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Alcohol and Mental Health

Growth Mindset vs. Fixed Mindset: What Are the Differences?

September 28, 2023
21 min read
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Reframe Content Team
A team of researchers and psychologists who specialize in behavioral health and neuroscience. This group collaborates to produce insightful and evidence-based content.
September 28, 2023
21 min read
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Certified recovery coach specialized in helping everyone redefine their relationship with alcohol. His approach in coaching focuses on habit formation and addressing the stress in our lives.
September 28, 2023
21 min read
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Recognized by Fortune and Fast Company as a top innovator shaping the future of health and known for his pivotal role in helping individuals change their relationship with alcohol.
September 28, 2023
21 min read
Reframe App LogoReframe App Logo
Reframe Content Team
September 28, 2023
21 min read

It’s Friday night at the office, and everyone's already in weekend mode. Someone brings up the idea of heading to the local bar for some drinks. After a long week of work, it seems like the perfect idea for unwinding. But deep down, there's a voice that calls out to you — a subtle realization — that this recurring social ritual might not be serving your best interests. 

Perhaps the next morning's fatigue or the gradual change in your anxiety levels is nudging you to consider cutting back on alcohol. So here’s the question: Is it possible to break the habit, whether it’s to reduce alcohol intake or to quit altogether? The answer lies in your mindset, which comes in two forms: fixed and growth.

Growth Mindset vs. Fixed Mindset: Understanding the Differences

Carol Dweck's groundbreaking research on fixed and growth mindsets has significantly shaped our understanding of learning, intelligence, and personal development. The theory explains how our beliefs about our abilities can influence our behavior. It’s the psychological underpinnings that affect everything in our lives — from work performance to relationships and even health habits like alcohol consumption.

The Fixed Mindset

A fixed mindset isn't merely the belief that our qualities are unchangeable; it's a lens through which the world is viewed. People with a fixed mindset tend to base their self-worth on inherent attributes, such as intelligence or talent, rather than on their efforts. They view setbacks as reflections of their abilities and label themselves as failures when setbacks are encountered. 

So if you've always considered yourself a social drinker, you might attribute it to a fixed part of your character. A failure to moderate drinking becomes more than just a momentary lapse — it becomes a personal flaw. The result? This mindset could lead to avoiding challenges, decreased effort, and ultimately, stagnation.

The fixed mindset has been linked to lower levels of well-being and higher levels of anxiety and depression. For example, in the realm of health behaviors like alcohol consumption, a fixed mindset can lead to fatalistic thinking — resigning ourselves to a life of poor habits because we believe change is impossible.

The Growth Mindset

Contrast this with a growth mindset, where the emphasis is on development and progression. The basic tenet here is that skills and abilities can be honed with effort, time, and the right strategies. People with a growth mindset view challenges as opportunities for growth and regard setbacks as valuable feedback. In the context of alcohol consumption, for instance, a bad night out becomes an opportunity to examine triggers and coping mechanisms rather than a condemnation of our character.

What makes the growth mindset particularly exciting is its applicability across almost every realm of life. Studies have shown that students with a growth mindset achieve higher academic outcomes, and adults with growth mindsets are better able to adapt to change and collaborate at work. Moreover, a growth mindset can promote better mental health by helping us view ourselves as capable of change, instead of being stuck with immutable traits.

Fixed vs. Growth: It's Not All Black and White

It's crucial to note that mindsets are not a binary, either-or attribute. They exist on a continuum, and we can have a growth mindset in one area and a fixed mindset in another. For example, someone might have a growth mindset about their professional skills but have a fixed view about their relational abilities. Mindsets can also be conditional, changing according to the situation or context.

Can Mindsets Really Be Changed?

The most compelling part of Dweck's research might be its conclusion that mindsets themselves can be altered. Through interventions like mindset training, we can adopt a more growth-oriented outlook, making it easier for us to tackle challenges, whether it's improving performance at work, strengthening interpersonal relationships, or changing our drinking habits.

A Growth Mindset and Alcohol Reduction or Sobriety 

The challenges associated with changing our drinking habits are not just physical; they’re also psychological. Overcoming these challenges can be daunting, but the keys to success may lie in our mindset — the lens through which we interpret our experiences and capabilities. When it comes to making a significant life change like reducing or quitting alcohol consumption, a growth mindset can be particularly beneficial. Here's a deeper dive into how a growth mindset can be a powerful ally.

Embracing the Process of Change

Changing our drinking habits is a process involving multiple steps, from initial decision-making to ongoing maintenance. A growth mindset thrives on processes. It allows us to focus on small improvements and actionable steps, which, when accumulated, lead to a meaningful change. For example, instead of aiming to abstain entirely right away, we might focus on not drinking for one day, then two days, and so forth — appreciating the effort involved at each step.

Resilience in the Face of Setbacks

One of the hardest aspects of changing our drinking habits is coping with lapses. When they happen, it's natural to feel disappointed, but those of us with a fixed mindset might view these incidents as evidence of our failure or inherent weakness. This negative self-talk can lead to a destructive cycle of binge drinking and remorse.

On the other hand, a growth mindset provides the resilience to bounce back. It views setbacks as opportunities for learning and growth. If you do find yourself having one drink too many, a growth mindset encourages you to analyze the situation critically. Were you stressed? Was it a social obligation? The objective is not to place blame but to understand the circumstances better, so you can devise effective strategies for the future.

Encouraging Self-Reflection and Adaptability

One beautiful aspect of a growth mindset is its encouragement for self-reflection. Reflecting on our actions provides valuable insights into why we do what we do. For instance, keeping a journal about your drinking patterns and emotional triggers can lead to revelations about why you reach for that extra glass. This awareness then opens the door for adaptability — you can start finding alternative coping mechanisms, such as exercise or meditation, to replace the habit of drinking.

Spurring Motivation and Sustained Effort

A growth mindset can also significantly boost motivation. When you believe you can improve and grow, you're more likely to put in the sustained effort needed. This increased motivation and effort can be channeled into acquiring new habits or skills that help reduce or end your alcohol intake. Whether it's learning new recipes for non-alcoholic beverages or engaging in sports activities during the weekend instead of heading to the bar, the belief in our ability to change drives the willingness to invest effort and time in these new endeavors.

Seeking and Accepting Help

People with a growth mindset recognize that learning and growth are often collaborative processes. They're more likely to seek help and make use of available resources. Whether it’s consulting healthcare professionals, joining a support group, or leaning on friends and family, acknowledging the value of external support is a hallmark of a growth mindset.

By framing the journey as an ongoing process rather than a fixed endpoint, a growth mindset turns the act of changing our drinking habits into a pathway for personal growth and lasting change.

Diagram showing how to cultivate a growth mindet

How To Cultivate a Growth Mindset

Now that we understand what a growth mindset is and how it can impact our journey, let’s discuss how to cultivate it.

Try Self-Awareness Journaling

Keeping a journal for self-awareness is like equipping yourself with a map in a complex maze. Imagine each entry as a landmark, a point of orientation that allows for reflection and planning. The process of jotting down what triggers the urge to drink can be illuminating in itself. Do you reach for a drink when stressed about work or when bored during the evenings? As you identify these patterns, you can begin to develop coping strategies that directly address these specific triggers. 

For example, if stress is a significant trigger, techniques like mindfulness or engaging in a stress-busting hobby can be explored. The journal also serves as a tangible record of progress and setbacks, offering a useful tool for self-assessment. As time goes by, this written record can reveal our triggers and how effective different coping strategies have been.

Set Micro Goals

Imagine climbing a mountain. Standing at the base and looking up can be overwhelming. However, if broken down into smaller milestones — reach that tree, then that rock, then the bend — the task becomes more manageable. Setting micro goals is like focusing on reachable landmarks. A big goal, like quitting alcohol altogether or cutting back, can seem daunting — but setting smaller goals like "no drinks on weekdays" or "limit to one drink at social events" can make the journey less intimidating. 

Achieving these smaller objectives boosts confidence and provides the mental stamina needed for the long haul. Over time, you'll find that these micro goals serve as stepping stones to more ambitious targets. It's the ripple effect in action: small changes pave the way for more significant transformation.

Seek Support

The road to reducing or ending your alcohol intake can be riddled with pitfalls and stumbling blocks. Going it alone makes the journey tougher than it needs to be. Support from friends, family, or even online communities (like the Reframe Forum!) can act as both a motivator and a safety net. When you share your goals, two things happen. 

First, it creates a sense of accountability: knowing that someone else is aware of your objectives can be a strong motivator to stay on track. Second, a support system provides a valuable resource for those inevitable moments of weakness. Whether it's a friend who can offer distraction during a vulnerable moment or a family member who provides emotional support, the people in your support network can be a lifeline.

Implement Replacement Behaviors

When reducing or ending your alcohol intake, the absence of a well-loved habit often leaves a noticeable void. That’s where replacement behaviors come in. These are healthier alternatives that can be used as substitutes for the circumstances that usually trigger drinking. 

For example, if stress typically sends you reaching for a glass of wine, a healthier replacement behavior could be a five-minute meditation or a quick round of breathing exercises. The goal is to rewire the brain to associate stress relief with this new, healthier habit. Over time, as the brain begins to make this new association, the urge to resort to alcohol for stress relief will diminish. This strategy can be tailored to suit various triggers — replacing social drinking with sipping herbal tea, or substituting a run or walk for the evening drink, for example.

Learn, Don't Lament

Setbacks are one of the more challenging aspects of reducing or ending your alcohol intake. It's incredibly easy to fall into a cycle of disappointment and self-blame. However, each setback offers invaluable data for anyone with a growth mindset. Instead of wallowing in self-pity, take a step back and analyze what contributed to the slip. Was it a particularly stressful day at work? Was it running into an old drinking buddy? 

Identifying these factors provides a clearer understanding of personal triggers and situational challenges, offering insights into how to better navigate them in the future. Instead of viewing setbacks as failures, see them as learning opportunities. This shift in perspective transforms each stumble into a stepping stone on the path to lasting change.

Celebrate Wins, No Matter How Small

When making changes as significant as reducing or ending your alcohol intake, even small victories can be incredibly empowering. Did you say no to a drink at a social event? Celebrate! Whip up your favorite non-alcoholic beverage or indulge in an extra episode of the series you’ve been enjoying. 

Positive reinforcement serves as a powerful motivator, building a sense of accomplishment and propelling forward momentum. While the milestones might seem trivial, the emotional and psychological boost they provide is monumental. Over time, these tiny victories accumulate, providing a solid foundation upon which larger successes can be built.

Revisit and Revise

No journey is ever a straight path, and the quest to change your relationship with alcohol is no different. What seemed like an achievable goal a month ago might now be too easy or too ambitious. That's why it's crucial to revisit and, if necessary, revise goals regularly. 

This ongoing process of reassessment ensures that your goals continue to challenge you while also remaining within reach. It’s not about setting the goalposts and forgetting them; it’s about making sure they’re always in the right place for the game you’re playing.

Together, these strategies offer a multi-pronged approach for anyone committed to making a meaningful change in their alcohol consumption habits.

The Journey Forward

While a growth mindset won’t magically make challenges vanish, it gives us the resilience and strategies to navigate through them. Whether it's changing our drinking habits or any other habit you wish to break or form, a growth mindset keeps the doors of possibility wide open. The opportunity for change isn't confined to some distant tomorrow; it begins today.

So the next time Friday night rolls around and the familiar suggestion to hit the bar pops up, consider your options through the empowering lens of a growth mindset. Who knows? You might just end up discovering a new weekend ritual that both your mind and body will thank you for!

Summary FAQs

1. What is the difference between a fixed mindset and a growth mindset?

A fixed mindset believes that traits and abilities are unchangeable, while a growth mindset believes that skills and traits can be cultivated through effort, strategies, and help from others. A growth mindset is particularly helpful when you're trying to change your drinking habits, as it shifts the focus from the end result to the journey of improvement.

2. How can keeping a self-awareness journal help me?

Maintaining a journal helps you identify the triggers that make you want to drink. Knowing these triggers helps you develop coping strategies, offering a way to avoid or mitigate landmines. It also serves as a tangible record of your journey, including both successes and setbacks.

3. What are micro goals and how do they work?

Micro goals are smaller, manageable objectives set to make the overall goal of reducing or quitting alcohol more achievable. For instance, you can start by committing to not drinking on weekdays or limiting to one drink at social events. Achieving these smaller goals can boost your confidence and prepare you for larger challenges.

4. Can you explain what you mean by "replacement behaviors"?

Replacement behaviors are healthier alternatives to drinking. For example, if you usually drink to relieve stress, you can try meditation or breathing exercises instead. The goal is to rewire your brain to seek these healthier options when faced with triggers that usually lead to drinking.

5. What should I do if I have a setback?

Instead of punishing yourself for setbacks, adopt a growth mindset by analyzing what went wrong. Understand the triggers or circumstances that led to the setback and use that information to avoid similar situations in the future.

6. Why should I celebrate small wins?

Small wins provide positive reinforcement, boost your morale, and help maintain momentum on your journey to reducing or quitting alcohol. Whether it's treating yourself to a favorite non-alcoholic drink or watching an extra episode of a series you love, celebrating can provide the psychological fuel to continue forward.

7. Why is it important to revisit and revise my goals?

Goals are not static; they can and should evolve as you progress. Periodic reassessment allows you to align your objectives with your current capabilities and challenges, making your journey more effective and less daunting.

Change Your Mindset and Build Better Drinking Habits With Reframe!

Although it isn’t a treatment for alcohol use disorder (AUD), the Reframe app can help you cut back on drinking gradually, with the science-backed knowledge to empower you 100% of the way. Our proven program has helped millions of people around the world drink less and live more. And we want to help you get there, too!

The Reframe app equips you with the knowledge and skills you need to not only survive drinking less, but to thrive while you navigate the journey. Our daily research-backed readings teach you the neuroscience of alcohol, and our in-app Toolkit provides the resources and activities you need to navigate each challenge.

You’ll meet millions of fellow Reframers in our 24/7 Forum chat and daily Zoom check-in meetings. Receive encouragement from people worldwide who know exactly what you’re going through! You’ll also have the opportunity to connect with our licensed Reframe coaches for more personalized guidance.

Plus, we’re always introducing new features to optimize your in-app experience. We recently launched our in-app chatbot, Melody, powered by the world’s most powerful AI technology. Melody is here to help as you adjust to a life with less (or no) alcohol.

And that’s not all! Every month, we launch fun challenges, like Dry/Damp January, Mental Health May, and Outdoorsy June. You won’t want to miss out on the chance to participate alongside fellow Reframers (or solo if that’s more your thing!).

The Reframe app is free for 7 days, so you don’t have anything to lose by trying it. Are you ready to feel empowered and discover life beyond alcohol? Then download our app through the App Store or Google Play today!

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At Reframe, we do science, not stigma. We base our articles on the latest peer-reviewed research in psychology, neuroscience, and behavioral science. We follow the Reframe Content Creation Guidelines, to ensure that we share accurate and actionable information with our readers. This aids them in making informed decisions on their wellness journey.
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