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Tackling the Four Horsemen of Fixed Mindset

I am an interesting character when it comes to CHANGE. In my personal life I am the type of person who you are likely to be found cowering under the table (with my head firmly buried in the sand) hoping that the Chhhhhhange will just disappear if I avoid it. However, in my professional life, I am riding the 20ft wave of change and transformation. Now this is something that has puzzled me for many years and I think that I may have finally stumbled across the reason why- it all comes down to purpose and vision. In education, I truly believe in need for change and making things better for all learners. This means that I am willing to take calculated risks, tinker and hack to make this happen and install this into the learners I work with. In my personal life, I can get definitely stuck in the fixed mindset- I like my life, I kind of feel 'why rock the boat' and as my husband reminds me, I am rather stubborn!!  This is something that I challenge myself with regularly. 

This got me thinking about mindsets, the need for these to be involved and the power of the mindset in transformation in education. There is a lot of change currently happening, most of which is exciting and positive and there are also a lot of people who are not quite ready to take a leap of faith and go with it.  As I completed a Coursera course with Match education, I was introduce to the 4 horsemen of fixed mindset. Now, yes this course was about coaching for sustainable change but I believe that the concept can be applied to all elements of teaching. So, without further ado, my I introduce you to the 4 horsemen of fixed mindset:

  • You’re Wrong I Rule: Doesn't want to change because they believe everything is fine and they are doing an awesome job anyway! 
  • You’re Right I Suck: Doesn't want to change because it is too hard and feel that they aren't good enough!
  • Blame it On The Rain: Say's that they can't change because of x, y and z (there are always reasons/ excuses why the change won't work) 
  • ​Optimist Without a Cause: Wants to Change but does it a reckless, un-considered manner 

Now, I know that you can put a name to each one of these horsemen and quite possibly you will have seen elements of them within yourself. The question then must be, what we can do about it. Well, the reassuring thing is that facing the facts and admitting it is the first step (apologises for sounding a bit like an AA meeting at this point- sometimes we do need to turn the finger inwards to truly embrace change). 

Once you can identify 'the horseman' that is blocking the path to change, then you can do something about it. Carol Dweck's book on mindset is an awesome read and provides a great deal of suggestions of harnessing your growth mindset in different situations. Well worth a read! 

However, for now, here are some suggestions:

  • Change your body language to change your mindset: turning that frown upside down really does make a difference in how you feel towards a situation. Go ahead give it a go!
  • Ask questions for clarification: Truly understand the change by asking questions (remember to keep on your tone in your questioning too)!
  • Jump in at the deep end with the change: When I am unsure of a change, I endeavour to be as involved in it as much as possible so that I can fully understand it and grow alongside it!
  • Keep personal experiences separate from what is best for the learners!
  • Sit back and observe for a little! 
  •  Seek advice from a critical friend!
  • Ask yourself these questions: What is the vision? What does it mean for our learners? Have a little faith in the possibility!

So my challenge to you, is give it a go. Find out what is happening out there is the world of Education, believe me there are some amazing things happening. Join the train and avoid being left behind at the stations! 

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Comment by Hazel Owen on October 14, 2015 at 22:06

Another gem, Sarah, thanks as always for writing and sharing your reflections.

I had to smile at some of the images you evoked - and thank you so much for being so open :) Your post also reminded me of a quote: "Move out of your comfort zone. You can only grow if you are willing to feel awkward and uncomfortable when you try something new" (Brian Tracy)

My reflections were many. One thing I realised was that in my 20s I rode all the four horses of the fixed mindset long and hard, racing them to see which would win, and laying bets down for good measure. I suspect I was pretty insufferable!! The interesting thing is, now, when I look at the four horses they are now long in the tooth and have been put out to graze. I rarely ride any of them, and then only for a really short time.

I've probably done the analogy to death now, but I was pretty amazed at how much my reactions have changed, and now I am working through all the reasons they have. That might have to be a post (or a chat) sometime. In the process of figuring things out though, I did come across another post by Alistair Dryburgh ( that made quite an impact. In it Alistair shares a really useful example that illustrates how often we close our minds off to more radical options for change, because it is scary. He concludes by saying "he bottom line is this; in life, and in business, we sometimes need to confront uncomfortable issues. When we do, the problem is not that some of our options make us feel uncomfortable – that is a positive sign. If we don’t feel uncomfortable with some of the options it’s because we have unconsciously closed off the more radical ones. That’s when we should really be worried".

I also found the diagram in this post helpful ( While the Kubler-Ross model is usually associated with death and grieving, the stages have been reframed for change. The post works through each of the stages in light of change, and indicates what the key implications may be for an organisation.

Thanks again for sharing, and for encouraging me to revisit my own reaction to change.

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