Taming the Fixed Mindset: 4 Steps to Lasting Growth and Change

Over my years at the Yale School of Music, I have introduced my students to the growth mindset, the belief that you can develop your talents and intelligence through hard work, smart strategies and input from others. This concept has become very popular ever since Dr. Carol Dweck, the brilliant psychologist who developed and researched the concept, published her findings in 2007 in her eminently readable book, Mindset .  However, over the years, some of her findings on the growth mindset have been misinterpreted and oversimplified, since many people thought that you could banish the fixed mindset! However, we all have both mindsets but we can tame the fixed mindset through an ongoing process that results in a new approach that results in growth and change.  The updated research on the growth mindset has resulted in an updated version of Mindset in 2016.

How does this apply to music entrepreneurs?
Very simple
Music entrepreneurs don’t give up!

In the face of setbacks, they persist until they get it right. They embrace challenge, risk-taking and learning from mistakes that are at the heart of the growth mindset.

The good news?  You can learn how to tame your fixed mindset.

In the latest version of her book, Dr. Dweck elaborates on the process.  Here is my take on how to tame your fixed mindset and adopt a growth mindset approach, using the following 4 steps:

  1. Embrace both the fixed and growth mindsets
  2. Understand your fixed mindset
  3. Affirm your power to change
  4. Make a plan and take growth mindset actions

1. Embrace Both Mindsets

The first step is to embrace both mindsets! Often, when people hear about the two mindsets, they assume that the Fixed Mindset is bad and that they have to get rid of it. Moreover, they further believe that once they banish the fixed mindset, they have the growth mindset all the time.
In fact, no one has the growth mindset all the time and we are all a mixture of the two.
We all have fixed mindset thoughts.  Some people stay stuck in those thoughts. The music entrepreneur, on the other hand, does not stop when her fixed mindset kicks in. Instead, she keeps going.

2. Understand your Fixed Mindset

Step two involves understanding what you are like when the fixed mindset takes over

This involves tracking the situations that trigger your Fixed Mindset thoughts and then exploring what you are like when your fixed mindset persona takes over.

  • Track Your Fixed Mindset Triggers

What situations trigger the fixed mindset for musicians?

Anytime you are competing with someone else, feeling judged or want to prove that you are smarter or more talented:

  • Competitions
  • Auditions
  • Studio Class
  • Performances
  • Rough Rehearsals
  • Tough Lessons
  • Hearing about other people’s successes
  • Networking
  • Speaking to audiences
  • Practicing and wanting to get it “perfectly”
  • Social situations

And how about when you have too much to do and feel overwhelmed because you want to do everything and do it perfectly?

Indeed. for many musicians, as the competition gets stiffer, the more likely it is for the fixed mindset to crop up because you can no longer ride on your talent.

So track your fixed mindset thoughts and the situations that give rise to them.

  • Explore your Fixed Mindset Persona

Once you know your triggers, it’s time to explore what happens when the fixed mindset sets in.

  • What are you like when the fixed mindset takes over?
  • What do you do?
  • How do you feel?

You can even give your fixed mindset persona a name.

My students at the Yale School of Music have been very creative with their names, including one called “Robot” who is smart enough but incapable of change! Another student detailed how her fixed mindset persona documents each instance of failure in a newsletter called “Your Shortcomings” which the persona regularly sends out to our student to prove her deficiencies to the point that this poor student cannot forgive herself and move on.

By doing this work, my students found that they can better understand what they are like under the spell of the Fixed Mindset and isolate the challenges that they want to overcome.  It also helps them to see their shortcomings in a more objective light and prepare them to improve and learn from their mistakes.

3. Affirm that you have the power change

Once you are aware of your fixed mindset triggers and what you are like when your fixed mindset persona takes over, the next step is to affirm that you have the power to change.
There are a few ways to do this.

  • Understand your setback

Start by examining what set you back.   Suppose you did not advance in a competition?

That’s really upsetting. Yet it is a reality for many musicians.  The growth mindset will lead you to understand what happened:

  • What accounted for not advancing in the competition?
  • What did you learn?
  • Whom can you consult for help on doing better?
  • What can you do differently next time?

By answering these questions, you are creating smarter and better strategies that can help you to grow and change.

  • Weigh the evidence

Another way to affirm your power to change is to weigh the evidence that supports or refutes your fixed mindset thought.

In our last example, suppose your fixed mindset told you:

“You are never going to make it.  You just are not good enough”.

Well, let’s test that proposition:

How true is it that you just are not good enough?

It is true that you did not advance in your last competition.
On the other hand,

  • You have a terrific teacher who supports your progress.
  • You are working hard using some new strategies and you see your improvement.
  • You love performing and you have many performance opportunities coming up.
  • You are committed to making progress and you love a challenge.

What’s your conclusion after weighing the evidence? Pretty obvious, right? And don’t forget: You may not be there YET!  That magic 3-letter word “yet” reminds you that you can keep improving and changing!

By the way, no one is perfect, not even the musicians whom we idolize.  They too make mistakes either in the practice room and sometimes even on stage!
It’s a perception so why not go with the most empowering one?

  • Answer with a Growth Mindset Thought

Another way to affirm your power to change is to answer that fixed mindset thought with a growth mindset thought.

  • I’m an expressive passionate musician and I am committed to improving.
  • I love a challenge so let me figure out the best way to handle situation.
  • I enjoy learning new strategies and will reach out to my mentor for some suggestions.
  • I’ve done it before and I can do it again.
  • I am committed to handling this situation.
  • What can I learn from this?
  • What will I do next time?
  • By changing your thoughts to more empowering, growth mindset thoughts, this means you believe that you can change.

This process allows you to see that it is possible to change.

So ask yourself:

  • How can I change?
  • What makes it possible for me to change?
  • What is the underlying thought that will help me change?  I can work hard.  I can try. I can grow. I can learn.


Fixed mindset thoughts are not the truth: they are just perceptions.  And perceptions can change.  So why not have your  Growth Mindset self have the last word?

4. Set a Growth Mindset Goal and Make a Plan

Now that you understand your fixed mindset and have affirmed your power to change, it’s time to put your knowledge into practice and begin to take growth mindset actions. This is the fourth step of the process of change.

Start by setting a growth mindset or a “get better” goal.  We frame these goals as “get better” goals because they allow you to improve, as opposed to “be good” goals that prove that you already know something.

Let’s use our example of advancing in competitions.

By the end of this quarter/year/season/semester, I want to improve/get better at/become more proficient in advancing in competitions.

Then, make a plan for how to accomplish your goal:

  • How will I do it?  Find new performance opportunities by emailing 3 people who have offered to help you.
  • When will I do it? Tonight!
  • Where will I do it?  From my computer when I get home tonight.

Keep track of your progress!  This is a good way to understand what works and how you can maintain your progress.  Because this is a journey, not a quick fix.
The Growth Mindset is a great way to harness the perseverance and resilience that musicians need in order to keep going in our field.  So practice the 4-step process as you move towards growth and change and success.

More on growth mindset goals next time!