How much do you think that core characteristics like intelligence can change over time? Are your intelligence and personality traits fixed, or can they be altered with systematic effort? And what effect do your beliefs about your own characteristics have on your success in life?
A “mindset” is a psychological term relating to how fixed or variable you think a certain trait is. A growth mindset indicates that you believe your traits and characteristics are malleable and are subject to change. A fixed mindset is the opposite: the belief that your personality and other traits are basically fixed and there isn’t much you can do to change them.
Which mindset you have can have a big impact on how you do in different areas of life. Past research has shown that your mindset relating to intelligence can predict how well you do when faced with academic challenges at school or university. Believing that your intelligence levels can change and grow makes you better able to cope with failure and adjust to difficult circumstances.
This makes sense when you think about it: believing that you have the power to change and develop would make failure seem less disheartening as all you have to do is try again once you’ve increased your ability level. Having a fixed mindset, on the other hand, would lead you to think that failure is very final: you’re never going to get any better and so there’s no point trying again, leading to disengaging and giving up.
Recently researchers have started looking at how mindsets relate to mental health disorders like anxiety. Believing that traits such as anxiety are variable and can be altered may lead to higher success rate in treatment and could protect against all kinds of negative consequences stemming from anxiety. To test this the current study surveyed 1200 university students regarding their beliefs about the fixed or variable nature of anxiety. They were also asked about the number of traumatic life experiences they had been through, as well as being surveyed for signs of psychological distress.
The findings indicate that having a growth mindset protected you against the negative effects of going through traumatic life experiences. People with a fixed mindset of anxiety showed a stronger link between previous trauma and negative symptoms such as PTSD symptoms, depression symptoms, self harm and substance abuse.
It has long been thought that the attitude you hold to your own ability has a huge impact on how well you do in life, and this research shows it to be true in the field of anxiety. Believing your anxiety is not set in stone and can be reduced and eliminated goes a long way towards protecting you from the symptoms of psychological distress further down the line. Growth mindset was also associated with greater willingness to engage and succeed in therapy- if you think there’s a chance you can change then it makes sense that you’ll fully throw yourself into therapy, and this in turn will actually increase your chances of changing for the better.
At Angus Munro Psychology it’s our belief that anyone can succeed in overcoming anxiety. Learning how to cope with anxiety and other disorders begins with believing you can change. To get started, contact us today.