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Fact: We don’t see things as they are; we see things as we are.
We’ve known for millennia that the way we look at things, people, and events influences our opinions about those things, people, and events. “When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change” is another version of the same idea.
If that’s accurate, then how can we make use of it in our personal and business lives? Fortunately, there’s been a lot of research in the past few years on how to make our mindset work for us. And, if our mindset has been holding us back, there are ways to change it so we “get our minds right.”
Carol Dweck, a professor at Stanford University and author of the book, “Mindset: Changing the Way You Think to Fulfill Your Potential,” popularized the term “mindset” based on her research into how successful people—and not-so-successful people–conducted themselves and lived their lives.
Dweck identified two basic mindsets: Fixed and Growth. A fixed mindset believes that intelligence is fixed—static—and that no amount of effort will change it. You’re either born with smarts and abilities, or you’re not. A growth mindset believes that intelligence and problem-solving abilities can continue to be developed over a person’s lifetime. In her book, Dweck describes a way of looking at this dynamic. A fixed mindset might say, “Einstein was a genius, and I’ll never be an Einstein.” A growth mindset would say, “Einstein worked really hard to solve incredibly difficult problems, and there’s probably something I can learn from how he approached problem-solving.” (What this means if you’ve got small kids is to compliment and reward their efforts, not their smarts, because you’re encouraging their work, not their native intelligence.).
The chart below shows the general ways fixed and growth mindset people view the world:
The result for a fixed mindset person is that they may plateau early and achieve far less than their potential. These behaviors confirm a “deterministic” view of the world (everything is fixed—it is what it is and nothing I do will affect it).
The result of a growth mindset person is that they have a greater sense of free will, growth, and personal power, and they see opportunity rather than limitation.
How Can I Change My Mindset?
The big question then becomes, “If I have a somewhat fixed mindset, can I change and embrace more of a growth mindset? The answer is a resounding, “YES!” As the title of this section indicates, it’s all about embracing “change.” There’s an old slang phrase that goes, “Ya gotta wanna.” That is, you have to want to change. More than that, you have to do the work that change requires.
One of your mindset’s primary functions is to simplify the complexity of the world into more easily understandable chunks and then set your expectations—your assumptions and beliefs—based on this input. Your belief systems help you plan for the best or worst and then guide your decisions based on your assumptions. The big problem with assumptions is that they may have been helpful at one point in life, but they might not be helpful now. For example, if you feel like you were betrayed as a child, it might have been helpful at the time to believe that others can’t be trusted, but this belief will almost certainly lead to interpersonal problems in your adult life.
Your brain is what scientists call “neuroplastic,” meaning that it can continue to grow and develop well into adulthood and old age. By constantly challenging yourself with new perspectives and experiences, you form new neural connections—a new mindset—throughout your life. You’re on your way to doing the work of change.
Embracing change, looking forward to new experiences, and doing the daily work of keeping an open mind are not easy. At least, not at first. But, if you stick with it and realize that maintaining a growth mindset is a daily, lifelong endeavor, you just might succeed in changing an old mindset.
There’s another old saw that says we get what we spend most of our time thinking about. If we get what we spend most of our time thinking about, and if we spend most of our time thinking about what’s wrong and what we don’t want, guess what we get? We’re much better off thinking about what’s right and what we do want.
A great way to start this new mindset is to practice what’s known as Appreciative Inquiry at work. Since most of us spend more waking hours working than any other activity, we might as well start there. There’s a wealth of information on the Web about Appreciative Inquiry, but the gist is that we consciously look for what’s right at work, rather than looking for what’s wrong, and then use the good things as a springboard to not only change our mindset but to propel the organization on to greater things.
Viktor Frankl, a psychiatrist, and survivor of the Holocaust has a way of looking at the world that is well worth observing. He said, “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” If we use the space to respond positively rather than react negatively, we’re well on our way to a new mindset and a new way of making our way in the world.
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