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Cultivate a Learner Mindset

Our mindset has everything to do with why we keep growing or stay stuck in a situation, especially when it comes to relationships. When I work with couples, it is usually because one (or both) of them believe there is a problem that needs to be fixed. You might be thinking, “Well, that’s great! They want to fix their relationship!” Perhaps, if they come with a learner mindset. But when an individual is stuck in a judgement mindset, the chances for success are diminished. How do you approach conflict? Are you a judger or a learner?

The Judgement Mindset

It is very normal to come at situations from a place of judgement. As children, we are both curious how the world works (a learner), and relate everything from a self-centered viewpoint (a judger). Of course, as we get older we learn about empathy and that no, we are not the center of the universe. But when we are deeply invested in a relationship, it becomes so easy to fall into the trap of reacting to a situation versus exploring the possibilities within it.

Do you judge your partner? We often judge ourselves by what we believe is the “perfect person”, and judge others in the same way, despite knowing logically that no one is perfect! When we judge a situation, we are limiting the possibility for changing things. It restricts our flexibility and the opportunity to resolve conflict with your partner.

In her book, Change Your Questions Change Your Life, Marilee Adams talks about the power of choice when we ask the right questions. It’s empowering when you can choose the mental state you want to be in, rather than falling into the poor me mindset. According to Adams, here are some examples of judger questions:

  • What’s wrong?

  • How can I control this situation?

  • Who is to blame?

  • How am I being hurt?

  • Why is this person so frustrating?

  • Why bother?

Judger questions keep you disempowered. You feel like you have no control over the situation, and thus may scramble to regain control, rather than creating a collaborative connection. A judgement mindset invites more conflict and defensiveness into your relationship.

The Learner Mindset

If a judgment mindset is reactive, then a learner mindset is thoughtfully responsive. Someone with a learner mindset will ask questions and look for feedback to grow in situations. When you ask better questions of a situation, you are more likely to get to the truth of what’s going on. This approach is collaborative and builds connections. Some examples of learner questions include:

  • What am I responsible for?

  • What’s the big picture?

  • What are my choices?

  • What is the other person feeling?

  • What works or what is useful?

  • What can I learn?

  • What is the other person needing?

  • What’s possible?

When you are in judgement mode you only see what you want to see. Learner mode is like taking the blinders off. Adams shares that it is natural for us all to fall into a judgement mindset; however, learning to recognize when it happens will serve you to see why it is happening, giving you the opportunity to shift into a growth mode.

“Awareness, commitment, and courage, with a dash of humor, keeps us back in growth.” - Marilee Adams

If you decide to practice being in a learner vs judger mindset, remember it is a practice! Like many of the relationship tools I share, it takes awareness and courage to make the changes. Be gentle with yourself, and remember that you are human - you will fall into judgment. The key is to recognize when it happens, and recover when you do. Getting good at the recovery part will serve you and the health of your relationship.


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