we have a mindset that believes this fully, we're more likely to put in the effort required to learn and grow, which helps us improve our lives in a multitude of ways.
Growth Mindset Examples
Sometimes it can be hard to see how a growth mindset can help us be happier and reach our goals. Here are some growth mindset examples to give you more insight.
What is a Fixed Mindset?
A fixed mindset is the opposite of a growth mindset. It is the tendency for people to believe that their abilities can not be developed and that they are born with whatever level of smarts they have. A fixed mindset can be a roadblock to achieving your goals because you may be less likely to believe that your goals are achievable. Why put in the work if you don't think the work will be worth the effort? If you find that you often have a fixed mindset, try to start thinking about ways to develop a growth mindset and improve your skills.
Fixed vs Growth Mindset
Carol Dweck, the leading growth mindset researcher, suggests that fixed vs growth mindsets result in us living by different self-implemented rules (Dweck, 2009).
Those with a fixed mindset strive to look talented to others. Those with a growth mindset strive to learn.
Those with a fixed mindset believe they shouldn't work too hard. In fact, having to work hard must mean you're not talented. Carol Dweck suggests this may be because fixed mindset individuals were naturally good at things when they were young. They didn't have to work as hard so later in life when they reach their natural limits, they have a harder pushing through them.
Those with a growth mindset believe in working with passion and dedication, always striving to give their best effort. These individuals may have had to struggle and work hard for success. As a result, they learned that their efforts really do matter and that they can improve their skills.
Those with a fixed mindset believe they shouldn't attempt things they might fail at and they hide their weakness from others. Those with a growth mindset are not afraid of failure and aim to improve upon their weaknesses even if they look silly or stupid in the process.
Remember though, virtually no one has a 100% fixed or growth mindset. We likely have some aspects of each and we benefit from trying to move more towards the growth mindset side of the continuum.
What Is a Positive Mindset?
A positive mindset is the tendency to focus on the good things in life rather than the bad. People with a positive mindset may use strategies like gratitude, reappraisal, and savoring to identify the good things and increase their positive emotions (Quoidbach, Mikolajczak, & Gross, 2015). Their attitudes are generally optimistic and they tend to expect the best.
A positive mindset can be great for our well-being and even help us to be more successful. In fact, the broaden and build theory of positive emotion suggests that positive emotions build on themselves, eventually leading to things like professional and relationship success (Fredrickson, 2004).
Positive Mindset Examples
An entrepreneurial mindset is helpful for those who want to be entrepreneurs, but it's also a really useful mindset for all of us in the modern world. Modern life is undergoing near-constant change and the types of skills needed for entrepreneurship are the same skills that are most useful in adapting to, and coping with, rapid change and uncertainty. That's why I believe an entrepreneurial mindset is a crucial mindset to develop.
According to a whitepaper on entrepreneurial mindset (Gold & Rodriguez, 2018), this mindset is made up of several important skills including:
These skills are thought to aid academic and career success. Of course, this is a broad range of skills and no one person likely has high levels of all of these skills. Developing the skills we are weaker at may be the most beneficial.
What Is a Scarcity Mindset?
It seems that the idea of an abundant mindset arose from the discovery of scarcity mindset, which was an experience that was found to be common among those living in poverty. Scarcity mindset is the belief that there will never be enough of something. It arises as a result of past or current experience when there was not enough of something (Shah, Mullainathan, & Shafir, 2012).
The researchers believe that scarcity changes how people allocate attention. For example, when money is tight, each bill is more urgent and threatening. Because humans are designed to pay attention to threats and negative things more than positive things (this is referred to as a negativity bias), lack of money can occupy much of people's mental resources. In sum, having less of something elicits greater focus on that thing (Shah, Mullainathan, & Shafir, 2012).
Scarcity mindset changes how we make decisions and solve problems. We're so focused on what we lack in the moment, we fail to allocate our attention to the longer-term. As a result, we make decisions that overly prioritize our pressing needs at the expense of our longer-term needs. We get stuck in this cycle of short-term thinking and in the longer-term, we end up worse off.
Some research even shows that time scarcity results in scarcity mindset. If we're really busy, we attend to urgent needs at the expense of longer-term needs. More specifically, busyness results in a crisis mentality—it leads people to resolve current crises while failing to prevent future ones. This results in a greater number of total crises because some could have been prevented (Perlow, 1999). So overall, scarcity mindset keeps up from focusing on how to have a better future.
Scarcity Mindset vs Abundance Mindset
As far as I can tell, the definition of abundance mindset came from the book, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, and not from the research. The book says that an abundance mindset is in contrast to a scarcity mindset. It refers to the mindset that 'there is plenty for everybody', and it says that each of us can develop this mindset. But given the way I just described the research on scarcity mindset, this seems oversimplified.
Scarcity mindset comes about as a result of our circumstances and it becomes a cycle, feeding itself until it's resolved. Personally (and as someone who grew up in poverty), I don't think switching to an abundant mindset in the midst of a crisis is that simple. Further, deciding to shift to a mindset of abundance when we have bills to pay might, in fact, lead us to make bad decisions. We might buy something we can't afford or fail to pay the rent because we are not overly focused on our pressing needs. Basically, our emotions and attention are designed to help us. Overriding in the context of a crisis is potentially dangerous.
Where I think an abundance mindset can be helpful is when we are no longer in crisis situations. The more crises we experience, the more our brains can get stuck thinking in ways that have protected us in the past even if these thought patterns no longer benefit us. It's not helpful if we're no longer in poverty and we still constantly worry about paying the bills. It's not helpful if we've found a good romantic partner and still worry about them not loving us. It's not helpful if we've taken on a lighter schedule and still focus on managing crises instead of planning for the longer term. These are the times when an abundance mindset is likely called for.
When we've overcome challenges and stresses, we learned that our strategies worked for us. But now if we are in a lower-stress context the same strategies tend not to be the best ones. We need to realize that we are safe and our needs are being met so that we can focus on the future and how to ensure that our needs continue to be met.
Challenge Mindset vs Threat Mindset
Challenge and threat mindsets are thought to arise in performance situations like test-taking, game-playing, athletics, work tasks, and elsewhere. We can either evaluate these situations as a challenge that we can handle or a threat that might annihilate us.
This mindset is about how we evaluate the demands of the situation and our resources for coping with these demands. Resources may include skills, knowledge, abilities, dispositions (like positive self-esteem), and external support. Demands may include danger, uncertainty, and required effort (Blascovich et al., 2004). The thing is that most of these resources and demands are attitudes, perceptions, and other cognitions—things that we have the power to change.
By pushing ourselves to see our difficult circumstances as challenges that we can handle, we actually respond to these situations in ways that are more beneficial. A challenge mindset changes our physiology in ways that can make us more successful at the task (Blascovich et al., 2004).
Examples of a Challenge Mindset
Most people talk about mindfulness as a state of being rather than a mindset, but mindfulness is a mental state and an approach to life so I agree with those who consider this a type of mindset. A mindful mindset involves being aware, open, and accepting (Carson & Langer, 2006). We make an effort to be present in the moment, to pay attention to the details of life, and to stay out of our heads whenever possible.
A mindful mindset is in contrast to a mindless mindset. When we are mindless, we go from one thing to the next without understanding why. We don't pay attention to what's happening around us. And we may be caught up in worries about the past or the future. Shifting to a more mindful mindset can help us de-stress and enjoy life a bit more.
Popular Books on Mindset
To learn more about mindset, check out some of the most popular mindset books:
When it comes to developing beneficial mindsets there are lots to choose from. Building a little bit of any of these mindsets can help you get on track towards achieving your goals and living the life you want.