The Psychology Behind Success-Oriented Mindset

The phrase “Rome wasn’t built in a day” reminds you how great successes require patience, time and effort. Now, there exist two types of beliefs regarding this concept. One of the beliefs is that success is achievable. Whereas, the other belief is that “If Rome wasn’t built in a day, it was probably wasn’t meant to be” 

What is the difference between these two people? One belief highlights the importance of not giving up after a failure whereas the other is too afraid to put in the effort after an initial failure. Either people cope with their failure or they don’t. But what lies underneath? 

People with the belief that challenges can be overcome and failure is just an opportunity to learn more held the belief that human capacities like intellect, and personality can be cultivated. And that is simply what they do when faced with obstacles. They learn and evolve. They have enough belief in themselves and their abilities to achieve success. 

Whereas, people who give up when faced with failure believe that human attributes are either black or white. You are either smart or you’re not. Intelligence or personality are fixed traits and they ultimately define whether you achieve success in life. Other factors such as mistakes, or perseverance weren’t a part of this system. 

The Two Mindsets 

Let’s imagine that you have been working hard on a project, and after its completion, your boss gives you feedback that your work was not up to the standard and expectation. As you are on your way home, feeling rejected and upset, you realize that you have lost your wallet, which adds to your already negative emotions. You decide to call a close friend or family member to vent and seek support, however, no one is available and you feel their dismissal of your problems. 

What would you think? How would you feel? 

Anyone with a fixed mindset might hold extreme views about their capabilities and a sense of helplessness might emerge. “I am not as capable as I thought”, “I am careless”, and “Nobody loves me”. These people will see what happened as an indication of their incompetence and worth. 

You would wonder whether these people struggle with low self-esteem and extreme pessimism, however, that is not the case. When they are not coping up with a failure, they are as optimistic, smart, worthy and achievement-oriented as people with a success-oriented mindset. 

These situations will be perceived as minor setbacks for people with a growth mindset. These seem changeable to them since they believe in their capability to put enough time and effort into improving the situation. Some of their thoughts would be, “It was difficult to hear that feedback, but this is the opportunity to learn from my mistakes and develop my skills”, “It was my carelessness that I lost my wallet, I can learn to be more careful”, “I can talk to my family members when they are less preoccupied, I know they would help me feel better.”

A mindset shift is not required to not feel hurt and upset. Things like critical feedback and ignorance from family can hit hard. Although people with a growth mindset felt distressed, they did not start labelling themselves and forming harsh conclusions. Rather they acknowledged their emotions and feelings as they came up and were ready to take up the challenges with it. They were ready to take risks rather than being pitiful about their situation. Rather than throwing up their hands, they kept working on their goal. 

Creativity and Success 

People with a growth mindset can turn around their setbacks and failures into success. Even how they turn themselves around is bound to their creativity and achievement for greater things. This kind of creativity and achievement-oriented mindset requires resilience and perseverance. 

Everyone has a choice to believe in one or the other meaning of ability. There is a fixed ability that needs to be proven and a changeable ability that can be built and developed through learning and practice. In the fixed ability, success boils down to how much you can prove your intelligence or competence. Whereas, in the changeable ability, success is defined as how much you can learn, grow and develop yourself. 

You could either view failure as an evaluation of your abilities and view effort as a bad thing, or failure can be viewed as a simple setback that can be overcome and effort as a continuous process to achieve success.

Learners and Non-Learners 

From infancy, all of us have had this intense drive and need to learn how to crawl, walk, talk etc. We did not worry about making a mistake or embarrassing ourselves while learning all of these activities. We were just interested in growing and extending our skills and abilities daily. What put an end to the excitement to learn and grow? 

Four-year-old children were given a choice of whether they wanted to solve an already solved jigsaw puzzle or if they wanted to try something harder. There was one group of kids who held the belief that those who are born smart don’t make mistakes. They believed that their traits were fixed and they wanted to stay in the comfort of their already achieved success. 

Another group of children thought that it was strange to be given this choice. “Why would we want to attempt an already solved puzzle again?”, they asked. They went for the difficult one, one after another. They were eager to figure the puzzles out due to the growth mindset that they held. What can be concluded from this is, that as children grow up and develop the ability to evaluate themselves, some develop a fear of challenges. They are so afraid of not being regarded as the smart ones that any challenge or opportunity that comes their way could challenge their abilities, they prefer running away from it to find comfort in what they already know. 

Thus the question is, should you confront your flaws and shortcomings or should you create a world around you where you have none? This is often seen in organizations where leaders want to stay on top of the pedestal and be perceived as perfect. After initial success in a product, a leader might want to bring out similar products time and again rather than experimenting with the norm. 

Whereas, leaders with a growth mindset rethink their products and brainstorm as to how they can bring innovation to the market. They experiment and adapt to the ongoing demands of the business world. The result is simply that their new and innovative products create a boom in the market, leaving the once-dominant company behind. 

What are you trying to prove? 

A fear that persists among all of us is that of being perceived as ordinary. When people were asked to describe instances where they felt smart, so many of them talked about the times when they felt special. They described the situations where they were seen as different and smarter than others. 

This is the kind of thinking that conditions you to seek constant validation for your abilities and competence. Every recognition from others becomes gravely significant. The self-worth that you try to achieve from the external environment is fleeting rather than an evaluation of you. Your worth becomes dependent on the perception of others and you feel superior and successful for a brief period. 

Although it is not entirely up to us. The world today promotes the idea of self-superiority in which they create products to give one constant validation of their greatness. Social media platforms are designed in a way to create a reward system for the users through likes, followers and comments. Our self-esteem tells us that we are better than others. We are entitled and more valuable than any other human being. 

Excuses will be made by someone with a fixed mindset after a failure. They will engage in downward social comparisons wherein they will compare themselves with those others who are worse off than them. In a study done on students in grade seven, they were asked to respond to receiving a poor grade in a course. 

Students with a growth mindset said that they would study harder for the next test, however, students with a fixed mindset said they would study less for the next test. They held this belief that if they didn’t possess the ability, why would they try harder? They even mentioned that they would seriously consider cheating. Rather than learning from their failure, people with a fixed mindset would try to simply repair their self-esteem.

Happiness and Misery 

The beliefs that we hold are a significant part of our behavior and it makes up our psyche. Beliefs such as, “I am incompetent” or “I cannot do it” are often unconscious, however, they can significantly impact our emotions, often triggering anxiety and depression. Dr Aaron Beck calls them core beliefs and states that these are so fundamental and ingrained in our psyche that they can either lead to happiness or misery. It can leave you feeling either helpless or worthy. 

Similarly, a fixed mindset will lead you to believe that your abilities and skills are unchangeable. These beliefs lead you to see all challenges and failures as an evaluation of your inherent limitations or flaws. More often than not you are left feeling trapped because of these perceived deficiencies. Whereas, when you have a growth mindset, abilities and skills are seen as changeable, something that can be developed through learning and experience. 

Thus, Dr. Aaron Beck advocates the use of positive restructuring, wherein you engage more in positive self-talk and keep a resilient front. Beck’s CBT teaches you to monitor and identify your negative self-talk which will give you an insight into your core beliefs about yourself and your abilities. From there you can attempt to restructure and reinterpret your fixed beliefs into more adaptive and growth-oriented ones. 

This is the process to develop your growth mindset where challenges and setbacks are viewed as an opportunity to grow rather than threats to your self-esteem and worth. 

8 Questions you can ask yourself 

To identify and understand your mindset, the following questions can be asked as suggested by Carol Dweck (2017). Read the statements and evaluate the ones you agree with the most. 

Your abilities: 

  1. Intelligence is an ability that is not subject to change, rather it stays fixed from birth.
  2. You cannot change how intelligent you are, however, you can learn new things. 
  3. You can still change no matter how intelligent you are. 
  4. Intelligence is an ability that is subject to change and you play an active role in it.

Personal qualities: 

  1. The personality traits that you have are fixed and cannot be changed.
  2. You cannot change the core essential elements of you, however, you can always change how you behave. 
  3. The basic things about you can always be changed.
  4. Your personality traits do not stay fixed, they can be changed. 

Can mindsets be changed? 

Research has shown that when people were put into situations where they were instructed to use the growth mindset, they did act like growth-minded thinkers, too. Just instructing them that a particular ability can be learned or having them read a scientific article that teaches them growth mindset, showed positive results in the change in people’s behaviors. 

Although mindsets are an important part of your personality makeup, they can be changed. Simply knowing that the two mindsets exist in all of us, you can discover and identify both of these and change yourself accordingly. As and when you go about life and encounter situations where there is a failure or something that requires a lot more effort, you will switch from a fixed mindset thinking to a growth mindset thinking.

Read More: Happiness Hues: Painting Your Life with Positivity

How far can the Growth mindset take you? 

The growth mindset talks a lot about people who are the best and most successful, however, it is evidence of how far the growth mindset can take you. The point of difference between the two mindsets is that the people with a growth mindset love what they do and they continue to love it despite the difficulties. It is not the outcome that matters to them. Many of them reached the top not because they had planned for it all along. They were simply doing what they loved. 

For people with a fixed mindset, everything is about the outcome. If the outcome is not favourable to them, they declare themselves as failures or incompetent. It is ironic to note that people with a fixed mindset have that hunger to get on top and be the most successful ones, however, they rarely do reach there. For people with a growth mindset, their enthusiasm and continuous effort pave their path to success. 

What if my fixed mindset does not bother me? 

The fixed mindset gives a feeling of comfort. It makes you believe in the truth about yourself. There is a certainty that you will succeed at tasks within your skill set. And it is completely your choice to stay in your comfort zone. However, it is important to know the limitations of this mindset. It is possible that just because you have a rigid view of your abilities, you are underestimating yourself and your talent in some areas. The growth mindset does not intend to force you to pursue things you don’t wish to, it simply informs us of the development that we can achieve in our talents and skills. 


The formula for success requires more than just talent and opportunity. Factors such as resilience, mindset and self-regulation play an important role in achieving the success you need in your life. Self-regulation is the ability to manage your emotions, thoughts and behaviours to achieve long-term goals. A musician may have the talent to be on the top, however without the effort and discipline to practice regularly and manage one’s negative feelings about their abilities, they will not reach the top of their game. 

Additionally, there will be a lot of challenges and barriers that a person may come across in their pursuit of success. In times of failure, it becomes necessary to bounce back and show resilience. Despite the difficulties, it is important to maintain the efforts and learn from each experience. In conclusion, it is important to first change your perception and perspective of seeing yourself and your abilities. A growth mindset will help you achieve the success that you want as long as you stand strong in your belief to achieve it. 

References +
  • Buzzetto-Hollywood, N., Mitchell, B. C., & Hill, A. J. (2017). A mindset theory of career success. Academy of Management Proceedings, 2017(1), 10976. 
  • Lauren, K., Andrew, H. P., & Amirali, M. (2017). A mindset theory of career success. Proceedings – Academy of Management, 2017(1), 10976.
  • Buzzetto-Hollywood, N., Mitchell, B. C., & Hill, A. J. (2019). Introducing a mindset intervention to improve student success. Interdisciplinary Journal of e-Skills and Lifelong Learning, 15, 135-155. 
  • Dweck, C. S. (2006). Mindset: The new psychology of success. Random House.
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