“Even though my parents always told me, ‘You can do anything you put your mind to,’ I figured that must not be true because my mom always did things for me . . . So I just thought I was incapable. And I stopped trying.” Twenty-four-year-old Amber was matter-of-fact as she shared this in one of our last sessions together. She was getting ready to move away from her hometown for the first time, counting down the days until she hopped on the plane and flew across the country to attend a photography institute. I wasn’t sure what she was more excited for: starting over in a new city or ending what felt like very-small-town life.
“Your parents’ well-intended words didn’t match their actions, eh?”
“Not at all,” she responded emphatically to my question.
“And so you just figured you must not be competent. Or maybe you thought that if you did try something—if you really put your mind to something initially—and you didn’t get it immediately, well, then you were a failure.”
Amber reflected for a moment on my words and then let out a long sigh. “Maybe that’s why I give up so easily when I can’t figure things out right away. I don’t push myself. I am afraid of failure. And if something doesn’t happen right away, then forget it.” Small tears formed in her eyes. “I do that with my love life, too.”
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck has identified two ways of viewing and approaching life—one is with a fixed mindset and the other is a growth mindset. Those with a fixed mindset believe their abilities and qualities are carved in stone; they are unchangeable, so you better hope you’ve got a good amount of charisma, relational skills, intelligence, and moral character! Those with the growth mindset, however, believe that their basic qualities are cultivated through effort and perseverance. Talent, relational skills, intelligence, and personality can change and grow through effort and experience.
For a quick measure of your mindset, which statement(s) from Dweck’s Mindset do you agree with?
- Intelligence is something that I can’t change very much.
- I can learn new things, but I can’t really change how intelligent I am.
- No matter how much intelligence I have, I can change it quite a bit.
- I can substantially grow my intelligence.
If you found yourself gravitating more toward the first and second statement, you tend towards a fixed mindset. If the third and fourth statement resonated with you, you are more growth minded.
But what does mindset have to do with the health of your relationships? I’m so glad you asked! 🤣
Your mindset profoundly affects the way you live and love. For example, if you have a fixed mindset you believe that relationships don’t require much effort and there should be perpetual compatibility. You unquestionably accept the annoying habits or shortcomings you and your partner have and believe that the relationship “is what it is”.
If you embrace a growth mindset, however, you believe that with effort, practice, and investment, your relational skills can be developed and changed over time. So, with perseverance and intentionality, you and your partner can work through differences and increase your relational skills.
Notice the difference here:
“My partner should know what I like and how to love me well — we’ve been together for years now!” as opposed to “If I communicate clearly with my partner and he continues to work at it, he is able to love me well!” The first statement aligns with a fixed mindset; the latter exemplifies a growth mindset.
Mindset matters, and when you understand your own mindset you can increase your effectiveness – and longevity!! – in your relationships. You can cultivate your capacity to love well as you learn and grow through challenging and joyful times.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
“Amber, it seems like you’re making a connection between your mindset — your fear of failure and perceived inability — and the decisions you make. Whether it’s a decision about a guy, job, or move, you worry that you might not be successful right away, so you quit before you start. Because that’s the safest choice.”
Amber nodded. “I’m so used to my mom doing things for me—rescuing me, really—that I don’t know how to persevere. I give up way too easily. Even with guys. When relationships don’t work out right away, I don’t bother.”
“If there’s not chemistry from the get-go—then it must not be right,” I said, quoting her own words from our previous conversation.
“Yup,” Amber’s shoulders sank as she sighed deeply. There was a long pause before she said, “It’s definitely time for me to ‘do the work’, Dr. G.” She winked as she quoted a phrase I used with her numerous times before.
“Yes…” I quietly said as I smiled affectionately at Amber and thought, it’s time for all of us to do – and keep on doing! – the work.
*This is an excerpt from Reimagining Your Love Story