We all have self descriptions – a script that runs in our heads when we face challenges. For some, it is versions of “I am smart and tend to figure things out.” For others, it could be “I am very dedicated to a cause I choose” or “I don’t give up easily.”
These self descriptions tend to focus on fixed attributes – smart, beautiful – or fluid attributes – persistence, loyalty, dedication. I have found a strong correlation between fixed attributes and swings in confidence levels. That’s because fixed attributes aren’t easily changeable. So, if you consider yourself smart and spend time with folks who you think are smarter, your confidence could be rattled. However, hang out with people who are more persistent and you will likely find yourself to be more inspired to be more persistent. This ties with Carol Dweck’s idea of the fixed vs. growth mindset. Fixed descriptors leave no room for growth in our minds.
The easy way to identify the difference is that fixed self descriptions are results oriented while growth/fluid self descriptions tend to be process oriented. “I am smart” versus “I will persist to figure it out.” “I am very good looking” versus “I generally work hard to present myself well.”
This insight has implications for us as givers just as much as receivers. When we compliment people, do we compliment results or processes? After all, our self descriptions generally come from what we hear about ourselves from parents and friends.
What we think and say matters – being thoughtful isn’t an option, it is a responsibility.