Are You a Tortoise or a Hare? Growth vs Fixed Mindset


Why do some athletes avoid challenges and suffer when faced with adversity, while others thrive and set new personal records of success? Two words…GROWTH MINDSET.

“If we are to fulfill our potential we need to start thinking differently.” -Eduardo Briceno

Mindset was pioneered by decades of research on achievement and success by Stanford University psychologist Dr. Carol Dweck. In a nutshell, what she concluded is that our mindset, our perceptions and beliefs about our abilities (sport, intelligence, creativity, musicality) create our entire perception of attainable opportunities. Yep, that right, how we think and believe about sport abilities will determine what opportunities we create for ourselves in the future. Specifically, having a growth mindset about your capabilities in sport leads you to believe “if not now, then someday” versus a fixed mindset that says “if not now then never.”


What is Growth Mindset?

Growth mindset athletes believe their abilities (speed, endurance, agility, swing) can be developed through dedication and hard work — talent is just the starting point.

What is Fixed Mindset?

Fixed mindset athletes believe their basic qualities, like their speed, flexibility, endurance are set traits. They spend their time credentialing/affirming their abilities what they can do versus challenging themselves to different aspects of their sport that will help develop them talents. Fixed mindset athletes also believe that talent alone creates success—without effort. They’re wrong.

In the movie Race, a biographical film about Jessie Owens, there is a scene when Jessie arrives to college and meets Coach Snyder for the first time. The coach says to him, “Charlie Riley says you can run. They say you’re a natural…me, personally, I don’t trust naturals, they think they don’t have to work.” Coach Snyder then proceeds to lecture him in great length how much Jessie will have to work and the value of hard work. GROWTH MINDSET.

I’m pretty sure you can see how all this applies to sport. Often we look at elite or well performing athletes and say “oh they’re naturally talented or gifted” but often what we see is a snapshot of years of cultivating talent out of a growth mindset. A growth mindset is a fertile rich soil that optimally cultivates training, focus, preparation, growth, “failure” and learning.



Let’s look at some self-talk examples of growth mindset athletes and fixed mindset athletes:

When facing challenges…

Fixed: “If I don’t do well I don’t want to even try.” OR “I’m only going to do competitions that I know I’ll do good at.” Big fish in a small pond syndrome. 

Growth: “I’m excited to see how this goes. I don’t know what will happen but I know whatever I find out will make me better. I have that much more knowledge about what works and what I will need to improve.

When facing obstacles…

Fixed: “I mind as well give up or DNF. It’s not going as I planned and there’s always other races/competitions that I can redeem myself in.”

Growth: “I am going to finish what I start and I can adjust to whatever difficulties come my today. It may not go as planned but that does not mean I still can’t do well and make the most of this day.”

Regarding effort and practice…

Fixed: “I’m good enough as I am. I’m winning and that’s what counts.”

Growth: “This training WILL payoff. It’s only a matter of time before I see it. I don’t know when but it will.”  or “I’ve come a long way from where I started.” 

When getting constructive criticism and feedback…

Fixed: “Coach doesn’t know what I need. They’re probably not a good fit. I don’t even think I’m getting better with them.” This results in an athlete that jumps around from coach to coach or team to team.

Growth: “Coach knows my goals, what I want in the big picture. I trust them and if I need to ask questions to get clarification then I will.” 

Regarding the success of others…

Fixed: “They’re not as good as me.” or “If I was racing I would totally beat them.”  Feels threatened by another athlete’s success and feels that the opportunities of success are limited.

Growth: “I’m inspired by how far so and so has come. If they can too it’s only a matter of time before I can if I keep at it long enough.”

Remember Aesop’s Fable “The Tortoise and The Hare”

There once was a speedy hare who bragged about how fast he could run. Tired of hearing him boast, Slow and Steady, the tortoise, challenged him to a race. All the animals in the forest gathered to watch.

Hare ran down the road for a while and then and paused to rest. He looked back at Slow and Steady and cried out, “How do you expect to win this race when you are walking along at your slow, slow pace?” Hare stretched himself out alongside the road and fell asleep, thinking, “There is plenty of time to relax.”

Slow and Steady walked and walked. He never, ever stopped until he came to the finish line. The animals who were watching cheered so loudly for Tortoise, they woke up Hare. Hare stretched and yawned and began to run again, but it was too late. Tortoise was over the line.

After that, Hare always reminded himself, “Don’t brag about your lightning pace, for Slow and Steady won the race!”

So I ask you again, are you a tortoise or a hare?

The Tortoise = Growth Mindset                                        The Hare = Fixed Mindset


Growth mindset this the foundational concept that grit, perseverance, determination, resilience, and mental toughness are all built upon. Any athletes that’s worked me knows that I spend way more time discussing, honing and focusing on the PROCESS of the goal versus the outcome.

Honestly, I attribute a growth mindset to all of my success and achievements in life. I was told over and over when I was young and well into early adulthood that I was never “smart enough,” “wealthy enough” or “I was too hyper, bad and loud” or ever be anything. Well, thank God that I was taught through sports and my mother at a young age that hard work and consistency can make amazing things happen in life. That life IS what I make it. That NO EFFORT ever goes wasted.

So beautiful people, are there some fixed mindset beliefs that you need to dump in the trash TODAY and let go of? Have you become victim of other peoples fixed mindset and never really gave yourself a chance to meet your souls potential? START NOW and TODAY to believe that if you keep at something long enough IT WILL reap benefits. My life is testimony to that and I’m sure yours is too.

You are greatness in the making beautiful people. Keep shining and keep on keeping on!

Dr. G


Published by

Dr. Gloria Petruzzelli

Dr. Petruzzelli is a clinical sport psychologist, triathlete, and certified mindfulness meditation teacher located in Sacramento, California. She works with elite athletes and sports teams across the country. She is a competitive athlete and enjoys practicing yoga, spending time with her family, and traveling.