Fixed Mindset vs Growth Mindset and Self Defense Training

| January 31, 2017 | 2 Comments

It is imperative that you remain open to failure and learn from it. I wrote about not being afraid to fail before, but since that post I’ve done some more study on cognitive behavioral therapy, “re-framing,” Stoic philosophy, and mindset.

This post is about two competing ways of looking at things, and why you should actively fight to exhibit a “growth” mindset.

Mindset: the New Psychology of Success” is a great book by psychologist Carol Dweck.

In short, people may exhibit one of two frames of mind: a fixed mindset, or a growth mindset.

A person with a fixed mindset tends to believe that their ability and intelligence is innate. They were born with certain capabilities and competencies. “That person’s a ‘natural,'” is an expression relating to a fixed mindset.

A person with a growth mindset tends to believe that ability and intelligence are developed through training, practice, effort, and resiliency. Some things may come more “naturally” to us than other topics, but a great deal can be accomplished with hard work.

The biggest differences between these mindsets, according to Dweck, is how they handle failure.

A fixed mindset will do anything to minimize failure. They may attempt to dismiss the failure as trivial. They may rationalize the failure, stating that the circumstances that contributed to the failure were unrealistic or extraordinary. They may displace blame for their failure onto something or someone else.

A person of a fixed mindset will go out of their way to avoid encountering that failure again. They are reluctant to try new things, especially when other people are observing.

A growth mindset is less troubled by failure — and may actually welcome failure. Sometimes failure is embarrassing, humbling, painful, or dangerous. But failure reveals opportunities for learning. Ability is cultivated by learning. Failure makes for learning, learning makes for ability, therefore failure is the starting point for ability.

A person of a growth mindset will go out of their way to push themselves and try new things. They will revisit past failures to measure if they have improved or not. Even if they “fail” again, they may have progressed, and that will make the growth mindset feel good.

Dealing with it

I experience and observe a lot of failure in force on force training.

The fixed mindset will attempt to explain why this failure was not really a failure, or why it didn’t have any meaning “in real life.” They will reject feedback — since they rationalized the failure as not-a-failure, any suggestions are meaningless.

They may argue about the scenario, what they did, what others did, and why it was okay to do XYZ even though they failed.

A fixed mindset will state one or more of the following excuses after failing a scenario:

  • It wasn’t realistic
  • They would “normally” have done something else
  • Their equipment malfunctioned (I’ve heard this both with Airsoft and Simunitions guns, also that masks suddenly fogged during their failures but not during their successes)
  • They didn’t want to hurt someone. This is usually as an explanation why they stood still while the scenario unfolded before them. They weren’t concerned for safety — they had no idea what to do, and had to fabricate an excuse.
  • They claim that they “always” live in Condition Orange. It is “normal” for them to exhibit hyper-aggressive behavior such as yelling and putting their hand on their gun when someone asks for directions. They also put their hand on their gun and pie every unfamiliar doorway or hallway intersection.
  • They didn’t say what they said, or thought they said something that they didn’t say. My favorite example of this is someone who grabbed a training knife, squared up, and screamed “I’M GOING TO FUCKING KILL YOU.” He refused to believe this happened until he was shown a video of himself doing so.

The growth mindset acknowledges failure. They recognize they need to address what happened, and make changes. Often they will know what to do better next time, but when they ask for advice they will accept feedback and evaluate it.

A growth mindset will state one or more of the following things after failing a scenario:

  • “I don’t know / remember.” There is no ego to defend, so it is more acceptable for the growth mindset to express ignorance.
  • “I screwed that up.” Ownership is a huge tell between growth and fixed mindsets.
  • “I did this part well, but I did this part poorly.”
  • “What could I do differently next time?”
  • “How can I get better?”
  • “You suggested I do XYZ last class, so I tried to do it this time.”
  • “Thank you.”

An Inspirational Failure

I recently had the opportunity to be the “bad guy” for a student new to force on force. My goal was to steadily encroach into his personal space, and attack if plausible. I was to let the student pass / not attack if he could manage his space properly, and de-select himself as a potential victim.

As I talked to the student and approached him, the student backed up. He said “stay right there.”

I refused, and continued to walk towards him. I kept talking.

The student said and did the same thing over and over again. Eventually I was close enough to grab him, so I did — and stabbed him with a training knife. The student made space, drew his pistol, and shot me.

The student and the instructor discussed what happened. The instructor asked the student if he remembered what he said. The student did his best to recollect what went down, but he repeatedly said, “I don’t remember,” or “I’m not sure.”

The instructor had me stand where the encounter began, and positioned the student where the encounter ended. We moved approximately 70 feet backwards in a narrow hallway, while the student repeated himself over and over for me to stop.

The instructor explained that if an aggressor doesn’t respond the first or second time, saying it another 10 times won’t have an effect. It’s time to do something else. The instructor also made some other suggestions about how to move, the timing of his draw, etc.

The student nodded each time, repeated what was said to make sure he understood, and then listed some things he would do better next time.

I was incredibly proud of this man. He was there to learn. Learning from his mistake — and not repeating it — was more important than being right this one time. If his failure bothered him he hid it well.

This is the type of student we should strive to be. This is the type of peers we should surround ourselves with.

Possessing a growth mindset helps us learn. A fixed mindset allows the ego to justify bad decisions, techniques, or tactics that may be dangerous.

Surround yourself with others that have a growth mindset. If your peers perceive failure as an opportunity to learn, it will be “safer” for you to fail in front of them. If your peers give you shit when you make a mistake, you will be less likely to try new things, or bow to the strongest personality.

We must be critical and honest with ourselves, and our training partners, if we hope to improve. A fixed mindset can slow improvement to a standstill.

You owe it to yourself, your training partners, and the people you hope to protect to exhibit a growth mindset.

About the Author:

Short Barrel Shepherd Short Barrel Shepherd is a regular guy and works to make Web sites and mobile apps easier for people to use. He spends his free time attending fight-focused firearm, knife, and combatives training, motorcycling, writing, and playing games. His daily carry is a Glock 19 pistol and an AR15 .300 Blackout pistol in a backpack.
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2 Comments on "Fixed Mindset vs Growth Mindset and Self Defense Training"

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  1. Jeff Meek says:

    Excellent post! Great story.

    I’ve been mulling about a theory lately and haven’t yet found a way to get it into print, but my theory is that 10% of self-defense students are in the training to actually learn something new. 90% are there to validate what they think they already know.

    As an instructor, it’s hard not to dwell on those who appear “win-able,” but watching the 10% grow and learn makes it all worth it.

    What you said really hit home. I have so much to learn. Nice job and keep up the great work.

  2. Tracy says:

    I have been in a constant state of learning most of my life.
    I like to think I’m the guy there to learn, but sometimes find myself making excuses for failing.
    One of the last training sessions I did was done with a new to me triple retention duty holster. I managed to do most of the skills quite well and some better than expected. Except one. My draw stroke SUCKED!

    My excuse was the new holster. Reality is that I had the holster 3 weeks before the class and had only worked with it one afternoon for a half hour or so before trying to do a 3-500 round training session knowing that more than half of that would be done from the draw.

    Previous training and practice paid off, but I look back and see how much more I could have taken out of that experience if I had prepared better before hand.

    Thanks for what you do. Keep up the good work.

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