Recently I posted about Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck’s theory of fixed versus growth mindsets as it relates to helping children reach their potential. Dweck’s research has shown that individuals with a fixed mindset believe talent to be innate, and tend to respond to setbacks by reducing their level of effort: ‘if it’s not working, why bother’? Those with a growth mindset, on the other hand, think that effort can affect ability, so they are ready to work harder when something’s not going well.
This difference in mentalities can also be observed in adults, and not only as it relates to achievement but in the realm of romance. In relationships, people with a fixed mindset believe that the characteristics—positive or negative—of themselves, their partners, and the relationship itself are unchangeable. Whereas those with a growth mindset view problems in relationships as failures of communication rather than of character, in a fixed mindset the partner’s shortcomings are viewed as immutable. The idea is that two people should be instantly and perfectly compatible, and if you have to work at the relationship, it wasn’t meant to be. As Dweck describes it:
People with the fixed mindset expect everything good to happen automatically. It’s not that the partners will work to help each other solve their problems or gain skills. It’s that this will magically occur through their love, sort of the way it happened to Sleeping Beauty, whose coma was cured by her prince’s kiss, or to Cinderella, whose miserable life was suddenly transformed by her prince.
The good news is it’s never too late to cure ourselves of the Disney delusion and learn to shift from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset. We can all pause and take note of the voices in our heads, and choose to change the internal monologue from judgment to something kinder and more growth-oriented:
People with a growth mindset are also constantly monitoring what’s going on, but their internal monologue is not about judging themselves and others in this way. Certainly they’re sensitive to positive and negative information, but they’re attuned to its implications for learning and constructive action: What can I learn from this? How can I improve? How can I help my partner do this better?
Dweck also found people with a growth mindset to be more resilient after breakups, seeking to learn from the experience. Those with a fixed mindset, on the other hand, experienced rejection as a judgment on their inherent worth:
It was as though a verdict had been handed down and branded on their foreheads: UNLOVABLE!
Interestingly, this conclusion bends back around to Brené Brown’s findings about shame. While those with a growth mindset still feel pain after a breakup, it lacks the sting of humiliation and doesn’t change their view of themselves as fundamentally deserving of love. Brown believes such feelings of worthiness to be what separates people who experience a sense of belonging in their lives and those who struggle for it:
Those who feel lovable, who love, and who experience belonging simply believe they are worthy of love and belonging. They don’t have better or easier lives, they don’t have fewer struggles with addiction or depression, and they haven’t survived fewer traumas or bankruptcies or divorces, but in the midst of all of these struggles, they have developed practices that enable them to hold on to the belief that they are worthy of love, belonging, and even joy.
Developing a growth mindset, then, can make us feel that we’re more in control of our destinies and be better equipped to succeed both professionally and in our personal lives. A worthy undertaking indeed!