PAUL: A fixed intelligence mentality can limit success

caroline-paul-headshotTrue or false: You are born with as much intelligence as you are ever going to have. True or false: You are born with the capacity to increase your intelligence and develop it throughout your life.

Both are true. Just not at the same time, depending on how you view your own intelligence. And there are two ways of doing that: with a fixed mental state or a growth mental state.

People with fixed intelligence mentalities operate on the principle that you are born with as much intelligence as you are ever going to have. Those with growth intelligence mentalities believe they have the capacity to expand their intelligence if they work at it.

These are the things I learned from hearing Ryan Bisel speak at this year’s Corporate Communications Summit. He discussed the difference between fixed and growth mentalities as it related to employee engagement. The talk made me wonder if people who shunt aside their dreams perhaps do so because they have fixed mental states and following your dream often involves setbacks and hard work.

If you are born with as much intelligence you are ever going to be able to demonstrate, you will fiercely protect that intelligence. You will ensure no one ever sees you as less intelligent than you believe you are. In short, you will avoid circumstances in which you could fail, because failure might make you look like you are not as smart as you know yourself to be. If you have ever been told that you were good at something because you were “so smart,” then that’s working toward the formation of a fixed mentality. It might have happened more frequently when you were a little kid, but it probably still happens now that you’re older.

On the other hand, if you can always expand the amount of intelligence you have, failure is just an opportunity to grow. Failure is not a sign to give up because you have no natural aptitude. Failure is a sign to try harder and learn from your mistakes.

So, as a generation lauded for our every achievement and not necessarily the work we have actually done, we might be set up for thinking that our intelligence is finite.

Especially when you think about how often we’re told to follow our dreams. Because what if your dream is something you are not necessarily good at right away? If you have a fixed mental state and run into an obstacle in doing what you love, you might just give up and find something else to love. Sometimes, it is easier to find something new to want than it is to put in the effort to get what you wanted in the first place.

But we shouldn’t give up so quickly. If you genuinely hate something and do not want to do it, then don’t. Self-determined inadequacy might not always be a good excuse for giving up on something, though.

It is easy enough to shift from a fixed to a growth mental state. Just be aware of the difference, and make a conscious effort to think with a growth mentality. But think about tasks or hobbies you have given up on. You might have thought that you just were not suited for those activities and that your time could be better spent with what you were “good at.” This may be true, but it is also true that most doctors did not get to be doctors because they had a natural gift for using a stethoscope or because they were just smart naturally. Certainly, natural intelligence and talent are part of the equation, but it all boils down to whether or not they put in the effort.

So, if you’re struggling to follow your dream because it’s harder than you thought it would be, it’s not impossible. You just have to know that you don’t have to be naturally talented to become good at something.