The terms “attitude” and “mindset” often get thrown around interchangeably, as if they mean the same thing—but they’re not.
The frequent incorrect application of these words in conversations around us is understandable, and can be excused in everyday conversation.
But as coaches, it’s important for us to know the difference between them—as well as how they relate to each other.
To start, let’s look at the official definitions of these words from the Oxford English Dictionary:
Mindset – a set of attitudes or fixed ideas that somebody has and that are often difficult to change
Attitude – the way that you think and feel about somebody/something; the way that you behave towards somebody/something that shows how you think and feel
Looking at these two definitions side by side, we can describe a mindset as being “an established set of attitudes.”
According to Kendra Cherry, an author and educator in the field of psychology, “Psychologists define attitudes as a learned tendency to evaluate things in a certain way. This can include evaluations of people, issues, objects, or events.”
Cherry goes on to say that these evaluations—these attitudes—aren’t necessarily limited to being positive or negative. It’s also possible for us to have uncertain attitudes about specific things (what people commonly call having “mixed feelings” about something).
So to recap: Your mindset is how you see the world around you.
Your attitude is how you interact with the world, according to how you see things.
As you can see, an attitude is really just one part of your mindset.
It can be an extremely important, powerful part of your mindset, to be sure—but it is still just a part of your overall mindset.
In the true sense of these terms, a phrase like “attitude of gratitude” is, technically, inaccurate in how it’s used. It should be “mindset of gratitude”—but that’s not quite as catchy.
Another distinction to remember in coaching:
Attitudes are more external; your mindset is internal.
A person’s attitude toward a thing—person, an event, an idea, et cetera—can usually be determined with relative ease through simply observing and examining their behavior, or how they approach that thing.
However, a person’s mindset can’t be observed as directly, or determined as easily. It’s much easier for an individual to feign an attitude they don’t really have, because attitudes are observable to the outside world.
A mindset can’t really be “faked” per se, because it’s internal. It determines who you truly are, regardless of any outside appearances. It represents the complete sum of your thoughts and beliefs, shaping the way you interpret our world, and everything in it—in the literal sense.
As you can see, though these two terms are highly related to each other in psychology, they are not the same thing. Nevertheless, they are directly connected to each other.
Our attitudes make up our mindset, and our mindset is perhaps the most important factor in how we relate to the world around us.