The Psychology of Rigidity: What Is a Fixed Mindset?

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Author Name: Lucas Cook
Date: Tuesday February 20, 2024

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A rigid mentality creates blind spots that can shape your worldview, begging the question — what is a fixed mindset? What causes it? Is it bad?

Understand the psychology of this mentality to determine whether you have it and what you can do to use it to your advantage.

What Is a Fixed Mindset?

A fixed mindset is believing that your traits and abilities are static no matter what you do. You shy away from challenges, play safe to avoid mistakes, fear failure, and stay in your comfort zone. You accept that your intelligence level is immutable, rely on your talents without enhancing them, and refuse to learn new skills.

Having a fixed mindset makes you resistant to change because being out of your element may expose you to ideas and experiences that contradict your perceptions. Everyone has conflicting beliefs and behaviors, but maintaining this frame of mind makes coping with your clashing thoughts more grueling.

Fixed Mindset Examples

If you believe that everything about you is unalterable, you may agree with these statements:

  • Luck determines everything.
  • People are either good at something or not.
  • Some being more talented than others is unfair.
  • Success breeds jealousy.
  • Having to work hard proves a lack of natural intelligence.
  • Effort is meaningless.
  • Old dogs can’t learn new tricks.
  • Self-development is an illusion.
  • Risk-taking is an exercise in futility.
  • Making a mistake is embarrassing.
  • Feedback is a personal attack.
  • Failure means it’s time to quit.
Two co-workers discussing something in a meeting room - what is a fixed mindset

The fixed mindset examples above may hold true. However, people with an opposing growth mindset will find them nonsensical.

This mentality is about self-improvement, preaching that you can learn from your mistakes, acquire new skills, break bad habits, and succeed after failing. It reassures you that you can come out to the other side when life deals you a bad hand if you play your cards right and don’t fold.

What Causes Fixed Mindsets?

A fixed mindset is ironically a product of nurture, not nature. This attitude can develop because of various factors — childhood experiences, negative feedback without guidance, comparison, unmanaged fear of failure or atychiphobia, and cultural norms.

As children, we all had a growth mindset by default. However, some of us receive excessive compliments for our talents without giving our efforts enough credit. Praising innate abilities without emphasizing hard work’s role in our accomplishments can cultivate a belief that greatness has to do with who we are instead of what we do.

People can have a dim view of feedback when given without support. Criticisms should include sincere advice to become constructive. Otherwise, they’re just judgments about negative abilities.

Comparison is the thief of joy. Achieving less relative to others without recognizing that accomplished individuals capitalize on their privileges and address their inadequacies to get ahead. Some don’t realize their full potential because they have to overcome more obstacles in life than others who are lucky enough to deal with fewer adversities.

Atychiphobia can be a learned behavior. Growing up in a household with no room for error can encourage risk aversion. This fear can also stem from a traumatic experience with a severe consequence. It can run in the family or arise from other phobias, too.

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Lastly, conformity to societal expectations and stereotypes can foster a fixed mindset. The pressure to adopt the normf can affect your psyche and mold your self-perception.

Is a Fixed Frame of Thinking Good?

Yes, it can be advantageous in many cases. What is a fixed mindset good for?

Believing you’re good at something and reaffirming this truth in your head can increase your confidence in the areas you, solidifying your sense of security in this area. Knowing your positive abilities can help you find your niche and pursue roles you can excel in, even if you’re uninterested.

This mentality can help you adopt a rigid routine that suits particular duties and responsibilities. It can make you less susceptible to doubt because you already accept your limits. Spending less time thinking of better ways to approach things can boost your efficiency and productivity.

Your fixed mindset can compel you to become a perfectionist. Constantly trying to be flawless has drawbacks, but it’s instrumental in eliminating miscalculations.

What Are the Dangers of a Fixed Mindset?

The dangers of a fixed mindset include minimizing self-knowledge, limiting possibilities, staying in unpleasant situations, and believing in zero-sum games.

Being a firm believer in having unchangeable traits is a self-fulfilling prophecy. This mentality impedes self-awareness instead of promoting it.

If you refrain from challenging your philosophy and actively stop doing anything that may help you grow, you’ll prove yourself right. Fire forges character, so you may never know yourself as deeply as possible when you oppose unfamiliarity and discomfort.

Self-limiting beliefs are the foundation of fixed mindsets. Most 21st-century technologies were unimaginable a century ago. Where would the world be if scientists and engineers weren’t bold enough to dream and push the boundaries of possibilities?

Being sure of what you can and can’t do without repeatedly testing your hypothesis restricts your capability and diminishes your opportunity to gain what you truly want. You may miss out on unique experiences and life-changing relationships if you only think about worst-case scenarios.

Chances are, you suffer more in imagination than in reality. Your painful memories may follow you around forever, but they shouldn’t justify your apprehensions. Feeling you can’t improve your unwanted situation because you lack the talent to make it better is detrimental to your well-being.

Black-and-white thinking is a mind trap. It may convince you you’re last if you don’t finish first — without realizing there’s a gray area. Your loss isn’t necessarily somebody else’s gain, and vice versa. Success is more about the journey and less about the destination. The prize may be the point of competition, but the process matters just as much.

Can You Overcome This Type of Mindset?

Yes, you can overcome a fixed mindset due to your brain’s neuroplasticity — the ability to form new neural pathways to reorganize itself. You can modify your mentality over time if you put your mind to it.

A person wearing a hoodie with words Changing Mindsets - what is a fixed mindset

Having said that, you don’t have to choose between fixed and growth mindsets. You can have both, switch dynamically as you see fit, and approach situations appropriately.

Do You Have a Fixed Mindset?

Feeling certain that your abilities are unchangeable is unnatural. Strongly consider reframing your way of thinking to grow and live your dream life. Triggering a mindset shift when the situation calls for it is a valuable skill, so learn how to think dynamically to enjoy the best of both worlds.

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