By Kathy McKenzie, Director FIRE UP Coaching

What is Mindset?

If we break the word mindset into two parts, the challenge is not so much the mind part, but the set.  What happens when we get set in a certain way? Many mindsets are conducive to us experiencing joy and hence we don’t want to mess with them.  The optimistic mindset, the resilient mindset, the curious mindset – all serving us in wonderful ways. But what of the deeply pessimistic mindset, the rigid mindset, the cynical mindset?  Of course they too are serving a purpose for us but often not resulting in positive, productive outcomes.  The ability to develop flexibility and adaptability in relation to our  mind ‘sets’ is essential to live fully and freely in this current age.  It is also essential for us to have sustainable productive relationships with all people.

The challenge for each of us is firstly to have the ability to notice when we have developed what could be called “hardening of the categories”.  Believe it or not it can be as destructive as hardening of the arteries.  Hardening of the categories is when we look at people, events or situations and evaluate them with a generalised view of what they mean. For example, at a dinner party the other night one of my friends husbands, who is a senior manager at a company, was discussing that he has to put up with someone who wants an area to pray at work.  He was making a story of the fact that you cannot ask someone what their religion is when you recruit, and consequently he has to accommodate a person wanting to pray.  He was completely oblivious to the fact that others at the table probably shared very different opinions about this, and that his mindset was a mix of prejudices and biases.  Tempting as it was to ask if he accommodated smokers in the workplace, I refrained and listened without challenging.  Despite my value around all people being treated equally, debating this during the dinner party would have served no purpose.  People do not just give up on fixed views because you present it to them.  It would also have just been me having the ego to think that my opinion was “right” and his was “wrong”, which would not have contributed to harmony at dinner!

Have you ever noticed that the more you try and argue with someone about their bias of opinion, the more ‘right’ you are, the more they will defend that position and in most situations get more intensely emotional?

I am sure we can all relate to having a friend or loved one that you watch make poor choices, or create the same dramas time and again, due to a fixed way of thinking. It is often so obvious to us what the problematic mindset is, and yet it remains completely out of their awareness.  You can tell them, share your wisdom and still they do not get the insights you desire them to have.  ‘How can they not see?’ you lament.  On they go without any ability to see the limitations of their current thinking. Here-in lies the challenge with change.

Until people can unearth their own limitations and declare their own intentions to change their mind, it generally will not happen. There is also the added challenge with most of us:  It is often so easy to see the faults and flaws in others but extremely difficult to see our own.  We can spend a lot of time telling others what they need to change without putting the same level of attention to our own patterns and habits.  So what can we do to develop awareness of our own patterns?

I am talking about those patterns that operate on you without you even knowing.  Those patterns that are like the operating system of your computer.  Most of us don’t notice the invisible programs at the back of our fabulous technology, that is until some computer virus disrupts them and they will not function as they should.  It happens all too easily if you don’t have a good virus protector these days and you don’t keep it up to date.  I clicked on an email recently which then infiltrated my whole computer system.  Somehow it sabotaged my whole operating system so that I couldn’t access any website except the hackers, and it had pop ups and unwanted advertising just overriding everything.  It took 2 days for my IT guy to clear off all the garbage and restore my computer to normal function. If only we could sort out limiting human mindsets in two days!

The computer is a great metaphor for our own mindsets.  If we are running an outdated virus checker on our computer it will not function to its full capacity.  If we are running outdated mental programs, we may be limiting our future opportunities and potential.

Our minds are no different to our computers, we need to put attention to keeping the underlying operating systems updated.   If we don’t learn about the potential “thought gremlins” that will trip us up and stop us from achieving our potential, and know how to override those, we will be like a computer that has not been defragged, slow and limited in functionality.

As human beings we are complex and must recognise the importance of staying flexible and curious about what might be the difference, that makes the difference. What part of our thinking has developed “hardening of the categories” with no capacity to see alternatives or opportunities?

Mindset is the key and the difference, that will make the difference. Learning to understand your own thinking is an essential to your own achievements.  Carol Dweck is a world renowned Stanford University Psychologist who has researched what people believe about their lot in life.  In what she refers to as a fixed mindset, people get attached to believing that they have a fixed set of talents or intelligence.  They take that talent as a given that will lead to success, without putting in the effort that is necessary when we have natural talent to result in excellence.

People with a growth mindset believe that with effort and hard work, things can be changed and they can develop their own abilities. The great news is that all the latest neuroscience supports our ability to develop a growth mindset.  My experience in training people how to have more choice and flexibility in their thinking and behaviours, shows that most people never look back once they open their minds to learning and growth.   Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. in his book The Autocrat of the Breakfast Table said “Every now and then a man’s mind is stretched by a new idea or sensation, and never shrinks back to its former dimensions.”

This is the exciting thing about committing to personal and professional development.  The payoffs are so great that it only motivates you to keep learning and growing.

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