top of page
  • Writer's pictureAli McNab

How our mindset affects our effort

Being a fan of Growth Mindset theory*, I've been reflecting on how our mindset impacts the level of effort we choose to put into a task, and what this means for our ability to grow.

In a nutshell:

With a Growth Mindset we see effort as a path to success and believe that if we put in effort we can get better at most things.

With a Fixed Mindset we believe that effort is fruitless as we either have the ability or we don’t, and no amount effort will change that!

As I reflected on this, I had a flashback to a time at school. I didn't know anything about Fixed and Growth Mindsets then, but I can now see how my mindsets were playing out; and how they hindered and helped me respectively.

I was 14. Our end-of-year reports were graded by “effort” and by “attainment” for each subject. I remember the feeling of pride when I saw I’d scored highly in “attainment” for maths. However, what stands out more vividly is the intense satisfaction I felt when I noticed I had scored LOW in “effort”!

I immediately interpreted this as “I am really smart because I did well without even trying”. I ignored the feedback that I was easily distracted and chatted too much in class. I was obviously a bored genius - further verification of my “smartness”!

To me, this affirmed my belief that I was naturally good at maths, and didn’t need to put in much effort. I was operating from a Fixed Mindset. Effort was fruitless, my level of ability was set and was good enough.

As it turned out, and in hindsight, this mindset did not serve me well as it went on to inform further events:

  1. For my A levels I opted for maths, because I knew I was good at it. But I decided not to do “Further Maths” as this felt like too much effort and outside the parameters of my ability. I had the belief that while I was naturally “good” at maths, I wasn’t that good. My skill level was set and putting in extra effort was fruitless. In my mind the parameters of my ability were predetermined. Again a Fixed Mindset in play.

  2. Later, when looking at career options, I decided to do an accountancy qualification. My fixed mindset told me “I’m good at maths so this feels like an easy option” ........ I enjoyed the lessons, made friends, got distracted and chatted in class!

…. When I failed my final accountancy exams, twice, my view of myself as being “good at maths” was battered. It told me that, in fact, I wasn’t any good at maths; that I had chosen the wrong career path. Other students were far better than me, I was stupid, and I will never pass these exams.

Luckily for me, despite holding this fixed mindset, my strong stubborn tenacious trait kicked in. In a kind of flight-or-fight type response, I threw myself into studying hard, adopting new approaches to learning, until I finally passed the exams. At that point something flipped and I started operating from my Growth Mindset: “I can do this if I put in the effort”.

I can’t clearly remember the enabling environment that facilitated this shift in me - whether it was the support of my parents and tutors, or my stubbornness to not give up (or both). With hindsight I realise that, had I tapped into my Growth Mindset sooner, listened to the feedback and focused on addressing my distractions in class it may have been a less painful journey.

This illustrates to me the possibility to challenge a Fixed Mindset and tap into a Growth Mindset. While we may have a tendency more towards one or other mindset, we are not bound by this - we can change our mindset.

When I support clients to explore their mindsets, I see how powerful and enlightening it can be. Understanding our mindset, and how we can shift it, unlocks potential to move forward, come unstuck, progress and grow.

* Growth and Fixed Mindset theory was founded by American psychologist, Carol Dweck. Her work focuses on motivation, personality and development.


Ali McNab works with people who want to make positive change in their lives and experience a more balanced, fulfilled and meaningful life or career. Ali supports them to build confidence, self-belief and self-awareness so they can do this with purpose and clarity.

Ali works directly with individuals and with charities and social purpose organisations supporting their approaches to staff well-being and growth.

If you’d like to talk to Ali about how she could support you, book a free discovery call by emailing or via her website


bottom of page