What's Your Mindset?

By Dennis Lawson
Published on Jun 14th, 2016

While consulting with a dojo owner, I had an opportunity to watch him teach a few classes. I became acutely aware of how many times the word “no” was used and how many “negative” corrections he made on his student’s movements. This focus on the negative or negativity bias is hard wired into our minds. I remembered, while watching, that focusing on potential negative results (saber toothed tigers, poisonous berries, etc.) allowed our species to survive for millennia in challenging environments. Unfortunately, paying undue attention to “What’s wrong with this picture?” can become a limiting mindset, or worse, a studio culture.

In her book, Mindset – The New Psychology of Success, Carol Dweck PhD, defines two different mindsets or views of talent, intelligence, ability, etc. that we might hold. She defines the fixed mindset as held by people who believe, or act as if they believe, that people “are as they are” - talent, ability, intelligence are more or less static. This view supports that the world is black and white that right and wrong are absolutes, that any potential improvement is limited. She contrasts this with the growth mindset that maintains that these attributes can be developed especially through

Consider the following areas and how these two different mindsets or perspectives would interpret them:


Fixed – Any useful negative feedback is either ignored or taken as a personal affront. The mistake here is that criticism is not taken objectively as a comment on areas for improvement, but as a criticism of the person.

Growth – Negative feedback is a source of information. It’s not about you as a person, but about one’s abilities.


Fixed – If things are “as they are” why bother? Why work hard if nothing seems to change?

Growth – Effort is necessary if we are to “master” anything. Each step of the way requires effort to improve.


Fixed – Success is not assured and challenges are difficult. Failure would affect the self-image. Stick to what you know you can do well.

Growth – Embrace challenges, win or lose, you’ll come out better for having faced them. Learning is what it’s all about.

Persistence in the face of obstacles

Fixed – Obstacles are external forces that prevent you from showing what you can do. They need to be avoided.

Growth – External forces don’t discourage, they are issues to be battled and overcome. Any failure is an opportunity to learn.

Success of others

Fixed – When others succeed, the fixed self-image suffers. A comparison with others is the benchmark for how the fixed mindset views oneself. Others succeed because of luck or undue influence.

Growth – Other people’s success is an inspiration. It’s a way to gain information and guidance on the path of success. There is plenty of success to go around!

As athletes and teachers, what mindset do you embody? How do your beliefs affect your training and teaching? How does your teaching create certain mindsets in your students?

Dweck continually emphasizes the importance of process. The growth mindset focuses on the power of effort, that effort alone is a primary value. Learning is more important than being right. Fixed mindsets that highlight inherent ability over learning, simply limit the potential for improvement. “She’s a great kicker. He’s good at forms. He’ll never get to black belt.” How often have these messages fixed the potential of a student in both the instructors mind and the student’s?

Dweck also discusses the growth mindset with coaches. She cites John Wooden, who coached UCLA basketball teams to 10 NCAA championships, as a coach who was committed to developing each of his player’s abilities to the fullest.

Do instructors loses students because they been unable to develop a growth mindset in them? When challenges increase, those focused on growth, improve their skills and increase motivation. Students with a fixed mindset may quit because their enjoyment and sense of commitment decreases.

Finally, can mindsets be changed? Yes, Dweck cites four different studies where the growth mindset was taught to students from junior high school to college with great effectiveness. Is your mindset serving you? Is it serving your students? What’s the prevailing mindset (or culture) in your studio?

Filed under Philosophy and Opinion

Author Bio :: Dennis Lawson

Dennis Lawson has trained for 4 decades in Ed Parker's Kenpo. During his varied career, Mr. Lawson has been an IKKA Regional Director for Region #3, has acted as Master of Ceremonies for the International Karate Championships, and has published numerous articles in publications for the International Kenpo Karate Association, The Martial Arts Learning Community (TheMALC), and Kenpo 2000.

Mr. Lawson has had the opportunity to study other Martial Arts and holds advanced rank in Aikido and Takemusu Aiki Budo. Dennis taught, competed in, and promoted events in the New Orleans area for 20 years. Among his list of favorite achievements is choreographing and performing Kenpo for the Dance Council of New Orleans. His academic background in psychology and love of music allow Dennis to offer a unique and entertaining approach to tailoring "the Art" to the individual. Dennis has taught seminars in Ireland, Jersey Channel Islands, The Netherlands, Portugal, and throughout the United States.

Dennis holds a Sixth Degree Black Belt in Ed Parker's Kenpo and was awarded the title “Professor” under the auspices of The Martial Arts Learning Community (TheMALC). Mr. Lawson was inducted into the International Black Belt Hall of Fame as Master Instructor of the Year for 2006.

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