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The Defining Characteristics of a Fixed Mindset

Let’s look at the key characteristics of the fixed mindset, what a fixed mindset is, and its pros and cons.

Could the conservative side of you be preventing you from taking action? Do you believe that you’re bound to be a certain way forever? If so, you might be stuck in a fixed mindset.

This mindset is an archetype that reflects how we view ourselves and our abilities. Knowing about it will help you identify when you’re shooting yourself in the foot and enable you to make empowering changes. This concept comes from Carol Dweck, who studied it in her classic book, Mindset.

The beauty of this simple concept lies in its explanatory power. Having a fixed disposition has a clear impact on our results and life trajectory. It leads to predictable differences in our behaviour, actions and life experiences.

Fortunately, while we tend to have it or not, we aren’t inherently fixed-minded or not, and we can deliberately change some of its unhelpful characteristics, behaviours, habits and thought patterns.

Time to look at the fixed mindset.

The Key Characteristics of the Fixed Mindset

The backbone of the fixed mentality is the belief that our characteristics are set in stone.

You hold this belief if you believe that you are either intelligent or not, artistic or not, mathematical or not, or similar. Watch out for this simplistic, black-and-white dichotomising.

The fixed-mindset person gives enormous weight to seeming innate ability and God-given dispositions. If they lack competence in an area, it’s because they were born with the wrong genes, were unlucky or are just inherently inept.

Unfortunately, this is a self-fulfilling prophecy. These disempowering beliefs prevent this person from ever trying to develop competence in areas that attract them, which only reinforces their sense of inferiority. They don’t see signs of weakness or moments of failure as signposts that guide their way towards growth and improvement, but as indications of their flawed and insufficient nature.

Think about it. If you believe your characteristics are fixed, you strongly identify with them and believe they accurately reflect you. And when they are scrutinised, you feel attacked.

Risk, challenge, tinkering and effort are fearsome – the “nothing ventured nothing lost” attitude prevails in their place. When I picture the fixed mentality, the mental image that comes to me is that of a cage, which is exactly what this way of thinking places around us. The more we identify with this way of thinking, the less room for manoeuvre our cage affords us, and the more rigid our thought patterns and behaviours.

But let’s be balanced, too, and try to understand the fixed mindset. Really, our conservative side is what brings about this mental structure. Without continuity and a sense of solidity, we would be unable to exist as we know it, both biologically, psychologically and culturally. It’s a protection mechanism that sometimes inadvertently causes the opposite of what it intends.

Characteristics of the fixed mindset

Characteristics Of The Fixed Mindset: Gifts and Gremlins

We want to experience the positives of this mentality without being blindsided by its shortcomings. A healthy dose of the fixed mentality is good for us. Here’s why.


There is wisdom in this mentality. For one thing, fixed-mindset people are free of the insatiable drive for constant self-improvement. They’re more likely to say: “I’m already enough, I’m happy with my current level.” That points to a certain level of self-acceptance that we should all aspire to cultivate, as long we retain a healthy level of self-esteem.

Their eyes are not on the prize. They focus more on the process rather than the fruits, and can celebrate and take a break rather than continually striving for more.

Endless promotions, being number one and perpetual progress take a back seat, and instead the fixed-mindset person just enjoys where they are. How can we ever enjoy life if we always desire more? At what point do we get off the transformation treadmill and just chill out?

Self-acceptance, gratitude and enjoyment of the present are every bit as important as learning and growing, and the fixed mentality can show us how to find those.

Now let’s look at some of the gremlins of this way of thinking.


For me, the standout gremlin of the fixed mentality is that it draws from false premises. The idea that we just are a certain way is blatant BS. And as I mentioned, it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you want to learn a language but also believe you’re inherently incapable of doing so, guess what? You can say adieu to polyglottery.

And while it’s true that in some ways the fixed mentality brings a level of self-acceptance, I usually find it in people who have spent their lives second-guessing their desires and taking zero action towards making their dreams a reality. The cause might be a crippling lack of self-esteem, and the avoidance of criticism points to a deeper lack of self-assurance.

The resistance to failure is fateful. All meaningful learning involves failure. You fall down, and you get back up. You get thrown off the horse, and you climb back on. The fixed-mindset person is so desperate to mask signs of incompetency that they fail to learn. This has the exact opposite effect to that intended, and they consign themselves to being second-rate.

No learning means stagnation. Why bother trying to change career direction if it’s impossible? Why devote myself to a musical instrument when I lack innate talent?

And finally, this mentality is fundamentally disempowering. It has us put the cause of our successes and shortcomings outside ourselves. Luck, genes, parents, our country, you name it. Whatever brings about the events in our lives, it’s not us.

Properties of the fixed mindset

Over to you – how fixed-minded are you, and how does it shoot you in the foot? Which positive parts of the fixed mindset do you identify with?

If you believe this mentality is holding you back, you might like to read my article on the growth mindset to begin upgrading your mentality.

There’s more – check out my episode on the growth and fixed mindset.