A growth mindset has many advantages. Helping you achieve your goals may not be one of them.

Research psychologist and MacArthur “Genius Grant” recipient Angela Duckworth specializes in the science of achievement. In what Fast Company described as a “career-shaping conclusion,” Duckworth’s PhD candidacy research found that self-discipline, not IQ or other indicators of intelligence, was the single biggest determinant of overall academic success.

Duckworth further delineated this self-discipline as having two components: self-control — a virtue we usually either love or loathe, depending on the topic — and a quieter, more powerful component: grit.

Simply Put, Grit Is the GOAT

Dial in the grit, and you’ve got it made, regardless of industry or passion. What made Duckworth’s research so remarkable was that her diagnostic tool, now the grit scale, has been distilled into a ten-question, multiple-choice quiz. The grit scale continues to produce significant and correlative data for fields like education, motivation, and performance.

But wouldn’t a growth mindset and other positive psychology curiosities help people have more grit? Not exactly, according to recent research on how musicians and other artists find flow state.

Grit, Flow, and Growth Mindset, Defined

Let’s quickly pull the car over and recalibrate on these three terms, their origins, and what they mean.


In her bestselling book of the same name, Duckworth defines grit as “passion and perseverance for very long-term goals.” For example, a question on the grit scale quiz is to rate your ability to maintain focus on a project for more than a few months.


Then you have flow. Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, who literally wrote the book on flow, defined flow as “a state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter.”

When you’re in flow, a pastime is so pleasurable that people keep doing it “for the sheer sake of doing it,” even if there are consequences, Csikszentmihalyi writes. Many prolific artists and performers credit flow state as an important ingredient in their success.

Growth Mindset

Finally, you have growth mindset, a term coined by Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck in Mindset, her aptly named bestseller. When you have a fixed mindset, you believe your abilities are static. In contrast, when you have a growth mindset, you believe your abilities are malleable and can be developed.

Three brilliant psychologists, three valuable distinctions. Even more valuable is learning how these qualities can support and feed off of one another.

Musicians’ Mindset Mattered Minimally

Scientists who studied the practice habits of musicians found that grit was a key factor for achieving fluency, according to research they later titled “What Does it Take to Flow?” and published in the journal Music & Science. It makes sense, really: speaking from personal experience, mastering a musical instrument takes so much repetition and dedication that you have to find flow in order to both make the mundanity palatable and keep performance anxiety manageable.

Music and other performance-related crafts often require years of perseverance to master, tipping favor to those who have high levels of grit. (Image c/o Brett Sayles on Pexels)

The good news is that the musicians’ level of training and study was “significantly correlated with [both] flow (r = 0.32, p < .001) and grit (r = 0.21, p = .007),” per the research, indicating that the more you study your craft, the quicker and easier it gets to find your groove.

Meanwhile, growth mindset had no correlation to grit and flow. Although a growth mindset can orient you toward the idea that grit and flow state can be developed, it doesn’t appear to be the X-factor that pushes ideas through.

The Takeaway

In review:

  • To achieve long-term goals, cultivate grit. Know your why and feed your passions.
  • To feed grit, dial in your flow state. Deliberate practice builds skill faster than volume of practice.
  • Keep an open mind. The growth mindset data weren’t correlative in this study, but in many other areas of life, developing the right mindset is half the battle.

It doesn’t matter how badly you want it. What matters more is how you work toward it. When the practice of mastering your craft becomes joyous and fulfilling, you’ll have a renewable energy source — clean-burning fuel that can carry you to even your most lifelong goals. ◆

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