Mindset: The Basics

Mindset is, for me, one of the absolute foundations of improving yourself. By that I mean your mindset can determine how successful you are in pursuing any avenue of self-development, and setting out with the wrong mindset will scupper every effort you make to learn and then act on that learning.

Why is mindset so important? The answer starts to make sense when you look at the two different forms of mindset commonly referred to in this field – fixed and growth. Can you guess which one is the one we want to adopt for ourselves? No prizes for getting the answer right. Let’s look at the other one first though, see if anything sounds familiar.

A fixed mindset is just as the name implies – a mind that is fixed in its definitions of things (like ‘success’ or ‘happiness’ for example) and also fixed in its understanding of itself and others. Someone speaking from a fixed mindset might say something like “there’s no way I could do that”, “I’m just not a creative person” or “Dave was an absolute melt back in school, how’s he running his own company now?! Some people get all the luck! I’m so unlucky, nothing like that will ever happen to me”.

What makes this mindset so dangerous is that it fits with how we see the world, often through the lens of social media where everyone puts their best self on show and we compare that to how we’re doing that day and think we come up short. We’re also heavily influenced by the world in how we define success and force ourselves to measure up against that yardstick. Very often, deep down we will have a different definition of success but we keep quiet about it because it’s clearly the wrong definition and we don’t want to look silly in front of the actually successful people. The other thing with a fixed mindset is that it’s self-fulfilling and therefore hard to break out of. We assume our lack of creativity is hardwired, so we never bother trying to train ourselves to be more creative. What would be the point of that, right? Might as well train ourselves to levitate or shoot lasers from our eyes! Pointless.

Bollocks, say I (and many others). What if, going back to the questions from a couple of paragraphs above, there was another way to view things? What if we asked different questions like “if I was to do that, how would I go about it?”, “why can’t I be a creative person?” and “I should get in touch with Dave for a catch up, I’m interested to find out how he got to where he is from being a complete and utter twonk back in school”. OK, that last one isn’t a question, but you take my point. This is how the growth mindset thinks and sees the world.

The growth mindset is not interested in limitations, it is unfazed by the achievements of others and it is constantly looking for opportunities to learn and develop. What’s more, the growth mindset is backed by a strong belief that, with the application of effort, you can achieve whatever goal you set yourself, you can learn any new skill if you put in the time and focus and that others can do the same. If you can adopt a growth mindset you will be forever open to new opportunities to see, do and learn something new. You’ll have the confidence to set goals, plan your way to achieving them and then put that plan in to action. I’m not saying you’ll immediately be the next Elon Musk, but you will be a step closer, if that’s what you ultimately want.

Where a fixed mindset is frustrated by your lack of natural talent for something, the growth mindset looks for a way to learn to be talented. All talent is, really, is a skill that someone has developed through hard work and practice, you just don’t always see the hard work and practice, just the end result. Yes, some people are gifted at certain things, but without hard work and long hours, they will never rise to the top of their field among the most talented.

In fact some of the most ‘gifted’ figures in history were forged through many long, hard years and countless knock-backs before getting to where they wanted to be. Einstein hated most of his school years and failed on his first attempt to study physics at University. Morgan Freeman, a ferocious natural talent, had to put in decades of hard graft before hitting the big time. Or how about Steve Jobs getting fired from Apple in 1985 to then be re-hired to save the company a full 12 years later?

Granted, not all talented, successful individuals have quite as bumpy a ride to the top, but I promise you that each and every one of them possesses the growth mindset, and that this mindset has been fundamental to their success. If you don’t feel like you possess it, but you want to, then I have good news – you can. It probably won’t happen overnight, but here are a few exercises you can do to start shifting your focus;

  1. Ban the word “can’t” from your vocabulary. There is a way. “Can’t” means you choose not to. Also, if you choose not to do something, that’s OK. Make peace with your reasons and move on.
  2. Ask yourself more questions that start with words like “how” or “if”, as in “how can I be more independent?” or “if I was going to start a business, what would it look like?” – do this the next time you start wishing for something. Stop wishing, start planning.
  3. If there is something that you’ve been wanting to do but telling yourself you can’t – set some time aside to practice. Perhaps you want to create something or learn a new skill. Consider what would be a realistic amount of time that you could devote to it, an hour one evening maybe, and keep that appointment with yourself. Tell your husband, wife, brother, mother, cat, whoever you live with, so they can help make sure you get that time.
  4. Remember there is no pressure from anywhere to do any self-directed learning. It’s entirely down to you making that investment in yourself.

That’s it for this post, it’s a bit longer than I planned it to be, sorry. Next week we’ll talk about setting goals and where a lot of people go wrong. Thanks for reading, see you soon!


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Ben Burrell-Squires

I’m just trying to stay out of trouble.

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