Mindset refers to a person or community's way of feeling, thinking, and acting about a topic. The mindsets you hold, consciously or subconsciously, shape how you feel, think, and act--and what you believe is possible. When engaging composing, writing, and drafting, your mindset can be a hindrance or it can be a source of inspiration. This article summarizes different definitions of mindset. It reviews research on the importance of mindset to the writing process.

Mindset Definition

Mindset may refer to

  1. a person’s or community’s way of feeling, thinking, and acting about a topic
    • a mental framework, a schema, a way of perceiving, interpreting, filtering, and acting in the world
  2. a habitual way of feeling, thinking, and acting about a particular topic
  3. a narrative, a story one tells oneself, whether consciously or unconsciously, about
    • one’s innate potential to do something
    • one’s rationale for feeling, thinking, or acting in some way
  4. a subject of study
    • that investigates how a person’s beliefs, opinions, and feelings influences their interpretive, reasoning and communicative processes
  5. groupthink — a discourse community’s shared values, politics, opinions, and prejudices about a topic

A mindset may be rational or irrational. It may be based on custom, habit, folk lore, opinion, belief, a faith, empirical evidence, theory, or hermeneutics. People may be unconscious or unconscious about ways their mindset influences their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. A person’s mindset at any given moment may influence their behavior.

Synonymous Terms

The term mindset is somewhat synonymous to the terms perspective and point of view.

Related Concepts: Balance Believing with Doubting; Habits of Mind; Intrapersonal Competency, Play the Believing Game, Professionalism, Purpose; The Writing Process

Why Does Mindset Matter?

A writer or speaker’s mindset plays a powerful role in their success or failure. People with a growth mindset, for instance, are more likely than people with a fixed mindset to respond positively to tough critiques and to challenges, more generally (Dweck 2006).

Mindset casts a long shadow over the writing process: if people are unduly critical and negative about their potential as a writer, researcher, collaborator or communicator, they may procrastinate when facing school or work-related writing tasks. They may be overly critical of early rough drafts and not give themselves enough time to revise their work.

We develop mindsets as we encounter other people, experiences, events, issues, and objects. We may mimic the mindsets of others. We may join discourse communities that ascribe to particular mindsets and narratives. From informal research and formal researchempirical observation, and reading, we develop representations of how the world works. Over time, we associate feelings and behaviors with recurring rhetorical situations, and, accordingly we compose adopt, draft, and revise personasrhetorical stances, and arguments.

As a rhetor — a speaker or a writer — you invariably develop habitual ways of interpreting and responding to new rhetorical situations based on your past experiences. In part, our personalities, our identities, are defined by the mindsets we hold. Our character–our sense of self–is defined by the mindsets we hold true and dear to our hearts. Likewise, sometimes we describe our friends and work colleagues based on the mindsets they espouse. For instance, when a friend launches an entrepreneurial venture, we might say “Wow, Yolanda has such a business mindset.” Or when someone is afraid to travel, go on a roller coaster, or be adventurous, we might say, “Ah, Tony’s afraid of his own shadow.” And then there’s always Eeyore: “He’s just so damned negative!”

5 Definitions of Mindset

The mind is everything. What you think, you become.


1. Mindset May Refer to a Person’s or Community’s Way of Feeling, Thinking, and Acting About a Topic

Members of a discourse community may be defined by their shared mindsets. For example, social psychologists have compared the mindsets of different generations (Smith 2021):

Traditionalist (76 to 99 years old)Loyal to organizations. Have respect for authority and hierarchical systems. Accept rules as is.
Baby Boomer (57 to 75 years old)Find self worth in their loyalty to the organization. Challenge authority and value flat administrative structures. Question existing rules.
Generation X (41 to 56 years old)Loyal to their manager but perceive work to be just one aspect of life. Unimpressed by authority and hierarchical systems. Engaged in changing rules to ensure fairness
Millennial (26 to 40 years old)Loyal to their colleagues. Respect competence in authority figures but chiefly concerned with self interest. Prefer fluid work situations that are goal orientated.
Generation Z (25 years old and younger)Loyal to the experience. Expect two-way dialog between management and workers. Concerned with ethics and professional behaviors

Authority in Writing is an important concern for critical readers. Before believing a writer’s or community’s claims, critical readers engage in audience analysis and rhetorical analysis: they try to discern how authoritative the writer’s mindset is — how trustworthy their voice, tone, and persona is — by examining the evidence they provide for claims–and by evaluating the currency, relevanceauthority, accuracy, and purpose of the information the writer provides to support their claims.

Examples of of Mindsets

  • Calm, Reflective Mindset
  • Competitive Mindset
  • Courageous Mindset
  • Democratice Mindset
  • Entreprenurial Mindset
  • Fixed Mindset
  • Goal-Focused Mindset
  • Financial Mindset
  • Growth Mindset
  • Practical Mindset
  • Republican Mindset
  • Scholarly Mindset
  • Theoretical Mindset

2. Mindset May Refer to a Habitual Way of Feeling, Thinking and Acting About a Particular Topic

Mindset may also refer to a habitual way of feeling, thinking, and acting about something–i.e., thought processes that continue to reoccur without cognitive intervention.

People may be consciously aware of some of the mindsets that guide how they interpret and evaluate the behaviors of other people, events, and issues. For instance, someone may recognize they have a social mindset–that they enjoy meeting new friends and exploring new communities. Or, perhaps someone recognizes they having a spending mindset–that they enjoy spending money on themselves and friends.

Perhaps to save time, people can adopt an attitude about something and then let that process run on automatic as a form of habitual thinking. For instance, some people may adopt the mindset that they are not a good writer or that good writers are born and not made. Subsequently, they may avoid writing or sharing their works with others.

People are often unaware of the mindsets they hold and how those mindsets define their thinking and actions. Sometimes being unconscious of one’s mindset(s) is fine or even helpful, especially when the mindset leads to healthy decisions and good outcomes. For instance, consider how someone with a healthy-lifestyle mindset avoids hitting the dessert table at the buffet table. They may not even notice the chocolate mousse pie or decline it based on habit.

Sometimes, however, not being reflective about one’s mindset can lead to faulty communications.

The problem with mindsets is that they are working hypotheses, yet sometimes we drink the kool aid and consider them to be substantiated knowledge claims. It’s possible for people to embrace a mindset so strongly that that may overlook contrary evidence. Sometimes, as human beings, we engage in confirmation bias — i.e., we ignore disconfirming evidence and selectively perceive evidence that confirms our mindset or argument. To one degree or another, we all share an urge at times to prove our position. This can lead to close-mindedness, the antithesis to rhetorical reasoning and critical literacy.

As an example of this dynamic, consider how people’s mindset — in this case that the assumption that U.S. Democrats were exaggerating the coronavirus for political purposes — led Fox News journalists to underestimate the significance of the coronavirus when it first emerged in 2020:

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is a behavioral treatment that presumes people can control their thinking by controlling their Mindset.

3. Mindset May Refer to a Narrative About One’s Innate Potential or Actions

Mindset may also refer to a narrative, a story one tells oneself, whether consciously or unconsciously, about one’s innate potential to do something or about one’s rationale for feeling, thinking, or acting in some way.

Sometimes after we crash and burn — like this driver did when they ran into a neighborhood mail box — we stop to reflect on our thoughts to redirect them in a more positive manner. Photo: Moxley

4. Mindset May Refer a Subject of Study

How the mind works, how people change their minds (persuasion), how people of like-minds cluster together, how people strive for consensus in group situations (group think)–these topics have fascinated researchers across academic disciplines for generations. Cognitive psychologists, learning theorists, communication researchers, management and leadership specialists have all researched ways a person’s beliefs, opinions, and felt sense about a topic influence their thoughts, feelings and actions.

Learning Science Research on Mindset

Cognitive psychologists have proposed a variety of models to account for how people can break through negative mindsets to become more open, growth-orientated, and wiser. The work of Carol S. Dweck, a psychology professor at Stanford, has been particularly transformative. Dweck’s hypothesis is that people’s orientation to learning (whether they hold a Growth Mindset or a Fixed Mindset) predicts their learning and success in school and work contexts more than any other factor.

Angela Duckworth, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania and recipient of the MacArthur Genius Award, has developed a scale to measure “Grit” and associated this trait as a predictor of success. Grit is most similar to Conscientiousness (efficient/organized vs. easy-going/careless). Duckworth’s research determined that Grit was a better measure of success than IQ.

STEM Education Research

The STEM community views mindset to be an intrapersonal competency:

  • ““Intrapersonal competencies involve self-management and the ability to regulate one’s behavior and emotions to reach goals” (“National” 2012).

The National Research Council (2012) and The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (2017) are curious about the correlations between intrapersonal competencies (e.g., grit, perseverance, and self-regulation) and learning, retention in school, and professional success. In Education for Life and Work (2012), the National Academies of Sciences asserts that the following three personality traits influence a student’s mindset and opportunities for success:

  1. Intellectual Openness (Openness to Experience)
  2. Conscientiousness (efficient/organized vs. easy going/careless)
  3. Neuroticism (sensitive/nervous vs. secure/confident).

Humanities Research on Mindset

The “Psyche” of the writer (or “Temperament” or “Character”) has been a popular theme in the humanities. One excellent example of this is the Paris Review, a literary magazine that has been interviewing writers and poets. Since the 1950s, thousands of interviews have been conducted of successful writers. Typically the interviews address the artists’ creative processes and habits of mind.

Writing Studies Research on Mindset

According to the Council of Writing Program Administrators, the National Council of Teachers of English, and the National Writing Project (2011), curiosity, openness, engagement, creativity, persistenceresponsibility, and flexibility are habits of mind that are “essential for success in college writing”:

Curiositythe desire to know more about the world
[see Invention|Research|Growth Mindset]
Opennessthe willingness to consider new ways of being and thinking in the world
[see Intellectual Openness]
Engagementa sense of investment and involvement in learning
[see Self-Regulation & Metacognition ]
Creativitythe ability to use novel approaches for generating, investigating, and representing ideas
[see Composing Processes | Invention | Research]
Persistencethe ability to sustain interest in and attention to short- and long-term projects
[see Resilience]
Responsibilitythe ability to take ownership of one’s actions and understand the consequences of those actions for oneself and others
[see Professionalism & Work Ethic]
Flexibilitythe ability to adapt to situations, expectations, or demands
[see Invention| Research]
Metacognitionthe ability to reflect on one’s own thinking as well as on the individual and cultural processes used to structure knowledge.
[see Invention | Research]

Source: Framework for Success in Postsecondary Writing (2011)

4. Mindset May Refer to Groupthink

A mindset can be cultivated over time. Mindsets are practices informed by purpose. Note, e.g., how this dog trainer has trained the dogs to line up in single formation. During reflection all of the dogs overcome their nature to jump about and remain still while quietly staring at the buffalo. Photo Source: Moxley

An individual or a group of people — a discourse community — may adopt a particular mindset about something. For example, between May 26/21, and June 1/22 , “about 70% of Republican voters suspect election fraud:”



How can knowledge of mindsets help me become a better communicator?

Your mindset, your attitude and psyche, influences how you communicate. You may choose to affirm and invest in yourself and assume responsibility over your learning and development as a writer.

You can best meet your potential as a communicator by


Smith, A. (2021, September 10). Generational Mindsets Affect the Workforce. SHRM. https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/global-hr/pages/generational-mindsets-affect-workforce.aspx

Council of Writing Program Administrators, the National Council of Teachers of English, and the National Writing Project (2011). Framework for Success in Postsecondary Writing. http://wpacouncil.org/aws/CWPA/pt/sd/news_article/242845/_PARENT/layout_details/fals

Dweck. (2006). Mindset : the new psychology of success (1st ed.). Random House.

National Association of Colleges and Employers.  (2019). 2019 Job Report. Bethlehem, PA: National Association of Colleges and Employers.

National Research Council of the National Academies. (2012).Education for life and work: Developing transferable knowledge and skills in the 21st century.Washington D.C.: National Academic Press.

National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (2017). Supporting Students’ College Success: The Role of Assessment of Intrapersonal and Interpersonal Competencies. Washington D.C.: National Academic Press.

OneDublin.org (2012). “Stanford University’s Carol Dweck on the Growth Mindset and Education”. Retrieved 3/19/19.

Mindset.com (2019). https://mindsetonline.com/whatisit/about/index.html

National Research Council of the National Academies. (2012). Education for life and work: Developing transferable knowledge and skills in the 21st century. Washington D.C.: National Academic Press.

National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (2017). Supporting Students’ College Success: The Role of Assessment of Intrapersonal and Interpersonal Competencies. Washington D.C.: National Academic Press.

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