Men, Mindset and Moving Forward

Contributor: Article Contributed by Travis Stewart, LPC, Owner/Recovery Coach at Revision Recovery

smilin'“I’d feel like a total reject.” “I’m a total failure” “I’m an idiot.” “I’m a loser.” “I’d feel worthless and dumb—everyone’s better than me.”

These self-evaluations are what psychologist Carol Dweck found when asking young adults how they would feel after reading an imaginary scenario of a bad day. Here is the scenario she presented:

One day, you go to a class that is really important to you and that you like a lot. The professor returns the midterm paper to the class. You got a C+. You’re very disappointed. That evening on the way back to your home, you find that you’ve gotten a parking ticket. Being really frustrated, you call your best friend to share your experience but are sort of brushed off.1

Fixed Mindset and Growth Mindset

Individuals with what Dweck calls a Fixed Mindset responded with extremely critical self-evaluations, reporting that they felt “pitiful” and thinking that life is “unfair and useless.”

On the other hand, individuals with a Growth Mindset responded much differently. Their responses to the bad day scenario included:

“I need to try harder in class, be more careful when parking the car, and wonder if my friend had a bad day.”

“The C+ would tell me that I’d have to work a lot harder in the class, but I have the rest of the semester to pull up my grade.”

“I’d pay the ticket, and I’d work things out with my best friend the next time we speak.”2

How the Fixed Mindset Plays into Eating Disorders

Two men in living room talkingThe responses are significantly different and reveal a much more flexible, tough-minded and grace-filled approach to life. Additionally, the fixed mindset will sound very familiar to many men (and women) who struggle with an eating disorder.

The slightest failure (real or perceived) can send an individual into a deep funk and the most minor perceived body flaw (again, real or perceived) can result in obsession, depression and compulsion.

So it seems pretty important that we define the two mindsets.

How The Fixed and Growth Mindsets Differ

According the Dr. Dweck’s website:

In a fixed mindset, people believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits. They spend their time documenting their intelligence or talent instead of developing them. They also believe that talent alone creates success—without effort. They’re wrong.

In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment. Virtually all great people have had these qualities.3

The Unchangeable Identity

lonely manAt first glance, the fixed mindset does not seem all that damaging. However, think of it this way; someone with a fixed mindset believes that his or her basic identity is unchangeable. Secretly, they don’t think they can get smarter, learn from mistakes, or learn new skills.

Because they believe personal traits are set in stone, they don’t seek to learn. Instead they are consumed with hiding who they really are, and proving to others that they are good enough.

For men, who tend to find more of their identity in career and the competition, this leads to a greater sense that he needs to hide what he believes others will find flawed, weak or undesirable.

Seeing Your Character as “Set in Stone”

This is often portrayed in TV and movie comedies. How many times have you seen the plot where a man pretends to be someone else in order to impress the girl? For those of my generation, we laughed as George Constanza (of Seinfeld) often told women he was an architect in order to get a date. A more contemporary example is Michael Scott of The Office (played by Steve Carell) who scapegoats others in order to cover his own incompetence.

When an individual sees the inner world of character, intelligence and talent as set in stone, they will focus all of their energy on changing external qualities such as the size of their body, the amount of fat in their diet or the perceived imperfections in their appearance.

Shifting Your Mindset

Man looking out the train window laptopRecovery from an eating disorder requires a shift in mindset.

Someone with a growth mindset seeks out new experiences and is willing to learn. “The passion for stretching yourself and sticking to it, even (or especially) when it’s not going well, is the hallmark of the growth mindset. This is the mindset that allows people to thrive during some of the most challenging times in their lives.”4

Recovery from an eating disorder will certainly qualify as one of the most challenging times in your life—especially for a man who often feels like he has a “female problem” in the first place.

Changing Your Mindset Requires Effort

So, are you stuck with your mindset? Someone with a fixed mindset will think so. Carol Dweck (backed up by her research) believes you can change your mindset and change your life. But it takes effort. Here are the steps she believes will change your mindset:

Learn to hear your fixed mindset “voice”

Paying attention to your inner dialogue is critical to recovery and overcoming an eating disorder. You may already be learning this skill of meta-cognition (thinking about your thinking). Keep going.

Recognize that you have a choice

unrecognizable skateboarderThe “voice” in your head is just a thought and an interpretation of the world around you. You can think differently.

As you begin to notice your thoughts catch them and recognize that it is “just a thought.” A thought is not reality. It is a perception of reality and you can change perceptions.

Talk back to the fixed mindset with a growth mindset

Pay attention to thoughts like, “I’m stupid” or “it will never change” and rephrase them as “I made a mistake” and “things will change if I use a different approach.”

Take the growth mindset action

Recognize that thoughts lead to action. As you begin to differentiate between the two mindsets, take action according to the growth mindset rather than the old fixed mindset.

To learn more about mindset I highly recommend reading Dr. Dweck’s book, Mindset; The New Psychology of Success and visiting her

Community Discussion – Share your thoughts here!

What has been your experience with changing to a positive mindset? How has this impacted your recovery?


  1. Mindset; The New Psychology of Success by Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D., p. 8-9
  2. Ibid
  4. Mindset, p. 7

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

Last Updated & Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on April 10th, 2015
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