How The Mindset Affects Achievement and Success

Is the mindset and success related in any way? Are human beings capable of sabotaging their lives? Is there an explanation of how the mindset affects achievement and success? Well, as it turns out, how we see things play a major role in the decisions we make.

“I am a master of my destiny” is a popular quote, but how to do precisely that depends on what is going on in the mind. The mind has three basic functions: thinking, feeling, and wanting. When someone gets an epiphany or “aha moment” to a problem or a goal, that’s a single thought presenting an option that might or might not work. However, a person’s mindset is responsible for the next set of events and the outcome.  

Types of mindsets

One particular writer, Carol Dweck, an American psychologist, wrote about the mindset and its relation to our lives’ outcome. In her book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, she writes, “For thirty years, my research has shown that the view you adopt for yourself profoundly affects the way you lead your life. It can determine whether you become the person you want to be and whether you accomplish the things you value. How does this happen? How can a simple belief have the power to transform your psychology and, as a result, your life?”  

She argues that some people see themselves as limited to what they already have, whereas others see what they already have as the starting point. Her point is human beings are governed by either a fixed or growth mindset.

What is a fixed mindset?

The book defines a fixed mindset as a belief that “qualities are carved in stone”. A good example is how the education system portrays top-performing students as the only ones who’ll make it in life and the ones with low grades as doomed. Similarly, a person might think that because he/he doesn’t come from an affluent family, he/she cannot achieve greatness.

Those who hold a fixed mindset believe that they are either good or bad at something based on their inherent nature. For instance, someone with a fixed mindset might say, “I’m a natural-born soccer player” or “I’m just not good at soccer,” believing that their athletic skills can’t be developed. Their way of thinking is, “if you have it, you have it, and if you don’t, you don’t”.

A person with a fixed mindset:

  • avoids challenges
  • gives up easily upon encountering obstacles
  • sees effort as fruitless or worse
  • ignores useful negative feedback
  • feels threatened by the success of others

And what is a growth mindset?

The growth mindset is a way of seeing everything as a useful ingredient for getting what you want. It’s solely believing that through learning and experience goals are achievable.

Carol Dweck defined growth mindset as, “There’s another mindset in which these traits are not simply a hand you’re dealt and have to live with, always trying to convince yourself and others that you have a royal flush when you’re secretly worried it’s a pair of tens. In this mindset, the hand you’re dealt is just the starting point for development. This growth mindset is based on the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts, your strategies, and help from others. Although people may differ in every which way—in their initial talents and aptitudes, interests, or temperaments—everyone can change and grow through application and experience.”

Those with a growth mindset see the process as part of the outcome and:

  • embraces challenges
  • persists in the face of setbacks
  • sees effort as the path to mastery
  • learns from criticism
  • finds lessons and inspiration in the success of others

Which one is good for me?

The problem is the misinterpretation of what fixed and growth mindsets are. As Dweck puts it, “In one world, failure is about having a setback. Getting a bad grade. Losing a tournament. Getting fired. Getting rejected. It means you’re not smart or talented. In the other world, failure is about not growing. Not reaching for the things you value. It means you’re not fulfilling your potential.”

Therefore, the mindset depends on your intentions. What are you trying to achieve, and which mindset will take you there? The best mindset needs to come from an honest, sincere, and realistic personal view. There is no guarantee that you’ll become what you’ve set your mind into. But how can you know if you don’t try? If you try, you can either fail or succeed.

Moreover, what made you fail or succeed are useful lessons that determine your next step. Dweck gives an example of how a baby learns to walk. “Everyone is born with an intense drive to learn. Infants stretch their skills daily. Not just ordinary skills, but the most difficult tasks of a lifetime, like learning to walk and talk. They never decide it’s too hard or not worth the effort. Babies don’t worry about making mistakes or humiliating themselves. They walk, they fall, they get up.”

So, can I become whatever I want?

The answer is yes and/or no. It’s acceptable to say that if something is important to you, quitting when the going gets tough shouldn’t be an option. There will always be challenges since every achievement opens the door to new challenges. However, there’s a possibility of people having inflated views of personal abilities and trying things they’re not capable of.

Howard Gardner, in his book Extraordinary Minds, argues “that an excess of raw power is not the most impressive characteristic shared by superachievers; rather, these extraordinary individuals all have had a special talent for identifying their own strengths and weaknesses, for accurately analyzing the events of their own lives, and for converting into future successes those inevitable setbacks that mark every life.”

By identifying personal strengths and weaknesses, it’s easy to make realistic decisions and perform well in areas that benefit your goals. It becomes easy to apply your strengths and simultaneously manage your weaknesses in the presence of challenges. You won’t be stubborn to change when necessary, and you won’t keep on changing everything either. Similarly, the mind can play tricks on you if you aren’t in control of your thoughts.  

Dr. Linda Elder and Dr. Richard Paul in their book, The Miniature Guide to Taking Charge of The Human Mind, state that, “The three functions of the mind — thoughts, feelings and desires — can be guided or directed either by one’s native egocentrism or by one’s potential rational capacities. Egocentric tendencies function automatically and unconsciously. Rational tendencies arise only from active self-development and are largely conscious.”


We all have some shades of both growth and fixed mindsets, depending on the situation. Perhaps that’s a good thing since it balances our lives, and we stick to one course and become experts through learning the ropes.

Although a growth mindset seems like the better option, sometimes having a fixed mind works. Whichever the choice, it affects how you lead, manage, parent, or show up in relationships. It’s all about approaching a challenge, either with curiosity for what you could learn or by thinking about how you might appear if things went wrong.  

Notably, a fixed mindset has a higher chance of settling for less and not reaching the maximum potential. But, the growth mindset widens the possibilities. That’s why there are quotes such as “I am the master of my own destiny”, or “whether you think you can or can’t, you’re right”.

Image by U3170151, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons


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