What is cognitive rigidity?
The short answer is that cognitive rigidity is when our way of thinking about something or how we see (parts of) the world is fixed and does not change. The long answer is that when we see something for the first time, or we engage with someone for the first time (or several times), we form a mental image of that thing or person. We see a bird for the first time and our brain saves the image, so we can quickly assess that this is a bird when we see another one. That is actually pretty useful because otherwise we would be constantly confused as we need to discover everything again and again. This would be very energy consuming.
However, it can also have adverse effects. You might have put people in a box and no matter what they say or what they do, you already “know” how this will end or what they will say. This deprives you of learning something new from or about them and it is difficult for the other person to change your perception of them. I can imagine that this is what can happen in a long relationship. I don’t say we need to be super open and curious what our partner tells us. This can be also incredibly exhausting, because being constantly aware is nice but it takes its toll. Still, we should aim to be open and acknowledge our own ignorance. We might learn something new. Maybe even something about our partner. And we are too complex to be every fully understood, so chances are high that you can always learn something =).
And again, we see the same pattern. Too much an awareness and we might deplete our resources too quickly, but too little awareness will lead to cognitive rigidity and we cannot learn anything new. It is always about finding a balance.
So, the next time you speak to a friend, your partner, your parents, or someone from work, try to go into the conversation with the goal to see them with fresh eyes. Be open to what they say and how they are saying it. You might learn something valuable =).
Take care, Stephan