“The most important decision we make is whether we believe we live in a friendly or hostile universe.” Albert Einstein.
Our mindset comprises of the beliefs and attitudes through which we perceive the world. There has been a lot of attention on this since Carol Dweck, a Professor at Stanford University, wrote a book called ‘Mindset’ which became a best-seller.
Dweck argues that there are two types of mindset – a growth mindset and a fixed mindset. She says that at any point in time, when you’re engaging in a behaviour, taking action or even thinking about something, you’re usually operating from one of these two mindsets.
We all have BOTH types of mindset (fixed and growth), so it’s not a case of either / or – but there is usually a preference for one or the other in terms of how we see and respond to life. We may tend to demonstrate a growth mindset in certain areas of our lives (where we have more confidence and more empowering beliefs), yet come from a fixed mindset in others.
For example, in our career or friendships, we may feel confident and authentic and be more growth orientated, but in our relationship with our partner or with our family, we may find we are more entrenched in limited thinking and come from more of a ‘fixed’ stance and perception.
This may be because in those primary relationships, our sense of love, safety and belonging may feel threatened on some level if we grow, evolve and change, so we may resist growth opportunities and stay stagnant, rather than risk ‘losing’ the sense of self we’ve developed in relationship to those people. Read my post ‘Is your Childhood Keeping You Stuck?‘ which outlines how these factors tend to limit us in life unless we can heal any dysfunctional beliefs formed in childhood.
When we’re in a fixed mindset, we’re often more driven by fear – fear of how we’ll look, fear of what we’ll lose etc – whereas a growth mindset tends to be more led by curiosity and a love of new ideas, new insights and learning.
Even if we experience ‘failure’ in some way (which is inevitable in the course of our lives), those with a growth mindset tend to look for the learning and opportunities that can arise through these setbacks and use failure to stretch themselves, see how they can improve and get better and become more resilient.
In contrast, when someone with a fixed mindset experiences failure, they often use this to reinforce any notions that they are not good enough or can’t succeed and tend to ‘contract’ and feel stuck in this way of being and are often reluctant to move forwards and try again.
How Intention Affects Mindset
At any point in time, each of our actions, choices and behaviours are motivated by an intention – and at it’s root, this is either an intention to learn and grow, or an intent to control and protect.
This will often be dependent upon the situation, as outlined above and often shaped by patterns that were created within us from childhood or adolescence. For example, someone who struggled with learning or grammar at school or in their formal education may avoid jobs or situations where writing or reading are key components if they still have a fear around this and want to protect themselves from humiliation or a perceived sense of failure. Yet others won’t let that define them if they have a growth mindset.
As evidence, there are many successful entrepreneurs who weren’t academic and didn’t perform well at school. Richard Branson and Jamie Oliver have both spoken publicly about their experience of struggling with dyslexia at school and how this proved very difficult for them. Yet it didn’t stop either of them going on to become public figures and massively successful entrepreneurs – infact, they’ve both attributed their dyslexia to being a great gift, helping them to think creatively and to focus their skills. Theo Paphitis and Lord Sugar are also famous figures with dyslexia (as was Steve Jobs). They each learned to harness their creativity and different way of thinking and to use it to their advantage.
Mindset and ‘The Law of Attraction’
Mindset affects every area of our lives – be it work, relationships, parenting, money or health. Whatever our beliefs and attitudes are towards each of these areas, they will define and create our reality as our perception and beliefs inform and influence who we are ‘being’ in the world – and we tend to attract the results and outcomes that match those perceptions.
For example, if you believe you’re unworthy or unsuccessful then your state of mind and the way that you are ‘being’ will produce an ‘energetic signature’ that mirrors that – in terms of who and how you are being and how you project yourself in the world. We all know what it’s like to be in the company of someone who ‘lights up’ a room and has positive energy and in contrast, we may try to avoid someone that complains a lot and who projects a lot of negativity.
Quantum physics has proved that humans are literally composed of vibrating atoms and space and that we are energetic beings at a fundamental level. So if we have beliefs and perceptions that we are not good enough then our energy will be vibrating on some level in a way that we’ll tend to attract experiences that are an ‘energetic match’ to confirm and reinforce those beliefs on some level. That’s unless we can change our perspective (by cultivating a growth mindset) and can explore new ways of thinking and being.
From the perspective of the ‘Law of Attraction’ this would play out as follows:
1 You have a thought (or a belief).
2 That thought (or belief) creates an emotional charge (feeling) within you.
3 How you are feeling emotionally determines the action you take (or don’t take).
4 This results in a certain outcome.
THOUGHT + EMOTIONAL CHARGE + ACTION = OUTCOME
So we can see that if our thoughts are fearful – eg. I won’t succeed or I’ll mess this up” (fixed mindset) then this carries a fearful / negative emotional charge and you are then creating your reality from a fear perspective, as the actions you choose from a place of fear are going to reflect that fear.
This may take the form of passing up good opportunities that come your way or not promoting yourself, or procrastinating as you’re afraid that you won’t succeed so there is resistance to even trying anything new.
Your mindset tends to ‘run you’ – whatever you believe about yourself, life and others is what you will tend to attract and experience. So it’s beneficial to cultivate a growth mindset so that you can attract good opportunities and experiences into your life.
When Dweck and her colleagues consulted with executives at a top investment bank, they asked the executives to reflect on how their mindset influenced their leadership and communication abilities. The Managers realised that when they were leading from a fixed mindset they tended to use a top-down approach and were less open and encouraging with their staff. They feared being more authentic in case this showed any weakness or vulnerability which they felt would undermind their position of authority.
The resulting outcome was limited communication and less engagement by staff and management. In contrast, the Managers were asked to reflect on occasions when they had come from a growth mindset. They were able to see that by being authentic, open minded and working more ‘collaboratively’ with their staff – that this then cultivated deeper connection, more respect from both sides and led to a more engaged and productive working relationship which benefited both Managers and their teams.
The Impact on Children
Dweck talks about parenting (and education) and how offering praise to children based solely on their performance can be damaging and limiting – as it tends to set up a cycle of the child feeling that they are valued and judged purely on what they do. The child may then resist even attempting to do things unless they know that they’ll achieve a good result.
This struck a chord with me personally as I had the experience growing up of being mainly valued for what I looked like and for my ‘achievements’ (not just for being who I was). This created a perfectionist mentality within me – I felt that unless I could be ‘perfect’ in my work or appearance, then I wasn’t loveable or safe on some inner level as that is what I had learnt my worth was dependent upon.
As a consequence, I experienced a lot of inner turmoil and chaos and created lots of subconscious beliefs and a fixed mindset in some areas of my life, throughout my teenage years and early twenties. It took a lot of personal growth and enquiry to make peace with this pattern. I had to learn to be compassionate with myself and become accepting of my ‘flaws’ and vulnerabilities – which, after all, is what makes us human!
As a result, I now describe and see myself as a ‘recovering perfectionist’ – I’m much gentler with myself – although sometimes I do still find that I’m caught up in a ‘striving’ mentality. When that happens and things feel overly hard or difficult, I try and take a step back to assess whether I’m coming from a fixed or growth mindset and see if I can uncover the underlying anxiety that’s driving or creating that pattern. If it’s of interest, you can read more of my personal story and how I overcame my own challenges in my post ‘Developing Resilience and Becoming My True Self’.
I decided to apply what I’d had to learn the hard way from personal experience in my own parenting. I’ve made a very conscious effort to ensure that my sons feel valued for their ‘being’ – they know that they’re loved just for being who they are, not just for what they do and I’ve tried not to set them up with the same cycle of self-judgement that I experienced. That doesn’t mean that I don’t praise their efforts, but I’m mindful to ensure that I praise their attempt at something and it’s giving it their best shot that I value, rather than the ‘achievement’ in itself.
Plus I use Carol Dweck’s idea and add the term ‘not yet’ when I hear my boys saying that they’re not good at something or feel like they’ve failed and it’s not worth trying again. This reinforces how we can always get better at something and have another go and it’s practice and effort that creates success and rewards us with a sense of achievement.
And as I’m someone who loves learning and trying new things, I also try to model for them and teach them to have a love of learning and stretching themselves, just for personal satisfaction and their own enjoyment, to cultivate their sense of curiosity and sow the seeds of a growth mindset.
The Benefits of Cultivating a Growth Mindset
Developing a growth mindset means that you can turn setbacks and failures into sources of personal power if you use them to grow your strength and wisdom. You find out what works for you or not and then if it doesn’t go well, rather than making that mean something about you on an ‘identity’ level, you just get curious and ask powerful questions of how it could have gone better and what can you now do to move forwards in a more empowering way.
In today’s economy and job market, where there’s often a lot of uncertainty and change, embracing a growth mindset can be really valuable and a necessity if you want to feel like you’re not at the mercy of external circumstances and want to steer and navigate the ship of your own life and feel that you’re able to make your own choices.
“People believe….their talents and abilities can be developed through passion, education and persistence.
For them….it’s about a commitment to learning – taking informed risks and learning from the results, surrounding yourself with people who will challenge you to grow, looking frankly at your deficiencies and seeking to remedy them”
Carol Dweck talking about a Growth Mindset
Ways to Cultivate a Growth Mindset
– Learning about your skills and strengths and assessing how you can use these in your work and your life to best benefit is a good starting point. Self-awareness is power and the starting point for moving out of a fixed mindset and working out what limits and stops you or keeps you stagnating and not moving forwards. The VIA Character Strengths Survey is a free online test developed by leading personality and positive psychology experts which helps you to identify your particular make-up of 24 character strengths that fall under six broad virtue categories: wisdom, courage, humanity, justice, temperance and transcendence. Your top strengths will be those that you excel at – where your natural ability and confidence already produces results and where you’re most likely to be operating with a growth mindset, rather than being driven by fear.
– Reflect on those times of your life when you felt like you were genuinely engaged and absorbed in an experience or activity and were in ‘flow’ (Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s groundbreaking book ‘Flow: The Psychology of Happiness’ and his other related books describe what happens when we’re operating at peak performance and truly engaged in an experience). Think about what was going on in your thinking during those times – what was different? Were you feeling more confident and free? Did you have help and support? If you can pinpoint what helps you get into a state of ‘flow’ (where you’ll be operating from a growth mindset), you can also question whether you can replicate that in other areas of your life which you find more challenging. This may require cultivating a new habit or making a change to your circumstances that you know was a key factor in helping you to achieve flow and feel engaged. Expanding your range of options and challenging your ‘normal’ way of doing things will open you up to growth and learning.
– Try to do something new every day – take time to experiment! Most of us are living on auto-pilot – our alarm clock goes off and we get out of bed the same side and go straight into the same routine and there is often no space for change or transformation or anything new to come into our lives unless we disrupt those well-worn routines and patterns in some way. Our brains form neural networks and whenever we regularly repeat or engage in the same routine or activity, our neurons are firing together and wiring these neural networks into well-formed grooves. If we want to break a habit or establish a new pattern, we need to rewire these neural networks and stop the old neurons firing together and wiring together (which keeps us in a fixed way of thinking) and weaken the pull of the old and familiar to create something new.
– Set growth mindset goals – to build our growth mindset muscle, we need to continuously practice a new pattern to form a new neural network in our brain and let go of the old, fearful ways. Make a conscious decision to experiment and try and approach this with an attitude of curiosity and playfulness, rather than going for ‘absolutes’ – ie – it has to be like this or that and nothing in between. If we approach with more of an attitude of ‘what would it be like if I did this?’ or ‘how can I incorporate more of this activity into my day?’ and be curious or interested in feedback, rather than making it mean something about ourselves, then that will help let go of the old way of thinking and fixed mindset and open us up to growth and learning instead.
– Practice “not yet” – next time you’re facing a challenge or find yourself in the middle of failure, listen out for what the voice inside your head is saying. Is it telling you that you’re not good enough, and now everyone will know that you’re not as smart or capable as they once thought? If yes, show yourself some self-compassion and acknowledge that you’re still learning and none of us ever stops learning – until we die! Instead of “I can’t”, “I’m no good”, or “I failed” try reframing this to “not yet”.
– Try not to take others behaviour personally and learn to reinterpret criticism – rather than shutting down or not wanting to listen if someone points out areas where you could have done better or where there’s room for improvement – instead see this as a valuable opportunity to learn more about yourself and others. Ask for some extra guidance or mentoring and value the opportunity to improve your understanding and performance. Instead of feeling envious of other people who are doing better than you, ask them for some tips and see if you can learn from them – use this to inspire you of what you yourself can achieve.
If you’d like help and support to review your own mindset (or your team or organisation’s mindset) and explore what’s working or not and what you’d like to change or have more of in your life, MindFlame can offer coaching, consulting, mentoring and training to support you in this area. For more details, please see our Coaching and Mentoring Services, Consultancy Services and Training and Development Services.
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