Psychologist Carol Dweck describes people having two types of mindsets – the fixed mindset and the growth mindset (Dweck, 2008). Individuals with a fixed mindset believe that their qualities, temperament, abilities, talents, aptitudes, and interests are fixed and cannot be changed. Thus, when faced with a failure, individuals with a fixed mindset attribute this to their lack of talent or ability in the domain they failed (e.g., “I am never good in relationships” or “I am such a loser”). These people mistakenly assume that one doesn’t need to put in effort or take risks to succeed if one is talented to begin with. Therefore, they don’t challenge themselves and don’t reach their full potential. In contrast, individuals with a growth mindset view their personal attributes such as talents and abilities as being malleable and are open to improving themselves by learning from failures, stretching beyond their comfort zone, and making concerted efforts. They don’t blame their personality for failures and their usual response following failures is, “I need to try harder next time.”
Fixed mindset fosters depression by perpetuating a feeling of hopelessness and despair that adversities are a fixed and stable part of one’s future. While individuals with a fixed mindset have been shown to have higher levels of depressive symptoms, growth mindset in people with depression leads to more action toward solving one’s problems (Dweck, 2008). Individuals with a growth mindset tend to achieve more than those with a fixed mindset because they worry less about looking smart and put more energy into learning. Growing evidence suggests that brief interventions targeting the growth mindset can decrease the subsequent risk of depressive symptoms (Miu & Yeager, 2015; Schleider & Weisz, 2016). Remarkably, a single intervention that promotes a growth mindset and lasts only for 30 minutes has been shown to decrease depression and anxiety in kids who “worry or feel sad more than other kids” even after nine months of the intervention (Schleider & Weisz, 2018).
A couple of exercises that will help you explore the growth mindset are described below (Dweck, 2008).
1. Think of a person who you believe outdid you and you assumed that they were smarter or more talented. Now get yourself in a growth mindset and consider if this person did one or more of the following:
- Used better strategies
- Learned more about what they were doing
- Worked harder
- Worked through obstacles
2. The next time you use a negative label on yourself such as being stupid, idiot, loser, or “this is just how I am,” ask yourself the following question:
To learn more about evidence-based self-management techniques that are proven to work for depression, check out Dr. Duggal's Author Page.
HARPREET S. DUGGAL, MD, FAPA
Miu, A. S., & Yeager, D. S. (2015). Preventing symptoms of depression by teaching adolescents that people can change: effects of a brief incremental theory of personality intervention at 9-month follow-up. Clinical Psychological Science, 3(5), 726-743.
Schleider, J. L., & Weisz, J. R. (2016). Reducing risk for anxiety and depression in adolescents: effects of a single-session intervention teaching that personality can change. Behavior Research and Therapy, 87, 170-181.
Schleider, J., & Weisz, J. (2018). A single session growth mindset intervention for adolescent anxiety and depression: 9-month outcomes of a randomized trial. Journal of Clinical Psychology and Psychiatry, 59(2), 160-170.