Mindset: understand your self theory to improve it


Your mindset is the collection of beliefs, attitudes, and thought processes that you and the groups you’re a part of use to approach the world.

Mindset has become a buzz-word of sorts in education, business, and psychological circles. Food is a buzzword in hungry circles. So, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter. Well, why does it matter?

So what?

Mindset matters because those who have a growth oriented mindset are often more resilient with respect to personal failure, sudden trials, and tend to possess more self-control. Those who have a static or fixed mindset tend to have less resilience and a more skeptical attitude to learning to new things or facing personal difficulties.

In the definition above, the core of mindset is belief. The main beliefs behind a mindset are beliefs about yourself. Why? Because you experience your life, so the beliefs you hold about yourself affect your approach to everything. These beliefs are called, “self-theories” by educational psychologists.

Carol Dweck and Andrew Elliot identified two sorts of self-theories (Dweck and Elliot 121-144):

  1. Entity-theory
    Entity theory is the belief that you are simply you: smart, stupid, strong, weak, etc. Because the beliefs about the self like this, they usually lead to absolute interpretations of circumstances because the self is either
  2. Incremental Theory
    Incremental theory is the belief that you can change in response to new situations and new information and that choices have a direct effect on the kind of self you become.

We all think we know what we believe about ourselves, “I hold to the incremental theory.” The fact is though, that our theories are only held to when we act on them. The most basic action we based on our self-theory is self-talk. If you want to know what you believe about yourself, look at what you saw about yourself.

Self Talk Questions

Take a day and write down everything you say about yourself internally and externally. Then ask these questions:

  1. What words do I use to describe myself?
  2. Are those words descriptive of the sort of person I am or want to be?
  3. How do I describe my experiences?
  4. Do I catastrophize (this is the worst, I’ll just die, this is sooo stupid/hard)?
  5. Do I describe my mistakes as examples of who I am or as things I could do differently?

Now, do your answers imply that you believe you can change and adapt to anything you face? Or do they imply that you think of yourself as a passive victim to your current state of being?

Thankfully self-theories, like all beliefs come from a combination of evidence and habit. So you can change your self-theory and as a result, your mindset.


Elliot, Andrew J., and Carol S. Dweck, eds. Handbook of Competence and Motivation. New York: Guilford Press, 2005. Print.

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