A Connection Mindset

2019 April 4
by Dr. Zachary White

Only 3 letters—YET—but these letters can change so much.  3 simple letters that may be present in our minds but are rarely stated out loud. There is incredible value in a growth mindset, rather than a fixed mindset. In a growth mindset, you believe your capacities are changeable as the presence of YET reminds you of ongoing possibility through effort, practice, and feedback. You haven’t learned something yet.  You haven’t been able to master an activity yet.  You haven’t achieved a goal yet. Here, the presence of yet is vital to growth and resilience.

Most people can openly embrace this aspect of a growth mindset because it implies possibility, a view of the self as a set of potentials determined by effort, feedback, and flexibility.  However, there is more to a yet mindset than individual achievement and growth.

Caregivers can teach us about a connection mindset that is often cultivated in everyday caregiver experiences. This is the aspect of a yet mentality that is rarely talked about even though it should be because it shapes how we can relate to one another.

Caregivers distinctly listen to others in ways that enhance connection.We can hear that which others may not even say. Other people listen to only what is said. Caregivers listen to what is being said and what is not being said out loud as they insert a yet into almost every dialogue with another person.

Some may say, “I am not a caregiver.” Caregivers hear something more, “You are not a caregiver yet.”

Some may say, “We are so lucky. Everyone is healthy and doing great.” Caregivers hear something more. “I am so happy for you. Enjoy every precious day you have, but know too, that this cannot remain the same.”

Some may say, “My baby sleeps through the night.” Caregivers hear something more.“I am so pleased your baby sleeps through the night now. Please know that tonight may not represent what happens in nights to come.” 

 Some may say, “I want to spend money on something extravagant. You only live once, right?” Caregivers hear something more.  “Yes, live and live well now, but also know that so-called once in a lifetime experiences make for good lyrics to songs but life can also feel remarkably long, over and over again, years on end.”

At first glance, what we hear—beyond what is actually said—may sound pessimistic and negative. But it is not.

People marked by ongoing care experiences cannot un-know what they know and what they have lived.

Born of experience and wisdom, this type of yet orientation does not come from a place of jealousy or resentment. It comes from a place of connection that allows for the recognition that the parts of life we don’t want, do not simply go away because we don’t think or talk about them. Not only do they exist, they can also be the reason(s) for finding ourselves in others.  

People who have been changed by life experiences can lean on a growth mindset, but also a different kind of growth than most people conceive. A connection mindset isn’t just about growing, but about growing toward others.

Other people may inhibit connection because they seek to know themselves by highlighting how they are different.

“I don’t have anything in common with her, she’s a caregiver and I’m not.”

“I don’t have anything in common with him, my spouse is still alive.”

“I don’t know what to say to him, his son died in the NICU. Our children are healthy.”

“I can’t relate to her because her child committed suicide.”

Here, the underlying assumption is that certain experiences are unusual, unique, beyond the possibility of happening to us and those we love.  From this orientation, suffering is exclusive. Grief is aberrant and unlikely. This perspective is vastly different from a connection mindset in that it doesn’t allow us to be excused from the inevitabilities of life that can be a source of connection with everyone we meet and know.

From this perspective, people are much more likely to experience connection by highlighting how they are similar to others now, or will be soon enough.








These aren’t viewed as experiences only some people experience. These are experiences that can’t be ignored. These are experiences that can’t be neglected. These are the experiences that are inevitable parts of our life experiences. These are all of our experiences.

When yet is the center of all that is said and not said, we cannot divorce ourselves from others’ situations. We cannot ignore others’ predicaments. Others’ challenges are challenges we may soon experience. Others’ joys are joys we too may be able to anticipate. Regardless, we are always implicated. We are never surprised by what is (not) happening because nothing about life and living is off limits and beyond possibility.

When this  happens, compassion is not about feeling sorry for people who have a “worse” life than us as much as it is a more expansive type of compassion that includes not only people who share challenges, but a compassion that also accounts for what could be, what might be, and what inevitably is a part of living a life of relationships that always connects us to and with others.

A yet mentality, no doubt, makes possible individual growth and accomplishment, but it also does so much more. It also allows us to see ourselves in others’ reflections and constantly encourages us to see others in our own.

Zachary White, Ph.D. is the co-author (with Donna Thomson) of the upcoming book, “The Unexpected Journey of Caring: The Transformation from Loved One to Caregiver.”

4 Responses leave one →
  1. Norris Frederick permalink
    April 5, 2019

    Dr. White,

    Thanks once again for such an insightful and helpful post. Your words remind me of the first Noble Truth of the Buddha — life involves suffering –and also of the Buddhist idea that we all are inextricably connected. Through that wisdom we can transform suffering of others and of ourself.
    Thank you for your words: “When this happens, compassion is not about feeling sorry for people who have a “worse” life than us as much as it is a more expansive type of compassion that includes not only people who share challenges, but a compassion that also accounts for what could be, what might be, and what inevitably is a part of living a life of relationships that always connects us to and with others.”

  2. April 5, 2019

    Beautifully stated! I sense a new depth in your recent writings. Thank you. This article in particular reminds me of the “You don’t know what you don’t know” until you find yourself in the experience. And you simple can’t until that moment.

  3. April 5, 2019

    Thanks so much, Joan. You are absolutely right about the challenge of not knowing what something is like until you are in it. But I also believe that believing that “it” is a part of the inevitable experiences of life, can bring us closer. Thanks for your ongoing–and long-standing–contributions to this community.

  4. April 5, 2019

    Thank you Norris for your (always) wise words. In a world of dis-connection, thank you for reminding us of the wisdom of the First Noble Truth!

Leave a Reply

Note: You can use basic XHTML in your comments. Your email address will never be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS