8 Types of Negative Mindsets That Hold You Back

Our mindset is nothing more than a set of assumptions that we’ve accepted to be true.

At any moment, we’re free to change these assumptions and re-write the stories we’ve been telling ourselves.

However, this is impossible to do if we don’t first build awareness on what holds us back.

Habits of the Mind:

Recognizing that our negative mindsets are habits too.

Whether we realize it or not, the habits of our minds are just as powerful as our behavioral habits.

When you think of bad habits, the first things that come to mind are probably the textbook examples – smoking, gambling, eating junk food, and so on.

But our thoughts are habits too.

Our negative mindsets are nothing more than bad habits. Negative thought patterns that we’ve repeated over and over until they become ingrained in us.

We don’t always think of our thoughts as habits, because the specific thoughts vary so much. But the patterns remain the same.

If you’ve never learned to recognize the types of patterns, it’s hard to make lasting progress towards correcting them (as with any other bad habit).

Awareness is key.

Below are 8 types of negative mindsets to learn to spot in your everyday thoughts and actions.

You might also like: 4 Life-Changing Mindset Shifts

1. The Fixed Mindset

With a fixed mindset, you are constrained by your beliefs and your thoughts. You believe that your qualities as a person are fixed — who and what you are can’t change.

A fixed mindset tells you that talent is more important than effort. That making mistakes or receiving criticism about areas of improvement means you’re a failure.

As a result, a fixed mindset causes you to shy away from challenges or anything/anyone who might make you feel like your current abilities aren’t good enough. You hide because you’re afraid of failing. Failing destroys your sense of identity.

You might recognize you have a fixed mindset in certain areas of your life, but not others. For example, you might embrace personal growth in your relationships, always accepting feedback and striving to do better. But you might have a fixed mindset when it comes to studying for exams and getting exam results — failing to do well means you’re not smart. There’s a spectrum.

2. The Fear Mindset

Building off of a fear of failure, next up on our list of negative mindsets is the fear mindset. In the fear mindset your thoughts, actions, and decisions are controlled by fear, worry, doubt and dread.

The difference is that here, you don’t necessarily believe that your traits are fixed. But everything you do in life is driven by fear of an uncertain outcome.

At work, it looks like: if you don’t work hard, you won’t get promoted or worse yet, you’ll lose your job. Fear drives your actions.

In sports, it looks like: if you don’t play well, you’ll be benched and your teammate will take your place. Fear drives your actions.

In relationships, it looks like: fear that if you don’t please your partner at all times, they will leave you. Fear drives your actions.

You get the picture.

While fear can be a strong and quite effective motivator in helping you reach great outcomes in life, this mindset can cripple you in many ways. Mentally of course, but also physically by causing stress to your body. You can also reach a point with it where it feels paralyzing to operate in this way. When this happens, you might begin to doubt what you’re doing and why it drives you.

3. The All-Or-Nothing Mindset

An all-or-nothing mindset is perfectionism disguised. It’s dichotomous thinking.

In other words, complex concepts, ideas, and problems are overly simplified into being one side or another. The gray area in the middle is ignored or goes unnoticed. 

We humans are complex beings. We’re not either this or that. Smart or dumb. A success or a failure. A desirable partner or unworthy of love. There aren’t only two options. And we can be two conflicting things at the same time.

Thinking in extremes is harmful.

It creates impossible expectations or standards for yourself and for others. It keeps you from making progress on any new habit or lifestyle change. Because any misstep, no matter how small, can cause you to give up entirely.

You have a dangerous view of failure. An all-or-nothing mindset makes you feel like getting it wrong once means you’re a failure at the matter at hand (i.e. I’m a failure as a student. As a manager. Or as a business owner), when in reality, failure is a crucial part of the growth process.

All-or-nothing thinking makes you think if it’s not done perfectly, it’s not worth doing at all. This leaves a lot of opportunity on the table.

And, perfection is unattainable, so you’ll settle on the negative side of the dichotomy. This can lead to anxiety, depression, increased feelings of low self-esteem or self-worth, as well as a lack of motivation. It’s all around tough on your mental health.

The all-or-nothing mindset misleads you into thinking you have to take these grand gestures with your life. That big steps are necessary to tip the balance from one extreme to the other. When in reality, small consistent actions are key.

5. “Everything’s a Competition” Mindset

When your mindset has you determined to compete against anyone and everyone, you have a major blind spot. Instead of being focused on you and what you want, your competitive nature causes you to seek validation and measure your success by comparing yourself to what those around you are doing.

This is a dangerous game to play because you have no definition of what’s enough. You base your timelines for what it means to be successful off of what others are doing. This can lead to constant feelings of anxiety and inadequacy.

You aren’t driving what you want out of life because it’s uncomfortable to have to sit with such a scary question and determine an answer you’re satisfied with — it’s easier to beat someone else at the game everyone seems to be playing.

The only way to overcome this mindset if you’re someone who feels particularly drawn to it is to remove yourself from the competition. Take some time to define your own game.

4: The Scarcity Mindset

Similar of to the competition mindset, we have the scarcity mindset. This negative mindset is the belief that there will never be enough, resulting in feelings of fear, stress, and anxiety. Stephen Covey explains that when you live in a world of scarcity, you compete for available resources, even when there is an abundance of them.

It in part explains why you might feel a tendency to compete. And it builds off of the idea of having enough and being enough. You don’t want your co-workers or friends to do well because then that means that they’re beating you and taking your spot. It’s easy to dislike perfectly wonderful people because they threaten you.

You lack a deep inner sense of personal worth that in turn provides a sense of security that what you already have is enough. That you can keep working towards what you want in life but it’s not a petty competition because there is more than enough in the world.

6. The Pessimist Mindset

There’s a powerful charm that comes with a pessimistic outlook on just about anything in life. It can make us feel cooler, smarter, or on a global level, capture more people’s attention than optimism can.

Pessimism also seems like the more plausible option, whereas optimism is often considered a naïve, blind belief that everything will always turn out great.

Pessimism has a place in our lives. It’s not inherently bad. It’s played a major role in our survival as a species, and its a helpful mental tool to manage expectations.

But it’s also important to recognize the limitations of this negative mindset. If you only choose to see the worst aspect of things or believe that the worst will happen, your mental health will suffer. If you have a lack of hope or confidence in the future, it becomes paralyzing. And people will get tired of being around you because it’s draining.

If you only focus on the negatives in life, soon that’s all you’ll see. That’s all you’ll become. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy if you let it be.

7. The Victim Mindset

The victim mindset places blame on outside circumstances. You are the center of everything, yet nothing you do will make a difference.

Why is this happening to me?

This negative mindset makes you a passive participant, reacting to what life throws at you and blaming whatever you’re unhappy about on some other source, rather than recognizing what you can control and taking accountability for adapting to what’s within your reach.

It all begins with needing external sources of validation on just about everything — success, relationships, what others think of your appearance & your personality. This often stems from a negative sense of self and self worth. You haven’t conquered the problems within you and so you look to the external world for help.

In doing so, you relinquish your control and your power to outside factors and later struggle to figure out why you feel powerless. This then makes it easier to play the blame game whenever something goes wrong, but it doesn’t help you actually solve your problems in a healthy or sustainable way.

8. The Know-It-All Mindset

This negative mindset can take on two distinct forms:

  1. Always needing to be right in your conversations and interactions with others
  2. Failure to listen or try to learn more about subjects you’ve already been exposed to, because you already know what there is to know.

The first is a blind spot in your ability to communicate or interact with other. The second shortchanges you because there’s always more to learn or at a minimum, a new perspective to hear on something you already know.

Top athletes and the best minds in their industries recognize that there’s always value in returning back to & practicing the basics.

This negative mindset ties into just about every single one previously discussed. In order to seek out improving your awareness of negative thought patterns and looking to correct any bad habits that you find, you must above all admit that you don’t know everything. That there is always more to learn, and that there is value in listening to the people and sources who help push you to do so.

Negative Mindsets – The Takeaway

Take a look at any habit you’ve developed in your life and you’ll find that the behavior has become (mostly) automatic over time.

Pattern recognition and reinforcement is no different when it comes to habits of the mind.

The more you allow yourself to use negative mindsets, the more they become your default way of thinking. And the more you hold yourself back.

It’s often our mindset that most holds us back from living a life that excites us. It’s not to say that once we learn about the different types of negative mindsets that hold us back, that’s all we need to do. Voila, problem solved.

I know it’s not that simple.

But based on my experience, once you start to recognize the negative mindset patterns in yourself (i.e., when you’re able to say huh, that sounded like the fixed mindset talking just then), then you’re most of the way there.

You get to say: This is a common negative mindset/thought pattern. I know what it sounds like. Because it’s common, there’s nothing wrong with me for thinking this way. It’s great that I can identify what it is because now I can re-train my mind by correcting my thoughts.

Do you recognize any of these negative mindsets in yourself from time to time?

Picture of Sheryl Sandberg with a quote under her that applies to why we need to build awareness of the different types of negative mindsets. It says "We cannot change what we are not aware of, and once we are aware, we cannot help but change."
Sheryl perfectly describes why awareness is so important & it perfectly relates to awareness of negative mindsets.

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