So, what is the difference between an open and a fixed mindset? Let’s start with an example of a fixed mindset. Imagine you are in a new job. You have been on the job for about 3 months. You are really enjoying it. Your boss lets you know that it is time for your 90 day performance review. This is a boss you respect, who you enjoy working for, and you are really looking forward to hearing how you are doing. You get your review and it’s about the equivalent of a C. You are so disappointed. That’s really not what you had hoped. As you leave work, when you get to your car, you discover you have a parking ticket. When you get home, want to call your friend to vent, but your friend is too busy to talk, and they kind of brush you off. What a depressing day. Someone with a fixed mindset might react to that day by being disappointed, beating themselves up by saying things like “I am such an idiot” or “the world is out to get me” or “what’s the use?”
Now, there was no death and destruction in that day. The performance review wasn’t horrible; it was basically a “meets expectations.” It wasn’t a car accident; it was a parking ticket. And it was a friend who didn’t have time to chat. A person with a fixed mindset has challenges in responding in a positive way to setbacks. They see these little setbacks as much bigger and unsurmountable, than they really are. Some ways someone with a fixed mindset might respond to setbacks may be to sit in front of the TV watching mindless shows and pouting, eating chocolate, or doing absolutely nothing because there is nothing they can do that will make it better.
Now let’s compare this to someone with an open mindset. Their response to the job performance review might be “well, I really want to exceed expectations.” They may decide to go back to their boss to find out what areas they need to work on so they can develop their skills. For the parking ticket, they recognize they need to pay more attention to where they park, and for how long. And the friend who didn’t have time for them? Maybe their friend was having a bad day. They may decide to reach out to see if their friend is OK. That is how someone with an open mindset might respond to a challenging day. Someone with an open mindset understands the challenges and setbacks that happen are not the end of the world. An open mindset person realizes they have a choice of how they respond. They see challenges and setbacks as learning opportunities, to discover ways to make things better next time.
Both the fixed mindset and open mindset can be disappointed and discouraged but the difference lies in how they choose to respond. Someone with a fixed mindset is more likely to throw up their hands and either do nothing because what they thought was their natural ability isn’t good enough or they turn the blame on everybody at everything other than themselves. Someone with an open mindset realizes that the challenges and the setbacks are temporary and they realize that they can do something to do better the next time.
Here’s an interesting question for you. Let’s say you have the choice of picking between two teams. Team A is a team of highly skilled people, with previously demonstrated ability and natural talent. Team A is really good at what they do, but they all have fixed mindsets. If things go wrong, they throw up their hands, everything stops, and they just can’t seem to move forward. Team B is made up of people who are not as naturally talented, skilled, or experienced as Team A. But the people on Team B are eager to learn. They are quick to recognize that they don’t have all the answers, and they want to grow and develop their skills. Which team would you pick?
The good news is that just because someone has a fixed mindset it doesn’t mean that they can’t grow, learn, and develop open mindset qualities. It’s not as easy as just flipping a switch, but awareness of the fact that you are in a fixed mindset, is the first step. With time and practice, all of us are able to develop the skills to change our thought patterns to help us have a more open mindset.
Having an open mindset makes us a better employee, a better employer, a better team player, a better coworker, and ultimately a better person. So in what areas do you have a fixed mindset? If you apply yourself every day to being just a little bit better, looking at challenges as opportunities, over time you will become a lot better.
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