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A person’s mind-set refers to the ideas and attitudes with which a person approaches a situation. Mostly, mind-sets are developed (or learned) from experiences in past situations, and can be either positive or negative.


A particular mind-set can be hard to alter, especially negative ones, and more so if it has been held for a long period of time or has been reinforced a number of times.

Getting back to a positive mind-set after a setback as quickly as possible is the ideal result, so you can return to being an effective and productive person. Learning about your mind-set and how you react to setbacks is an important place to start.

Identifying your mind-set

To the right is a list of statements that may help give some insights into your own mind-set.

As you read through the list consider whether you agree or disagree with the statement. Write this down. Don’t think too hard about the answer; just go with the one that feels right to you.

Tally your score

Note down the number of times you agreed for odd numbers (1,3,5 etc). Then, note down the number of times you agreed for even numbers (2,4,6 etc)      

A higher odd number score indicates a fixed mind-set.

A higher even number score indicates a growth mind-set.

Develop a Growth Mind-set

The test above is designed to determine whether you tend to believe your ability is fixed and can’t be changed or whether it is malleable or changeable. People who believe their ability is fixed have a fixed mind-set and people who believe their ability can be changed or evolve have a growth mind-set.

Why is this important? Over the years psychologists have discovered that these beliefs about ability and performance and learning orientations have direct influence on our learning as well as resilience.

Fixed mind-set

When people believe that their ability is fixed they tend to find performance (and especially assessment) situations more stressful.

This is because they believe that the outcome of learning is most important as it indicates to everyone how good they are.  Fixed mind-set people tend to believe that people are inherently either good or bad at things (rather than average).

Have you ever heard or even said things like, “I’m just not a maths person” or “she’s a natural at that?” Interestingly, people who have had some good performance in the past are particularly vulnerable to this.  Why? Because, they are often praised for being “smart” rather than being praised for putting in effort.

Focusing on being smart produces a fixed mind-set because it involves being focused on the outcome of learning rather than the process. As a result, people with a fixed mind-set prefer not to invest too much effort in things that they find challenging and will tend to give up on difficult things. Instead, they prefer things they are naturally better at.

They also may not enjoy the process of learning; if they do fail at something or, make a mistake, they take it quite hard because they believe that failure tells them something about them as a person.

Growth mind-set

In contrast, people who believe that their ability is changeable, tend to believe they can achieve anything they put their mind to - so long as they put in effort.

They are concerned with growth rather than outcome. Natural ability isn’t as important to them as making the effort. They know that at any point some people will show better performance than others at some things, but they believe everyone can improve and develop.  This means that if they fail or have a setback, it doesn’t mean they can’t do something, it just means that they can’t do it yet, and it tells them where they need to direct more effort. And so, they persist for longer and are interested in the journey of learning, rather than just the outcome. For them mistakes are just part of learning.

What can I do about it?

The good news is that these beliefs are very easy to change! It’s extremely common to have a fixed mind-set, but it’s also easy to change to a growth mind-set. The trick is to listen carefully to what you are telling yourself when you find yourself experiencing a challenge or setback.

With most things you are trying to get your head around, it can be good to get your thoughts down on paper. Once written down you have the freedom to look at them more objectively.

1. Challenge your thinking

Think of a task or a situation you find difficult or challenging:

  • When thinking about this task do you ever hear yourself thinking, “I can’t do this” or “I’m just no good at it”? Instead try telling yourself, “I can’t do this yet” or “I can become better at this”

  • After completing a challenging task, do you find yourself thinking, “Was I any good?” Instead try focusing on what you can do to improve.

2. Try looking at the problem from someone else's perspective

Think of a situation in which you made a mistake, performed poorly, gave up on mid-way through or failed.

  • Write down the things you were saying to yourself in that situation.

  • Consider what you are telling yourself and ask, “would I say that to a friend?” or, “would I say that to a young child?”

Often we are much harsher with ourselves than we are with others. Noticing when we talk to ourselves like this and stopping it is important.

3. Find the positives in setbacks

Never let good failures go to waste, instead think about what you can learn from them. For example:

  • Think of a time that you failed at something; it could be anything from a sporting loss to an academic setback.

  • Note down the valuable information that failure gave you about how you could improve.

By using the failure as a learning tool you will come to view it as valuable rather than a waste of time, and can use the experience to do better next time.

4. Learning from others

A great way to learn is to learn from the experience of others, both their successes and failures, as both of these contain important information that you can apply.

  • Consider other people who have had failures before they had success - do the All Blacks or Silver Ferns win every single time?

  • Ask successful people you know about setbacks and they will often tell you of the useful strategies they developed as a result of their experience.

Your beliefs about your ability impact both your performance and how much you enjoy learning. Having the belief that your ability can be changed with effort will make you more resilient in the face of setbacks.  

After all, setbacks are just information about where you need to put in some more effort.

Other self-help techniques to improve your resilience

You can find more information about building resilience in the other pages in this section, or by downloading the complete toolkit below.

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Everyday Resilience - NZDF Resilience Toolkit
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