What is mindset?

by Captain Walker

Categories: Humanities, Psychology & Philosophy

People use the word ‘mindset‘ fairly often. But what does it mean? Many will now reach for their dictionaries and Google.

When I think about how others refer to mindset, I get the impression that they mean the person’s mind is set in a certain way. I think that’s partially true. People use mindset often in a derogatory way e.g. “His mindset does not allow him to see…he’s stubborn!” I think we all know people like that – the people who become entrenched in some position*. Members of the ‘Flat Earth Society’, or Scientology, or some religious organisations – even scientists – they all have certain predominant mindsets. One tends to feel a mindset in the other  person when you ‘just can’t get through‘ or you feel ‘shut out‘ or ‘moved on‘. In those situations you feel a sense of futility in saying anything more. It’s not that you want to ‘convince’ the other person. It is about their lack of receptivity or willingness to explore a new position. [*The word ‘position’ means opinion, belief or attitude in this context – nothing sexual in case social media imaginations decide to run wild].


Mindset is a set of beliefs that shape how you make sense of the world and yourself. It influences how you think, feel, and behave in any given situation. This definition is adopted from VeryWellMind – a pretty good and easy read.

Another description is: A mindset refers to a set of attitudes, beliefs, and assumptions that shape an individual’s thoughts, perceptions, and interpretations of the world around them. It is a mental framework that influences how we approach challenges, learn from experiences, and view our own abilities.

Julia Galef described two important mindsets: 1) the solider mindset and b) the scout mindset in her book The Scout Mindset.

Types of mindset (the fuller list)

I do not usually make extensive lists. On this occasion I do because it is an important part of my self-education.  Over-arching are some broad overlapping categories: Mindsets can be either positive or negative, adaptive or maladaptive, and can significantly impact personal development, decision-making, and overall well-being.


  1. Scout vs soldier mindset – Julia Galef.
  2. Fixed mindset: People believe that their intelligence, talents, and abilities are innate and unchangeable -(Carol Dweck – psychologist).
  3. Growth mindset: People believe that they can improve and develop through effort, learning, and perseverance – (Carol Dweck – psychologist).
  4. Abundance vs. Scarcity Mindset: The abundance mindset is characterized by the belief that there are ample resources, opportunities, and possibilities in the world. People with an abundance mindset tend to focus on gratitude, collaboration, and the potential for growth. On the other hand, the scarcity mindset is based on the belief that resources and opportunities are limited, leading individuals to focus on competition, fear, and lack.
  5. Inward vs. Outward Mindset: People with an inward mindset tend to focus on their own needs, goals, and objectives, often at the expense of others. They may perceive the world as revolving around themselves. In contrast, those with an outward mindset consider the needs, goals, and objectives of others, fostering empathy, cooperation, and stronger relationships.
  6. Positive vs. Negative Mindset: A positive mindset is characterized by optimism, hope, and confidence in one’s ability to handle challenges and achieve desired outcomes. People with a positive mindset often focus on solutions and opportunities, even in difficult situations. A negative mindset, on the other hand, is characterized by pessimism, doubt, and a tendency to dwell on problems or failures.
  7. Proactive vs. Reactive Mindset: A proactive mindset involves taking initiative, planning, and focusing on actions that can shape future outcomes. Individuals with a proactive mindset take responsibility for their lives and seek ways to create desired results. In contrast, a reactive mindset is characterized by passivity, waiting for things to happen, and reacting to circumstances rather than taking control.
  8. Learner vs. Knower Mindset: People with a learner mindset are open to new information, curious, and willing to admit they don’t know everything. They focus on continuous learning and development. Conversely, those with a knower mindset believe they have enough knowledge and resist acquiring new information, limiting their growth and adaptability.


It is important to recognize that mindsets are not fixed and can change over time. By becoming aware of one’s own mindset, engaging in self-reflection, and challenging limiting beliefs, individuals can work to develop more adaptive and positive mindsets, leading to personal growth and improved well-being.

The formation of mindsets is influenced by a combination of factors that interact with one another. Some key factors include:

  1. Genetics and temperament: Innate traits such as temperament and predispositions can play a role in shaping an individual’s mindset. Some people may be naturally more optimistic, resilient, or open to learning, which can contribute to the development of certain mindsets.
  2. Early life experiences: A person’s early life experiences, including their upbringing, family environment, and relationships, can significantly influence the formation of mindsets. Parenting styles, praise, criticism, and exposure to different experiences can shape an individual’s beliefs about their abilities and potential.
  3. Culture and social context: The cultural and social context in which a person is raised can impact their mindset. Cultural values, norms, and expectations can influence the way people perceive success, failure, intelligence, and personal growth, thereby affecting their mindset.
  4. Education and learning environment: The type of education and learning environment a person experiences can play a crucial role in shaping their mindset. For example, an environment that promotes collaboration, exploration, and learning from mistakes can foster a growth mindset, while a highly competitive environment that emphasizes performance and fixed intelligence may lead to a fixed mindset.
  5. Personal experiences and feedback: A person’s experiences and the feedback they receive throughout their life can also contribute to the formation of mindsets. Positive reinforcement, constructive criticism, and exposure to challenges and setbacks can all impact an individual’s beliefs about their abilities, potential, and the world around them.
  6. Cognitive processes and self-reflection: The way individuals process information and engage in self-reflection can influence mindset formation. People who are more prone to rumination or negative self-talk may be more likely to develop a negative or fixed mindset, while those who practice positive reframing, goal setting, and self-compassion may cultivate more adaptive mindsets.

Notably in the above all except the first are influenced by psychosocial factors. Genetic factors may set the stage for temperaments to influence development of mindsets, but they do not direct or predetermine mindsets. In many ways, mindsets result from scripts as a valid psychological concept. I shall not deviate into scripts here. It is for a separate exploration.

Importance of mindsets

Mindsets must be relevant to how a person is required to function. For example having a rigid mindset where a flexible mindset is needed, creates a mismatch and probably inefficiency. Having an obsessional mindset where extreme detail is not important can also create problems. It’s like trying to paint a picture but the artist is obsessed with every fibre on the brush, and every wrinkle in the paint.

Matching mindsets to environment and task completion means selecting people carefully. A person can have a different set of mindsets. Matching them to the ‘job’ means careful exploration. Job interviews may not necessarily allow for discovery of a candidate’s mindsets.

I recall many years ago attending a selection exercise following interview, where I was put in charge of team. I did not get the job because I was said to be not assertive enough. I reflected on that afterwards. I know I can be very assertive at times. However during the selection exercise I thought to myself ‘If I’m too assertive here, I’ll bounce.‘ – so I did let things run for too long, when I should have taken more control. In essence my mindset was too flexible. I got it wrong. The trouble is that the candidate –  namely me – was in a very artificial situation; trying to put on a show – to be liked. And maybe that too was the wrong mindset. So trying to be liked interfered with the correct mindset which was to be more assertive.

Remaining or changing

[This is not about Brexit – just in case!]

There are times when not exploring ideas or positions may be appropriate e.g.

  1. Where the idea is totally objectively insane such as ‘The moon is the centre of the universe’ or ‘the earth is definitely flat’.
  2. When someone has already explored in the past and has moved past the idea or concept (potentially risky at times).
  3. When something is obviously quite illegal or immoral.
  4. When something is obviously ridiculously dangerous like ‘Crossing a busy street with the eyes closed’.

There are times when positions that were previously rejected may need to be revisited e.g.

  1. When the foundation of rejection was lacking in some way – as exposed by careful argumentation.
  2. When a mistake was made and then discovered.
  3. When new evidence arrives that may add a different perspective.
  4. When the law, rules or criteria have changed materially.

How can adults discover their individual mindsets? With difficulty – is the short answer. ‘Everybody’ believes that their mindsets are correct. To tell someone they have the ‘wrong mindset’ is to cause offence – even if it’s the truth. I imagine that by a process of honest and deep introspection, one can discover one’s mindsets. Several mindsets may exist in one individual dependent on topic, surrounding culture and perceived adverse consequences. Self-directed change of mindsets is not easy task and I’m not about to deliver a bunch of self-help tools. DYOR!

Research and applications

Dweck did good research on mindsets in the 1980s. Most of it has not been read or is known, much less for applied. The problem with research (in general), as I usually say is that ‘Most people have never read it – and few will apply what they’ve read.’ Though much of Dweck’s work focused on mindsets of children, this does not mean that the findings do not apply to adults.

The applications of research – in small pockets – have been applied in forward thinking big businesses, as part contribution to fostering healthier workforce-ethic and organisational cultures.

For individuals, I think that getting to a greater level of awareness through education about mindsets will help. At least if one is aware of one’s mindsets one can begin to think about what to do differently.


  1. Mindsets are not easy to define but some broad categories have been found.
  2. Mindsets shape receptivity and responsivity.
  3. It is not easy for individuals to discover their own mindsets or to fix them.

Key references

  1. Mindset Theory and School Psychology (Oct 2021)
  2. Why do mindsets matter?
  3. Carol Dweck on How Growth Mindsets Can Bear Fruit in the Classroom
  4. The Choice to Make a Difference (Carol Dweck 2019)

The reading of posts on this blog is subject to the Terms & Conditions. Unpalatable truths and personal experiences may be told. Nothing posted on this blog is directed at any identified person. On occasions individuals are quoted anonymously. That does not mean that they have been identified to the world. Should any person or organisation reading this blog find something that makes them feel or know that they  are being referred to - any such perceived identification does not mean 'identified to the world'. ‘Stupid' is an impish figment of my imagination who occasionally is allowed to pop up – and does not represent any known individual or individuals. ‘Stupid'  carries the characteristics groups of people with 'social media mindsets'. The treatment of  'Stupid' is not representative of the way people are treated in real life. Adverse inferences made are dismissed in advance. 

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