fixed mindset

The 6 Characteristics of a Fixed Mindset

I got called a perfectionist every so often while growing up. I thought it was a badge of honor, to own, but inside I knew it didn't truly describe me.

Perfectionists have an internal drive to be great at everything. They put pressure on themselves even if no one saw their work and they made sure their work was it’s best from start to finish.

I on the other hand only cared about what people saw. I hid an impressive stack of incompletes, rarely got a “clean desk award,” and often got in trouble for my messy bedroom.

I only did my best work at the beginning and then, when it felt like no one would see it, I’d stop trying. While I was called a perfectionist, I was more frequently called “lazy.” I felt like I was both a perfectionist AND lazy, but couldn’t figure out why.  

Now I know that I was neither lazy nor a perfectionist. What I actually had was a fixed mindset.

I’ve already received an influx of messages and comments from people identifying with my story and wondering what to do about their fixed mindset, so let’s break down the pieces: how do you actually spot a fixed mindset?  Here are some of the key traits-all of which describe who I was perfectly. Is this you?

Are you a perfectionist? Or just struggle with a fixed mindset like me? Comment below if this resonates with you—I’d love to hear your experience!

1. A fixed mindset believes their talent and traits are fixed assets

The real rub comes when these fixed assets are challenged. When you believe you’re permanently “good” at something and then you experience failure, it’s personally devastating. For instance, that time I sang in public and my voice cracked? I had a personal meltdown. I had a crisis because if I thought I was good at music and still failed, was I really just a self-deluded washup? Often people with fixed mindsets experience mid-life crises and other feelings of worthlessness and self doubt after failure.

2. A fixed mindset is risk averse

This person avoids challenges, especially if there’s no guarantee they’ll be successful. My literal worst nightmare was team sports. How could anyone want to play team sports? Even if you’re “good at sports,” you may still lose. Losing is failure. Failure only happens when you’re bad at something.

3. A fixed mindset believes effort is for those not smart enough

You'll likely never catch someone with a fixed mindset studying for tests, prepping for lessons, presentations, or other public performances. Though they appear careless as they brush off studying, etc. the fixed mindset person carries around continual anxiety and inadequacy. Going into a test, knowing you didn’t study is your ultimate personal challenge. But the stakes are high and you can’t be sure you won’t fail. And failure can look like anything less than an A, perfect review, or glowing feedback from your new idea.

4. A fixed mindset covers their flaws and is defensive if they’re pointed out

Flaws may be human, but to the person with a fixed mindset, they are fatal and must be hidden at all times. Often, pointing out flaws in any way to a person with a fixed mindset will result in a diversionary tactic, an over reaction, or even a vicious response, depending on the threat level.

5. A fixed mindset views feedback as a personal attack

This person will sweat more over their reviews than the actual reason they’re being reviewed. In my case, I would be sick to my stomach knowing I had a teacher review of my teaching demonstration, even though I hadn’t been terribly nervous to teach.

I also held a job requiring that I garner feedback every other year from the people I managed. Each year, I  would start knowing “this is review year.” It would loom over my entire year, causing me anxiety, and shading everything I did. I would have been scheduled to administer and review these 100 feedback forms twice while in this position and my superiors forgot each time. Each time it was forgotten, I’d be so relieved that I’d celebrate. For a while afterward, I counted it one of my biggest accomplishments in that job that I got through 3 years without the bi-annual feedback forms.

6. A fixed mindset is threatened by the success of others

Since your traits and talents are fixed, you tend to believe that your success is also fixed. If someone else finds themselves experiencing exponential growth, success of any kind, or just happiness apart from their success, you feel both threatened and completely confused. What is their magic sauce and why don't YOU have it?? 

Isn't this a tiring way to live? If this is you, you feel like your life is a constant game of showcasing strengths and desperately covering weaknesses. You may not have all of these traits, but the ones you do seem debilitating, manifesting themselves in the form of anxiety, headaches, stomach issues, jaw problems, social issues, etc. 

It’s hard to be a business owner with a shoulder full of constant doubt and anxiety. In fact, it’s common for people with a fixed mindset to burn out in business ownership after they experience their first difficult form of opposition. So, if you’re a small business owner and need help shifting your mindset, know this: it’s possible! As Marie Forleo often says “everything is figure-outable.”

If you’d like personal help shifting your mindset, I'll be sharing some of my favorite tools for change next. But one of the single most powerful agents of change is having someone walk that journey with you. If you'd like help breaking your fixed mindset, let’s chat! I’d love to walk with you on a journey diving into your mindset, finding and shifting core beliefs about yourself and your business. It has been life changing for me and I know it will be for you too.

Want to learn more about a fixed mindset? Read my story here

Do you need support letting go of your fixed mindset so your business can grow? Here are the most popular ways you can work with me:

The Breakthrough Mastermind

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How to Spot a Fixed Mindset | My Story (Pt 2)

Growing up with a fixed mindset meant that, unless I lived a very specific set of circumstances, my life was going to unravel. And, little did I know it, but the unraveling was coming.

Pushing others, but backing myself into a corner

Shortly after Stephen and I got married, Stephen share more of his heart with his business. I grew excited to support his vision, and even pushed him wayyyyy outside of his comfort zone. Shortly after Stephen started feeling a bit more confident in his business, he bought me a camera and booked his first wedding with me as his second shooter.

All of a sudden all that encouragement and pushing I did was back on me and I was backed into a corner! I swallowed my pride and took on this ONE WEDDING, telling him that I felt better behind the scenes. I could answer his emails and keep track of his numbers. I set up a few spreadsheets, and kept up with his inbox pretty well, until he saw my emails and began weighing in on how they were worded. I immediately told him I couldn't keep up with his emails and sent them back to him.

This kept happening. I’d try something, it wouldn’t go as planned, and I’d write it off as a “never again” task. If Stephen brought up trying a new marketing idea, or testing out a new client response, I would get so defensive that I’d start crying within a minute of the conversation, leaving him completely bewildered.

Despite this difficulty, we began booking at a fast pace, raising our prices aggressively, and still finding ourselves at max capacity. I figured I didn't need to work on these glaring personal issues because I had bigger things to do. 

How my fixed mindset met its limits

A few years into this venture, I lost my main job, which became the first part of my unraveling. My education job had been safe, easy, and what everyone else thought I was “meant to do.” Losing that job as I sat with a friend in the Target Starbucks made my head spin. I was terrified to tell anyone I was no longer a teacher. It’s what I was “supposed” to do-I had a degree in it!

Due to the high number of bookings we already had for the following year, I decided to test out the concept of working for the business full time. I quickly realized that I’d have to do the tasks I feared most and assumed that I’d figure it out or make Stephen keep doing them. But figuring it out turned into procrastination, anxiety, sleeplessness, chronic headaches, jaw clenching and teeth grinding, and a constant stream of emotional highs and lows.

I was resting on the laurels of my husband’s hard work, marketing for us and planning our strategies, things which he passed off to me, not knowing that I was avoiding them out of intense fear. I didn’t realize it, but my fixed mindset was running on borrowed time and about a year into my full time business ownership, the debtors came calling.

The year that my mindset met it's limits, I had big plans. We had 20 beautiful weddings on the books, and I was going to land a ton of blog features to gain publicity as my main marketing plan. As we photographed beautiful weddings and neared 6 figures, the numbers looked good, but my one trick marketing pony wasn't working. 

It was our biggest year yet and I was positive I’d have a lot of press surrounding our work. As that year came to a close, I began to panic. My one-trick marketing plan hadn’t worked and we had zero weddings booked for the following year after our largest fiscal year ever. HOW HAD THIS HAPPENED???

I’d wake up daily feeling this deep sense of inadequacy, spend my days spinning in circles, and wake up in the middle of the night panicked about the year to come. I started looking up grocery store jobs and substitute teaching again.

What caused my fixed mindset to unravel

Here’s what happened: Stephen’s hard work had an expiration date. It wasn’t going to last forever, but I was coasting on his marketing groundwork, trying to ignore the fact that I needed to learn some important skills before time would run out. But I didn't. And time did indeed run out.  

I was ignoring marketing because I didn't understand it. If I didn't immediately understand it, it meant I was "bad at it" and would need to put forth effort. I was too scared to learn and try strategies in marketing and as I approached this expiration time frame, I grew paralyzed at the idea of failure. So I made it my practice to “sit really still and breathe.” No, it wasn’t a meditation practice, it was all I felt I could do without taking risks. With the pressures weighing down from all sides, I felt so trapped that the most I could do was just breathe and not move. If I so much as twitched, everything would come crashing down on me.

I finally confessed my panic to Stephen and told him about our booking issues and how they related to my avoidance of the things I couldn't understand. Now he knew what I had done and we were on the same page. As we were beginning to brainstorm solutions, my life turned upside down and that conversation had to wait. And here’s where the rest of the unravelling happened.

A season of loss and rebuilding

As we began the new year, I was ready to toast to the baby we expected to bring into the world in August. But instead, I was met with a miscarriage. During the process, my doctor and I found that I had likely had previous miscarriages and just didn’t know what they were. I was shocked and devastated. Shocked that this had actually happened, and devastated that my body had failed me.

Shortly thereafter, I lost a business deal and friendship that left me heartbroken. The business deal promised to provide a year’s worth of income and the friendship had been a deep and sweet one. My life had again unraveled and I was in the midst of a depression. Again, I felt like everything I touched was falling apart and, if I just sat still, nothing bad would happen anymore.

It was at this time that I was at my lowest. I was a failure in business, my body had failed me, and I couldn’t identify who I was and what my purpose was. I ate for comfort and gained 30 pounds during my season of heartbreak. I felt like I had nothing else. It’s honestly still so raw to talk about this dark time in my life. I feel so sad for that girl and still carry her pain.

But it was during this quiet season that God picked up the pieces and began rebuilding. I hired a business coach and began seeing a counselor. During the dark, quiet times, I began reading, journaling, listening to podcasts, and learning. And I began feeling sparks of interest again. I have what I call my “ugly purple notebook” that I have lugged all over my house for the better part of  a year, filled with prayers, anguish, heartbreak, to-do lists, panic, more to-do lists, but slowly, it started filling with hope, interest, excitement, ideas, and plans. As I learned and grew, I started seeing my depressive fog lift. I began learning how to identify and shift my mindset from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset.

Now, for the first time in my life, I’m bringing in money all by myself! I’m marketing not one, but two businesses on my own! I’m coaching other creatives, feel completely alive in what I do, and have something to say. I’ve learned to grow, assess old habits creeping in, and feel confident stating my value to potential clients. I am so deeply proud of myself and thankful for the journey God has given me. That I can say that I’m proud of myself is a sign of growth in and of itself! Now, I’m the one bringing up marketing strategy conversations with Stephen and, if he points out a weak area, I’m not dissolving into tears, I’m instead strategizing a plan to grow and learn from it.

My story is one many people share. In upcoming blog posts, I'm going to lay out the key identifiers of a fixed mindset and a growth mindset, my favorite resources for change, and steps you can take to shift your mindset. If you identify with anything I’ve shared so far, please shoot me an email-I’d love to hear your story. 

How to Spot a Fixed Mindset | My Story (pt 1)

Growing up, I was naturally successful. I always got 100% on my spelling tests, I never had to study, and, if I did, I’d never admit it to anyone. You see, I believed my intelligence was a fixed trait and needing to study was only for the kids who weren’t smart enough. (Before I get too far, Mom and Dad, if you're reading this, know that I have NO regrets about my childhood-it was pretty amazing and I grew up feeling very loved :) God knew I'd process failure in the unique way that I do and He used it to draw me to himself in a beautiful way.)

a fifth grader with a fixed mindset

Let's travel back in time and survey a fifth grade classroom in the 90's to see if you can spot me. You don't need to know what I look like. It's time to pass back the graded spelling tests and you'll see me soon. This happens to be the first and ONLY spelling test in all my formal education where I misspelled a word. Did you catch that? I got a word wrong on a spelling test once in all my education. It was a bad day. (an actual photo of a photo of me around 5th grade. That 90's hair ;)

I spelled Cinnamon as Cinammon. As soon as I saw the -1 on my test, I frantically scoured the paper for my mistake, devastated that my deskmates could see that I didn’t have that 100% at the top of the paper (the one where the teacher made a smiley face using the 0’s as googly eyes.) I remember thinking “wait, this isn’t me! I ALWAYS get 100’s! I’m the 100’s girl! Take this back, it can’t be mine!” My whole identity was shaken because of one misspelled word!

You can see me now, I'm the girl frantically air-clawing at the teacher, begging her to wait, explain how this happened, and asking her to prove that I'd actually misspelled the word. You see me now, don't you? I look frantic and desperate and I resolved to never let this happen again-my identity depended on it! Maybe you're like me-you probably feel kind of sad for that little girl that she's taking this so hard. It's just a word! I feel like giving her a little hug.

I started hearing words like “perfectionist,” and, though I didn’t understand what it meant, I was often classed as a perfectionist for acts like this. However, I was far from a perfectionist. I’ll get into that more later, but at this point, knowing my classification in a neat little compartment meant a lot to me, so, even though it secretly annoyed the heck out of me, I’d make sure my pencil was perfectly lined up on my desk, fix my stack of papers, and try to make my little fifth grade friends say “she’s such a perfectionist!” Because inside, I didn’t understand why I would care that much about a spelling test but have a messy desk and a stack of incompletes. Things about who I was were already not making sense to me, but I wouldn’t put all the pieces together for a few more years.

An eight grader with a fixed mindset tackles algebra 1

After a cross country move from the east coast to a remote portion of northern Minnesota, I jumped into all the advanced placement high school courses because I’m smart, joined volleyball, and made new friends.

I felt successful at all new things until I started that blasted math course. I struggled all year through algebra 1, staying afterward every day for extra help and running home to get more help from my patient mother. I was devastated that all my studying and hours of hard work only produced C+/B- grades. I was shaken and at that point, classified myself as permanently “bad at math.” (photo of me celebrating graduating from Calculus. I did it! But in Algebra 1 it seemed impossible!)

A fixed mindset and an epic voice crack

I developed a beautiful singing voice early in life and immediately found a reputation for being a natural talent. I began singing in public and always got perfect scores or left people with an emotional impact. Of course I did! It was who I was, right? I was a natural talent who just blew people away without even trying. And then there was the year my vocal coach forced me to sing the song “I wonder as I wander” for the holidays. I already loathed the song, but it was such a tough song to perform. On top of just adding it to my weekly repertoire, she required me to perform it in public.

So, I scheduled myself to sing it at my church. As a kind of awkward 11th grader, I got all dressed up, practiced secretly (no one could know that I needed to practice!!), and then got up in church to sing it. My crush was there-I HAD to nail it! But alas, on the final phrase of the song, as I belted “I wonder as I Waaaaaaahn-DERRRRRR…” my voice cracked approximately 3 octaves. In front of my crush.

My identity as a musical savant was crushed and that guy was probably laughing at me, right? Oh girl, I wish I could have given myself another little side hug and said “loosen up and laugh! That was legit funny!” But I wasn’t laughing because everything I believed about myself was again shaken. Isn’t that sad?

From that point on, I didn't understand how to view my musical skill and felt deeply conflicted about spending any more time on it because this one incident publicly betrayed who I thought I was.

Are you starting to sense a theme here? I'd glide on my natural skills until I reached their limits and needed effort. But effort was an admission of failure, so it was off limits. So I'd fail at something and be shaken, scrambling to re-identify myself. 

Little did I know that I’d already boxed myself into a mindset so riddled with limits that years later I’d wake up each day with anxiety, devastated yet again with the feeling that I was deeply unsuccessful and letting down everyone I loved most. It wasn't until I experienced a series of devastating personal losses that I recognized this mindset and began seeking change. And though it's going to be raw, I cannot wait to share that part of my story. Because now, I see beauty in it!

Tell me below-what does "mindset" mean to you? I'd love to hear your thoughts!