Did Abraham Lincoln Have a Growth Mindset?

Abraham Lincoln is one of the most revered leaders in history. This month, we celebrate his birthday and his contributions to our country. 

Although, did you know, honorable Abe was also a repeat failure and only had one year of formal education? To accomplish all that he did despite these setbacks, we think he must have had a “growth mindset.”  

At San Mateo County Libraries, we encourage personal growth through free access to information and resources. Having a growth mindset can help you to see setbacks as opportunities to learn. 

In the early 1800s, when Abraham Lincoln was born on the frontier, working the land was valued over knowledge and learning. Illiteracy, not being able to read and write, was common.  

Lincoln relied on borrowing books to educate himself. Ultimately, he studied law on his own and passed the bar exam, which set him on the path to the highest office in the nation. That journey wasn’t easy though. Lincoln’s road to the presidency was fraught with failures. For example, he lost elections for the offices of Senate, Congress and Vice President eight times. 

After losing so many elections, if Lincoln had a “fixed mindset” he would have thought “I can’t win, so why bother trying.” A fixed mindset is the opposite of a growth mindset. When we experience failure, rejection or challenges with a fixed mindset, sometimes we feel ashamed, stop trying and give up. But even if Lincoln felt defeated, he didn’t quit. Instead, he used his challenges as opportunities to learn from mistakes and grow.  

Lincoln’s actions required a growth mindset to achieve the highest elected office in the nation, and after so many disappointments, successfully lead our country through one of its most challenging times, the Civil War. 

At any age, having a growth mindset is an attitude that you can grow and learn throughout your life. 

Growth Mindset is a theory that was conceived by Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck and colleagues in 2006. You can explore her updated book Mindset and others like it in our collection along with recent titles about Abraham Lincoln. 

The Positive Shift

Master your Mindset - Unlock the Power Within You - How to Reprogram your Mind for Success

Developing Growth Mindsets

I Believe I Can

Y Is for Yet

And There Was Light

Lincoln in Private


It's up to You, Abe Lincoln

Long, Tall Lincoln