by Mark Schiffman, M.S.
One of the first, and perhaps the most fundamental ingredients to successfully changing our behaviors and emotions is the belief that we can actually change our behaviors and emotions. REBT will not be effective until someone believes that they are an agent who has the free will to make significant shifts in thoughts, emotions and behaviors. While there are obviously some limits to the concept of free will and we cannot literality will ourselves to be whatever we want, the concept that there is room to change and improve is elementary to the system.
Oftentimes people, especially those with years of experience being set in their ways, get stuck in what Dr. Carol Dweck calls a fixed mindset. A fixed mindset essentially means that we believe that our character, creativity and/or intelligence are set and they can’t be improved or changed. With a fixed mindset, my anger problems are just a part of me that you need to accept if you want to be a part of my life. My anxiety and constant reassurance seeking is an emotional and behavioral pattern set in stone that I am just stuck with.
One of the most inspiring yet heart wrenching encounters is when middle aged or older individuals switch from a fixed to a growth mindset. For years, their behavior may have contributed to significant damage to relationships with loved ones or held them back from success at work, but finally something clicks and they realize they can change. It is truly inspiring because we see that it is never too late to make changes. On the other hand, it is heart wrenching to know that this switch could have happened years ago before any significant damage occurred. Perhaps we would be wise to incorporate some of Dr. Dweck’s ideas as to how to teach ourselves and younger children to think through the prism of the growth mindset instead of promoting a fixed mindset (https://mindsetonline.com/).