Are you an entity or an incremental theorist?

‘Keep your dreams alive. Understand to achieve anything requires faith and belief in yourself, vision, hard work, determination, and dedication. Remember all things are possible for those who believe.’  Gail Devers

Creating legacy and the power of thought

Creating legacy requires that you do not see yourself as limited, but rather as having a huge potential for growth in any area you set your sights upon. Legacy creators have long understood that what you believe about your own ability to improve shapes what you achieve.

Without believing that it is within your power to improve yourself and the world around you, you are condemning yourself to a life of thinking ‘if only I had [insert desired abilitiy here e.g. intelligence, imagination etc.]’. This is no way to live a fulfilling life, and certainly no way to create legacy.  

Insights from psychological research

Legacy creators often intuitively understand things that research takes years to provide evidence of. For example, psychological research gathered over the past decade shows that people can hold two different views of their own abilities (e.g. intelligence).

In particular, some people are ‘entity theorists’, in that they any human abilities as entities, i.e. they exist within us in a finite supply that we cannot increase. Others, on the other hand, are ‘incremental theorists’. They believe that while particular abilities vary from person to person, we can also improve upon them, as long as we are prepared to put in the necessary effort. 

The implications of being an entity vs. incremental theorist for creating legacy

Which of the two (admitedly ‘boxy’) categories you fall into has important implications for your belief that you can create legacy, and also for the way in which you handle any obstacles that invariably get in the way of completing any legacy project. 

Entity theorists perceive their abilities as something they have to demonstrate in the course of working on a legacy project. Incremental theorists, on the other hand, believe that legacy projects provide an opportunity to develop these abilities. 

Working on a legacy project: Entity vs. incremental theorists

If you are an entity theorists, believing your abilities only come in a fixed quantity that cannot be changed, then every attempt to complete a legacy project becomes a measure of how much of a particular ability you have: how smart you are, how resourceful you are, how charismatic etc.

As you can imagine, this won’t get you very far. If you have difficulties overcoming an obstacle, you will automatically think that this is because you are lacking a particular ability and give up quickly. Also, if one your legacy projects fail, you will tend to attribute that to your lack of specific abilities and decide creating legacy is simply not something you are suited to; it is something that only people who are smarter/more resourceful/more charismatic than you can do, but not you.

If, on the other hand, you belong to the incremental theorists camp, then the same problems along the way become opportunities for growth.

If as an incremental theorists you are having difficulties overcoming a particular obstacle, and decide that this is because you are not resourceful enough, you will aim to find ways to improve your resourcefulness so you can get better at getting past this type of obstacle.

Or if your legacy project fails, you will review all the things you have learned from working on it, make a list of the things you fell short, and resolve to address these so you can complete your next project. In other words, you will not give up on creating legacy just because you have failed at one, or two, or more legacy projects; you will simply see each failure as a learning experience getting you one step closer to success.

You are not ‘stuck’ with your category

As I’m sure you can tell by now, incremental theorists are more likely to create legacy than entity theorists, because of the way in which they approach and interpret the problems that invariably arise along the way.

But what if you realise you are an entity theorist who wants to create legacy? Simple – you have to work on changing your mindset day by day, to think more like an incremental theorist.

In fact, even accepting the possibility that you can change from being an entity theorist to an incremental theorist is a major step forward – because this means you are starting to see your own mindset as capable of changing, just like incremental theorists do.

You should also bear in mind that these two categories are ‘guides’ only – devised by psychologists to explain results they have found in the course of their studies. Of course, you are more likely to find that the way in which you perceive your abilities falls somewhere in-between these two categories.

Just remember that the closer you can get to the ‘incremental theorist’ mindset, the easier it will be for you to create legacy in the long run. So try to move in that direction day by day.

Every time you think to yourself  ‘I can’t possibly achieve this – I’m not [insert ability] enough’, ask yourself why you are thinking that, and what you can do to change thinking this way. It will take time, but you will see that eventually you will start to automatically think ‘yes, I can do this! I just need to work on X, Y, and Z, and then I’m all set to go for it’, and this will make it a whole lot easier to contemplate starting legacy projects that are bold, imaginative, and remarkable.

What’s your take?

Are you finding the distinction between ‘entity’ vs ‘incremental’ theorists helpful? Do you have any suggestions for thinking more like an incremental theorist? I’d love to read about your ideas in the comments section.

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Alexa Ispas

I am a social entrepreneur, blogger, and talent scout, interested in helping people who want to create legacy. I have recently completed my PhD thesis in social psychology at the University of Edinburgh, and am originally from Romania. I am writing a daily blog on creating legacy, which you can find at