Mindset and Need for Competence

MindsetEven though there are certain universal psychological needs, the extent to which people need them and their preference in how to receive them may vary. Different personalities and lifestyles influence how people want to experience volitional decision-making, relationships with others, and learning and growth. One factor that likely also plays a role is mindset.

Carol Dweck is a psychologist who studies the beliefs people have about themselves, performance and success, what she calls mindset. Dweck has identified two types of mindset:

People with a fixed mindset believe that success is the result of talent and skill. Failure suggests something negative about a person’s abilities.

People with a growth mindset believe that success is the result of effort and persistence. Failure suggests something negative about a person’s preparation.

Dweck and her colleagues have found that in the long run, the growth mindset is much more adaptive. People who think this way are more likely to experience success in the face of hardship, to bounce back from disappointments, and to adventure into new activities. The good news is that anyone can learn to have more of a growth mindset; Dweck and colleagues have developed a series of exercises that help train that type of thinking.

What is interesting to me is what mindset says about an individual’s need for competence. If you recall, competence is one of the universal human needs defined by self-determination theory. We all share a need to feel like we are learning, growing, and moving toward success.

If you think about what success means to someone with a growth mindset versus a fixed mindset, it seems that there are two major considerations:

What makes someone with each type of mindset feel a sense of competence support? For someone with a fixed mindset, it might be more positive to hear feedback about their talents, while people with a growth mindset might like recognition for their preparation and hard work. But it’s not just about what people like . . .

How can other people offer competence support that truly helps people grow while also nudging them toward the more adaptive growth mindset? In general, feedback emphasizing effort and preparation is better aligned with a growth mindset, but it also may not feel as satisfying for someone with a fixed mindset who wants recognition for their innate talents.

It’s something to think about as we all try to encourage other people in our lives, perhaps even in a formal capacity as a manager or mentor.

I highly recommend Dweck’s book, Mindset, for a comprehensive review of her work and related research.