“We grow and evolve or we stagnate and die.”
– Colette Davenport
According to Carol Dweck, Ph.D., one of the world’s leading researchers in the field of motivation, “having a fixed mindset means believing your personal traits are fixed.”
As it pertains to relationships, here are two problems attributed to a fixed mindset, straight out of Dweck’s book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.
#1: If You Have to Work At It, It Wasn’t Meant to Be
One problem is that 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.
#2: Problems Indicate Character Flaws
The second big difficulty with the fixed mindset is the belief that problems are a sign of deep-seated flaws. But just as there are no great achievements without setbacks, there are no great relationships without conflicts and problems along the way.
The growth mindset says you, your partner, and the relationship are capable of growth and change.
Over the course of 20 years, I’ve had literally thousands of intimate conversations with people who were struggling in their relationships.
What I know to be true beyond a doubt is those who were fixed, unwilling to learn, grow and let go were fucked. They either stayed in the struggle and found (typically unhealthy) ways to cope or they ended it without ever working on themselves.
For the men and women who chose to explore the issues, expand their thinking, evolve their actions – those who engaged a growth mindset – they turned those struggles into situations that brought them closer and are enjoying successful relationships to this day.
Let’s unpack this a little bit more because there’s a few things that play into the Growth vs. Fixed Mindset.
Identity and intentions
How you identify yourself has a massive impact on your relationship, and life for that matter.
Is your identity fixed or evolving?
Your identity is made up of “I am” statements. The deepest beliefs we have about ourselves usually originate in childhood.
They’re usually misunderstandings our unsophisticated little minds have that point to our soul wounds. And they usually cause problems in relationships.
- I am a bad.
- I am ugly.
- I am stupid.
- I am different.
- I am weak.
- I am unlovable.
What’s a soul wound? It’s part of the human condition. Collectively, we share the wound, “I am not good enough,” but individually we have soul wounds that are unique to each of us (see examples).
Unless you’re willing to uncover your wounds and heal – at a soul level, you’re likely to stick with your original identity.
Your whole life will be an exercise in trying to prove the “I am” statement wrong. You’ll fail over and over again because subconsciously you believe the statement is true.
Unknowingly, you’ll use your intimate relationship as a means to fix “what’s wrong with you”.
This area of personal growth can be tricky. On the surface you might be learning but are you willing to dismantle the entire structure of your identity to have what you want. Most people are absolutely not. They are fixed.
There’s a reason why our soul wounds stay hidden. They are gnarly and gross and cause distress. But if we are going to succeed in life and have kick-ass relationships that satisfy our souls, we gotta get down in the dirt and heal those wounds.
So what are you intentions, then?
Are you in (or seeking) a relationship to love and learn and enhance your life, and the life of your partner?
Or are you in (or seeking) a relationship to feel safe and secure and settle into your fixed way of being? And hope your partner’s love will fix you?
Additionally, how many of us are so afraid of triggering our wounds (or our partners) that we shut up and shy away from sharing our deepest desires?
Are you afraid of being fully seen?
Self Expression and Connection
Neuroscience is teaching us that ‘self-expression’ might be one – if not the most important ways for people to connect, navigate and grow with each other. – Dr. Judith E. Glaser
And yet, in my experience from working as a call girl in my early 20’s and as relationship coach ever since, the thing most people report struggling with is being able to express themselves fully and have the connection they desire.
You see, I have the inside scoop.
I’ve had the privilege of being a safe place, a trusted ally, for my clients to speak their most paralyzing fears and deepest, most unexpressed intimate desires. They tell me, but not their partners.
It goes something like this: (through tears) “Oh Colette, it’s such a relief to get that off my chest but there’s no way I can tell my husband/wife that. They wouldn’t understand. They’d never look at me the same. I’d lose what I have and I’m not willing to do that.”
We all sacrifice our self expression in some way to hold onto the people we want to see us as desirable, lovable, and worthy. That ‘worth thing’ is our collective soul wound, after all.
Jayson Gaddis, a relationship coach and founder of The Relationship School, says, “When you were young, you perceived that certain parts of you were not welcome, so you learned that you had to trade in, or hide, those parts of yourself in order to get love or avoid getting hurt. And while this was a brilliant strategy then, if you don’t ultimately learn another way and reclaim those disowned parts, the fear of losing yourself in a relationship will continue to haunt and overwhelm you.”
Are you hiding who you really are?
Are you trying to maintain a false ideal – a “you” you think is acceptable to others?
Is your relationship rigid and confining or is it a co-created evolving entity that fosters your fullest expression?
Can you allow your partner to share with you, to grow and evolve, or do you have set expectations for who they are?
Are you willing to learn more about yourself and your partner or would you rather have things stay the same year after year?
Dr Richard Felder and Barbara Soloman developed a useful tool to help us understand the different Learning styles.
Basically, we tend to have a primary learning style and when we don’t allow our minds to expand and engage in the other styles, we get stuck.
Additionally, our partners may have a style different from our own. Understanding this and opening a dialogue that includes various styles is what great communication is about. Great communication is a huge contributor to successful relationships (in case ya didn’t know).
What’s your primary learning style?
Sensory – Sensory learners prefer concrete, factual and procedural information. They look for the facts.
Intuitive – Intuitive learners prefer conceptual, innovative, and theoretical information. They look for the meaning.
Visual – Visual learners prefer graphs, pictures, and diagrams. They look for the visual representations.
Verbal – Verbal learners prefer to hear or read information. They look for explanations with words.
Active – Active learners prefer to manipulate objects, do physical experiments, and learn by trying. They enjoy solving problems in groups.
Reflective – Reflective learners prefer to think through, evaluate options, and learn by analysis. The enjoy solving problems on their own.
Sequential – Sequential learners prefer to have information presented linearly and in an orderly manner. They put together the details in order to understand how the big picture emerges.
Global – Global learners prefer a holistic, systematic approach. They see the big picture first and then fill in the details.
With a growth mindset, you’re understanding and varying your learning styles, which enables you to gather information, make better decisions and choose better courses of action.
A fixed mindset doesn’t give shit about changing its perspective or approach. “It’s my way or the highway.”
How to shift from a fixed to a growth mindset
Assuming you want your relationship grow and evolve rather than stagnate and die, here are some steps you can take to make that shift happen.
- Clarify what you’re committed to – commit (or recommit) 100%
Remember why you’re in it. Make all other options obsolete. Go all in.
- Believe you can achieve
Even if you’ve had a fixed mindset your whole life, have faith you can change. Without this belief you will not be able to.
- Learn new approaches
Identify your primary style and use this information to improve your skills in areas where you need development.
- Invest in your success
Get the ass-kicking support you need to be the best version of you possible.
- Have a process for dealing w difficult emotions – Especially if you’re an Empath
Fear, anger, guilt, shame – these will all shut you down and derail your success. Don’t let that happen.