By: Cristina Trette
Last year I briefly took a small job working as a writer for an entrepreneur and speaker. During that time, I scoured articles on the virtues of failure and success. While reading, I noticed a theme that was echoed by CEO executives, entrepreneurs, professional athletes, and personal development coaches. "Fail forward" is their mantra and one they repeat with consistency.
I have come to know that every single one of us will struggle on and off throughout life. Two steps forward, one step back, seems to be the way.
But here is the interesting thing. After a setback, some will crumble and never find their out. Others are able to use the struggle itself to propel forward, and immerse in learning and growth after the fall.
What makes the difference between those who fall apart, and stay there, and those who get back up and lead ahead?
Mindset, it appears, contributes to this greatly.
What I believe about myself when I fail matters. Do I believe I am inherently capable, so I keep going towards the dream (or take a side step toward a different dream? Or do I believe that I don’t have what it takes, that I am innately flawed, and I give up on dreams all together?
Having a growth mindset, a term coined by Dr. Carol Dweck, may be the most important factor in predicting an individual’s future satisfaction and sense of fulfillment.
Those who have a growth mindset believe they will rebound from setbacks and failures. They also believe that regular application of effort, focus, and dedication, with built in time for restoration, will bring results. Growth mindset individuals believe they can become skilled in any endeavor, no matter what it may be.
Fixed mindset individuals, on the other hand, believe that they were born with skills, aptitudes, traits, and intelligence that are set “as is”. They think, “I either have it or I don’t” and do not believe that hard work and effort will make much of a difference. These underlying beliefs lead many fixed mindset individuals to quit or give up on tasks, projects, or goals when they discover that they are not good at it.
Our measures of fixed-ness and growth-ness fall on a spectrum. And many individuals have a fixed mindset in some areas of life and a growth mindset in others.
The concept of growth mindset is not new. After all, Carol Dweck's book "Mindset" was published in 2007. Yet, I work in the field of marriage and family therapy. I have plenty of anecdotal evidence to suggest that many individuals who are accomplished in career, do not have a growth mindset when it comes to love.
Many individuals credit success to growth mindset when it comes to work. Yet, when it comes to marriage and relationships, they admit they are not good at it, announcing their fixedness, or that they will never be good in love.
If we take the growth mindset theory and apply it to love and marriage, it becomes clear that all of us can get really good at relationships. It also becomes clear that all of us will have setbacks, struggles, challenges, and downturns.
Perhaps the ones who find themselves deeply satisfied in relationships, maintain a belief that they will learn how to be better and do better after each setback, fight, or any time they find themselves in that place.
Just like the countless individuals who esteem their financial and career success to their ability to learn and grow after failure, what if the those who are successful in love and marriage know that with effort, determination, and grit they can make their current relationship work better and better?
Could it be that the key to deeply loving the person you are with, and having a relationship that brings joy, great sex, brilliant conversation, adventure, fun, and someone solid to count on for the rest of your life starts with the dedication of both partners to develop a growth mindset in love?
It is quite possible that the whole point of life long partnership is to choose someone who will push you to become better, hold you to a higher standard, question you when you stop being yourself, love you even when you don't love yourself, and extend care throughout all if it. Contrast this to the fairy tale ending we have all been sold on!
Carol Dweck explains love relationship mindset in this way:
“In the fixed mindset, the ideal is instant, perfect, and perpetual compatibility. Like it was meant to be. Like riding off into the sunset. Like, “they lived happily ever after”.
Happily ever after assumes love does not need to be worked at. Nothing could be further from the truth.
I used to have a fixed mindset in love. I will never forget the conversation that changed this.
I had taken an inventory of all the ways I was contributing to the struggles in my current relationship. This was a humbling experience! After this exercise, I concluded there was something wrong with me. I decided that I don't know how to do relationships, and maybe I was better off putting everything into career and children and forgetting about love.
Luckily my coach, Pam Dunn, snapped me out of my fixed mindset. She reminded me that my relationship will work when I decide to make it work.
Growth mindset couples focus on developing the qualities, within self and the relationship, that are important for the couple to flourish long term.
According to Dweck, “The growth mindset says all of these things can be developed. All – you, your partner, and the relationship – are capable of growth and change”.
Yes riding off into the sunset with a prince may sound dreamy. Yet, knowing that I am an agent of change, influencing the development and outcome of my relationship, is something to fall in love with.
Cristina Trette, MA, LMFT is a busy mother and Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. Her passion is centered on helping couples and parents create thriving relationships, families, and wellbeing.
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