The Importance of a Growth Mindset

I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.
   – Thomas A. Edison

MindsetSelf-help books and motivational speeches are full of platitudes about the importance of believing in yourself and stepping outside of your comfort zone. Probably good advice, but it’s based on anecdotal evidence – or is it? Research shows that those anecdotes are on to something.

In 1985, Michael F. Scheier and Charles S. Carver published a study about optimism which included a "hopefulness test," better known as the Life Orientation Test.[1] This seminal study opened the floodgates for research on optimism – for the first time, scientists had a simple but serious method for studying the benefits of positive thinking.

Positive Thinking = Growth Mindset

One such scientist is psychologist Carol Dweck, author of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. This exploration of the very real effects of positive – and negative – thinking on learning (and many other aspects of life), based on two decades of research with children and adults, concludes that there are two types of mindsets: fixed and growth. People with fixed mindsets believe that intelligence and talent are predetermined and cannot be increased, so it’s better to just stick with what you know and are good at. In contrast, people with growth mindsets strive to learn more and improve: they thrive on challenge.

Note that "fixed" vs "growth" refers only to the way each brain thinks about learning – it does not imply that the former cannot be changed.

Dr. Dweck determined[2] that children with fixed mindsets preferred to repeat easy exercises that they knew they’d do well on, while those with growth mindsets were eager to try new, harder challenges. And when they didn’t do well on those challenges, the growth students still enjoyed themselves and reasoned that they needed to try harder, while the fixed students fell into a self-perpetuating cycle of discouragement and doing worse and worse with each round of challenges.

In fact, brain-wave analysis showed that fixed mindset brains only paid attention to positive feedback directly related to actual ability: they ignored anything related to learning and improving – even the correct answers to questions they’d gotten wrong. Growth mindset brains were just the opposite: eager to hear how they could learn and improve.

Growth Mindset = Better Learning

So what does this have to do with learning Spanish? Mindsets are established at a very young age and can, in the case of fixed mindsets, prevent people from doing things that they could potentially learn to be very good at. How many times have you heard someone say (or thought to yourself) "I’m just no good at language"? That sort of thinking is a hallmark of a fixed mindset (and also a myth), but fortunately, it can be changed. If you really want to learn Spanish or anything else, moving from a fixed mindset to a growth one can have a profound impact on your learning ability.

Mindset: The New Psychology of Success is packed with interesting info and case studies, but if you just want to dive right in, there’s plenty of info online. Start by testing your mindset. If it turns out yours is fixed, there are steps you can take to work on changing it:

  1. Learn to hear your fixed mindset “voice.”
  2. Recognize that you have a choice in how you interpret challenges and setbacks.
  3. Use a growth mindset "voice."
  4. Choose the growth mindset action.


1 Scheier MF, Carver CS (1985). "Optimism, Coping, and Health: Assessment and Implications of Generalized Outcome Expectancies," Health Psychology. 4(3): 219-47.

2 Dweck, Carol (2007). Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Ballantine Books

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Author info

Laura K Lawless

Laura is a French expert and Kwiziq's Head of Quality Control. Online educator since '99, Laura is passionate about language, travel, and cooking. She's American by birth and a permanent ex-pat by choice - freelancing made it possible for her to travel extensively and live in several countries before settling permanently in Guadeloupe. Laura is the author of Lawless French, Lawless Spanish, and other websites and books on French, Spanish, Italian, English, and vegetarianism. She spends most of her spare time reading, playing with food, and enjoying water sports.