When it comes to achieving goals we often focus on learning new skills and working harder. But the right mindset has an equally important, but often overlooked, role to play. Your mindset directly impacts your choices and actions and, therefore, how you develop – luckily, because it’s your mind, you have the power to improve it.
What is your current mindset?
The first step to improving your mindset is working out what it currently is and how it’s influencing your thoughts, goals and actions. Is it helping you develop, or holding you back? Taking stock of how your mind is driving you right now isn’t always easy. It requires you to be completely honest with yourself, which is why it’s sometimes worth asking a trusted friend or colleague to offer an impartial perspective. But doing this will give you a baseline to build and improve on.
Academic research into mindsets has provided a variety of frameworks that can be used to help you identify what’s going on in your head. One of the most common in business is fixed mindsets vs growth mindsets, developed by Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck.
Fixed mindsets cause people to believe they’re either born with talent or they’re not. And this innate level of talent or intelligence will determine their success. Conversely, people with growth mindsets believe talent and intelligence can be developed through dedication, effort and the right approach. In other words, with a growth mindset anyone can be good at anything.
How does this impact your career? Those with fixed mindsets tend to seek validation of their talent, rather than the continuous learning and development opportunities that will enable their talent to grow. People with a growth mindset constantly go looking for these opportunities and don’t feel permanently limited by their current abilities. Growth mindsets can also cope better with set-backs, challenges and obstacles, they’re able to persevere and adapt when something proves more difficult than expected.
Mindsets aren’t necessarily fixed. They might vary from one part of your life to another. But once you are aware of them and how they influence your actions, you’ll be able to stand back and challenge any internal thought processes that are preventing you from progressing.
Changing your mindset
Identifying a mindset you want to change is the first step. The next is making that change. Leadership expert Scott Jeffrey has written extensively on the subject and believes the ability to recognise what triggers a fixed mindset, and when you are falling into one, is key. There several ways to develop this level of self awareness:
- Learn to recognise your fixed mindset voice. The inner saboteur, the voice that says, “What if I can’t do this, what if I fail?” or “If only I had talent, I told you I couldn’t do it.” Being aware of this voice is the first step to challenging it.
- Realise you have a choice. When faced with challenges, hurdles or criticism you have a choice: you can assume it’s due to a lack of talent or you can assume it’s an opportunity to change your strategy, put in more effort and continue to develop.
- Talk back. Debate and challenge your inner saboteur when fixed mindset thoughts creep in. Force yourself to think with a growth mindset, what would this voice say in response? If necessary record or write down the dialogue to reinforce your awareness.
- Take the growth mindset option. Once you’re aware of competing mindsets you can actively choose to take the growth approach, even if it makes you nervous. This could mean opting to accept a new challenge, learn from a difficult situation or change your decision-making process.
Addressing fear is also something Jeffrey discusses. He believes someone with a fixed mindset is more worried about looking smart than learning or trying something new, because they’re fearful of looking stupid.
Much of this insecurity is based on unpleasant experiences of rejection or ridicule nearly all of us have faced at some point. Getting to the bottom of yours fears and where they come from will help you realise they’re often a hangover from past events that have no bearing on your current situation. It becomes an emotion you can learn to live with and gradually overcome.
New mindset, new habits
A new mindset is just the start of your journey and it needs constant fine tuning. A report by 7Mindsets found those who meet their goals have certain common habits, including:
- Persistently identifying, challenging and countering negative thoughts.
- Understanding motivation. What goal is most important to them and what will it mean if it’s achieved? This hardwires the drive they need to support mindset change and take the actions that come from it.
- Recognising that motivation and will power alone are often not enough. Sometimes you’ll need to deviate from your plan or take two steps back to move forwards. Being comfortable with this will help you to keep going even if it seems things aren’t going your way.
- Starting small. Setting bitesize achievable goals creates a feeling of meaningful progress towards a bigger target. This keeps up positivity and motivation and makes the journey fun. Continuous achievement builds momentum and supports the mindset changes you’ve made.
- Granting themselves permission to fail. High achievers know they’ll face obstacles and may fail, but they’re prepared for it which means when it happens they don’t give up. Instead they learn from failure and come back stronger.
So, to recap, reflect on your mindset and its current state. Identify how it might be limiting your potential and challenge it with a new mindset. Then constantly fine tune. It’s a long term journey but one which is likely to end in success. Good luck!