Be a Learner, Not a Judger: A Brief Introduction to Mindset

Educational AdultsI often get asked about how to change your mind about a specific incident.  This is the crux of cognitive behavioral therapy.  Carol Dweck’s mindset is a fantastic tool.  Here is some more details on how you can use it.

The Approach:

How we interpret an event, i.e. our ‘mindset’ has huge implications for how well we bounce back from change and how we set goals.  By learning more about our mindsets, we can change them and become more resilient in the face of the challenges of our jobs and our daily lives.  This pioneering work was done by Dr. Carol Dweck at Stanford and has been tested over the last 20 years.

A fixed mindset says, “Looking smart is most important” with the main goal at work is to show how good or how smart you are.  A growth mindset says, “learning is the most important” with the main goal at work being to learn things rather than to look good or be the best.

Research shows that when people have a ‘fixed mindset’ they tend to set performance goals, aim to receive validation and equate making mistakes or a poor review to mean they are not smart.  Both success and failure cause anxiety.

People with a growth mindset tend to set learning goals, and aim for mastery and competence.  Their feedback reflects how they are doing now and this mindset increases performance and enjoyment. 

contentHere’s a Schematic View:

When faced with failure or challenge:

A fixed mindset says, “Failure means that I am not talented.”  And the question one might ask is, “What if I do this and fail?  What will other people think of me?”  A growth mindset says, “Failure or challenge means I have not worked hard enough.  If I do this and fail, it just means I have to try harder next time.”

As a result, people with fixed mindset do not pay attention to information that might help them learn on the job.  They speak negatively about themselves with permanent labels such as, “I am an idiot.”  They experience the binocular effect, minimizing past successes and magnifying failure.  And they equate the cause of events to indicate something permanent about them personally.

People with growth mindset pay attention to information that might improve their learning.  They focus on what they are learning rather than focusing on how they feel.  They try out new ways of doing things.  They do not blame failures on their talents, but rather on the fact that they haven’t put in the effort.

Mindset and Effort Beliefs:

A fixed mindset says that effort is negative.  Having to work hard at something makes this person feel like they aren’t competent.  For this view, effort equals lack of ability.  But growth mindset says that effort is positive.  The harder you work at something, the better you’ll be.  For this view, effort equals success.

Mindset can affect the strategies we use to attain success:

Someone with a fixed mindset in an area of life does not like challenge.  Usually they will claim it isn’t their fault if they failed.  As a result they keep using the wrong strategy when faced with a problem, they disengage or give up easily and may even lie about performance.  Someone with a growth mindset thrives on challenge.  They tend to generate novel ways to do things, try many different routes to success and will try harder when faced with challenge.

The Method:

The first step in helping you move from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset is to be aware of your mindset and how it is affecting your performance and your life.

  1. Go online and complete the Mindset questionnaire at:

  1. The results will be displayed immediately after finishing the test. Record how many responses indicated a Fixed Mindset and how many responses indicated a Growth Mindset.

It is important to note that mindsets are often domain specific (you might be growth mindset in one area of your life and fixed mindset in another area of your life.)  They can also change with effort.

Debrief for Fixed Mindset Results:

Ask yourself or write in a journal:  How does this mindset affect your ability to learn and grow?

We sometimes have a fixed mindset in one area but a growth mindset in other areas.  In what areas of your life do you believe you have a fixed mindset?  In what areas would you say you have a growth mindset?

Think of certain tasks you perform that cause you anxiety.  How do you think your fixed mindset might be affecting your performance? How can adopting a growth mindset help you in this area?

Debrief for Growth Mindset Results:

Ask yourself or write in a journal:  Think about some of your greatest successes.  How did you manage to achieve success in this area?  How did your mindset contribute to this success?

What helps you stay in a growth mindset? How can you continue to nurture this mindset?


         Another way to look at this is to think about when we are in learner mode versus judger mode.  What questions are you asking as you move into a given situation? Any of us can literally change our lives simply by changing the questions we ask, especially those we ask ourselves. We can ask questions that open us to learning, connection, satisfaction, and success. Or we can ask questions that impede progress and keep us from getting results we want. Asking, “What great things could happen today?” creates very different expectations, moods, and energy than asking, “What could go wrong today?”

This growth mindset approach to self-management is impactful because empirical research has shown that it works.  These are tools you can implement immediately and with practice it can help you be more resilient in your work and personal life.



Here are two excellent resources you can read to understand the concept:

An online article/resource for this information:

This is video gives you a nice overview. Although Dr. Dweck talks about children, this mindset is learned early on in life so it is applicable to adults too.



(Source:  Dr. Carol Dweck;

This entry was posted in Positive Psychology by Shannon Polly, MAPP. Bookmark the permalink.

About Shannon Polly, MAPP

Shannon M. Polly is a corporate communications trainer, facilitator and speaker and founder of Shannon Polly & Associates, a leadership development company in downtown D.C. Shannon works with executives, managers and employees of Fortune 500 companies in two areas: executive presence/presentation skills (based on over a decade of experience as a professional actor/singer in New York) and positive psychology. Shannon is one the first 100 people in the world who have received her Master in Applied Positive Psychology (MAPP) degree from the University of Pennsylvania under Dr. Martin Seligman. She also holds a graduate degree from the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art in classical acting and a B.A. with honors from Yale University. She also holds a coaching certificate from the Georgetown Leadership Coaching Program.

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