The Pitfalls of a Fixed Mindset

The research of psychologist Carol Dweck has drawn attention to fixed and growth mindsets and their implications on the individuals who possess them. Dweck’s research and that of others after her have highlighted the detriment of the fixed mindset compared to the value of the growth mindset. While the list of potential downfalls could be lengthy, this article highlights the significant pitfalls of a fixed mindset compared to a growth mindset.


A critical aspect of gaining self-awareness is receiving feedback and constructive criticism from others. Yet, those with a fixed mindset tend to reject input from others. For those with a fixed mindset, criticism is viewed as a negative and a means of exposing flaws and imperfections. Thus, they rarely receive valuable information that would help enhance their knowledge or allow them to improve their behaviour (Clear, 2018).

Those with a growth mindset, however, embrace feedback and criticism. They instead view it as a means of gaining crucial insight about themselves. With this insight comes the belief that they can grow and enhance their current skillset to become better and accomplish more (Clear, 2018).


A staple of the fixed mindset is the notion that learning ability is set and cannot be changed. Essentially, it is the idea that once one has reached a particular level of knowledge or skill, that is the level they shall continually remain at. Thus, those with a fixed mindset emphasise performance over learning. Ironically, despite focusing on performance, those with a fixed mindset often perform more poorly than those with a growth mindset. This means that learning doesn’t occur for those with a fixed mindset because of their mentality.

In a study by Nussbaum & Dweck, researchers observed the feedback participants would seek when faced with a challenging task. When told they did poorly on a test, participants were given the choice of seeing trials of those who did better than them or tests of those who performed worse. Those with a fixed mindset opted to review the difficulties of those who performed worse. Those with a growth mindset opted to review the tests of those who performed better than them. All participants were then given a pop quiz after reviewing these tests, with those in the growth mindset group performing better than those in the fixed mindset group.

This research revealed that those with a fixed mindset were more interested in the appearance of performing well by looking at the tests of those who performed more poorly than them. Thus, they hadn’t learned the information necessary to perform well when given the quiz. Meanwhile, those in the growth mindset group were genuinely interested in learning the correct answers and thus performed better when given the pop quiz (Nussbaum & Dweck, 2008).


When one believes that their ability to learn a particular subject at some point reaches a place where no further learning can take place, this can lead to a decrease in self-esteem. How? The idea that one has reached a complete understanding of a subject area equates to the belief that when faced with something one does not understand, there is no way to gain knowledge in that area. Those who believe they don’t possess the ability to learn a task or skill develop a sense of helplessness and hopelessness, leading to low self-esteem (Nussbaum & Dweck, 2008).

On the other hand, those with a growth mindset are not afraid to lack knowledge, as they understand the potential to gain it via hard work and effort. Thus, they don’t internalise a failure to understand something as a reflection of their lack. Instead, they seek to obtain the knowledge needed to grow in that area. This leaves self-esteem intact and, in many situations, improved because of the newly acquired knowledge gained when a solution was sought out (Nussbaum & Dweck, 2008).

Challenges, Risk-Taking, & Competition

Those with a fixed mindset who believe their intelligence is rigid do not cope well with challenges and often engage in unhealthy competition. Those with fixed intelligence overemphasise proving themselves to their peers and portraying themselves as intelligent. Thus, they tend to avoid situations whereby they might have to work hard or where they may fail (Chiu et. a.l, 1997).

Meanwhile, those with a growth mindset adapt well to challenges, face risks boldly, and do not need to compete to prove themselves to others. They understand that they can improve with increased effort and thus embrace failure and hard work as a part of the learning process.

When it all boils down, what has been outlined in this article can be summarised by the following statement- you are what you think. If your mindset is fixed, you will become fixed- a person unable to grow and mature due to lack of feedback, poor self-reflection, and diminished overall learning. Developing a growth mindset is vital if one wants to experience personal growth and expand personal knowledge.


Chiu CY, Hong YY, Dweck CS. Lay dispositionism and implicit theories of personality, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 1997, vol. 73 (pg. 19-30)

Clear, J. (2018, October 24). Fixed Mindset vs Growth Mindset: How Your Beliefs Change Your Behavior. Retrieved from
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Mangels, J. A., Butterfield, B., Lamb, J., Good, C., & Dweck, C. S. (2006). Why do beliefs about intelligence influence learning success? A social cognitive neuroscience model. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 1(2), 75-86. doi:10.1093/scan/nsl013

Murphy, L., & Thomas, L. (2008). Dangers of a fixed mindset. The 13th annual conference on Innovation and technology in computer science education – ITiCSE ’08. ’08:10.1145/1384271.1384344

Nussbaum, A. D., & Dweck, C. S. (2008). Defensiveness Versus Remediation: Self-Theories and Modes of Self-Esteem Maintenance. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 34(5), 599-612. doi:10.1177/0146167207312960

Woodlard, S. (2018, July 30). The Danger of a Fixed Mindset. Retrieved from