The Growth Mindset l March 2014
“Just as there are no great achievements without setbacks, there are no great relationships without conflicts and problems along the way.”*
Judging by the words we use, we often view the rough patches in our relationship through a harsh and critical lens: “we’ve hit the skids” or “we’ve fallen on bad times.” How easy it is to scare ourselves into thinking that our partnership is doomed, or that we’re stuck living forever with so much unhappiness. Moments of such pessimism are probably familiar to most of us.
Believing that something is permanently wrong when we and a partner struggle to get along, or wrestle with differences, or trip over each other’s words, leads us to view relationship problems as the result of either a core flaw in our partner or in ourselves. It’s a point of view that Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck sees as an expression of the fixed mindset — the perspective that human attributes are set in stone, unlikely to change, and must simply be accepted (or at best tolerated). The fixed mindset makes it easy for us, in our deep discouragement, to blame one another (“If only she weren’t so…” or “The problem is his…”). And with blame comes anger and disgust (or shame, when the blame is self-directed), plus the feeling of helplessness that nothing can be done.
In contrast to the fixed mindset, Dweck offers the growth mindset — the view that people are always evolving, that the brain and its habits can be modified so long as we’re willing to make the effort. (Neuroscience research affirms with certainty that the brain is malleable and its habits alterable.) The growth mindset allows us still to acknowledge imperfections in our partner (or in ourselves) but without the hopelessness that nothing can be done, without the sense that we’re forever victims of unchanging and unfortunate traits.
So think of those tough relationship events as invitations to stretch beyond your comfort zone, to develop (perhaps with the help of a counselor) new habits and new skills that can push your partnership to wonderful new heights. It’s absolutely possible: the growth mindset reminds us of that.
*Dweck, Carol. (2006) Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. (New York: Ballantine Books, Inc.)