This is one of my favorite stories:
Two shoe salespeople are sent to a new country to sell the company’s latest brand of shoe. After arriving at their destination, they both call back to head-office with the same message. In this country, no one wears shoes. At all. Not a single person. The first one calls back and says: “Hey Boss, I’m coming back. No one in this country wears shoes. We won’t sell anything here. This trip was a waste of time.” The other one calls back and says: “Ramp up production! Send more sales people! We’re going to make a killing here! No one here has any shoes!” Same situation, different mindset, different perspective, potentially a completely different outcome. The first salesperson played the victim card, chose to take further negative action (giving up) and got a definite negative outcome (no sales and no income). The second one chose to look at the potential upside, chose a positive action (continued pushing forward) and at least realized the potential of making the sales commission of her life.
Nothing … and I mean NOTHING is more important and determines success in career (and life) more than mindset. Get your mindset right and things start to fall into place. Don’t, and you will be stuck in first gear, on a slow painful crawl to career burnout.
Mindset is a broad topic. Mountains of books have been written on the subject. For today, let’s talk about three different mindset traps and two practical solutions to overcoming each one.
These mindset traps are:
Growth vs. Fixed mindset
I’m right, you’re wrong: Teachable Spirit
1. Growth mindset vs. Fixed mindset
In her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, (which I highly recommend) Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck speaks about the difference between fixed mindset people and growth mindset people. Fixed mindset people believe that their intelligence, skills, aptitude, and capabilities are fixed and essentially set by nature. You’re either smart, talented or capable or you’re not. And if you’re smart or talented, you really don’t even need to work at it, it just comes naturally. And if you fail, it’s not your fault … because you’re smart, talented or capable; which makes it something or someone else’s fault.
Growth mindset people, on the other hand, believe that skills, intelligence or talent is obtainable through learning, practice and hard work. They work hard to become successful and when they fail, they assume they just didn’t work hard enough or smart enough and they formulate a plan to do better next time.
The distinction between these two mindsets makes all the difference in how you approach your career and life and will make all the difference in the outcome.
Two ways to develop a growth mindset:
Start using the word “yet.” In her book, Carol Dweck says that “not yet” has become one of her favorite phrases. What does this look like? “My business is not successful yet”, “I haven’t found the right job yet”, “I haven’t received that promotion yet”. Using that small little word transforms your mindset from “I have failed because [insert excuse here]” to “I am still growing and learning new ways to succeed.”
View the road to your goal as a series of iterations, not a straight line. If the road to success is 100 miles long, very few people travel all 100 miles in one continuous trip. More often than not it is accomplished by going 2 miles forward and a mile back. Five miles forward and 2 miles back. And unfortunately, sometimes 3 miles forward and 4 miles back. Life is tough, and you are guaranteed to have setbacks, but viewing your path as a series of iterations rather than a straight shot to success, lessens the sting of setbacks and helps you grow your way forward and develop your growth mindset.
2. The “I’m right, you’re wrong” mindset: Teachable Spirit
The second mindset type is what I call “Teachable Spirit”. Having a teachable spirit means simply that you have an open mind and you are open to learning. Before you roll your eyes and say. “Of course I’m open to learning!” I mean, who exactly is going to say: “Nope, I’m not interested in learning. I already know all there is to know on the subject. In fact, I already know all there is to know about everything!” Yes, we would not think very highly of someone who makes a statement like that. However, unfortunately, even though we’d never say something that narrow-minded, as humans we have a tendency to act in that exact way. We tend to dismiss or at least resist opinions that are different from ours without opening our minds and actively considering the possibility that we may be wrong in our assumptions, opinions or beliefs. Our natural instinct when we hear information that differs from our own is to immediately start building the case in our minds for why we are right and the other party is wrong, and in doing so, we shut down the possibility of seeing situations from a different viewpoint and potentially learning something new.
Two ways to develop a Teachable Spirit:
Develop comfort with being wrong. Remind yourself that you’re trading comfort and ego for learning, growth, and success. Contrary to popular belief, people who are willing to say: “I was wrong. I learned something new today” are much stronger people with a much healthier self-confidence than those of us who are trying to prove to the world that we are the smartest person in the room.
Practice listening to someone with an opposing view to yours with the sole intent to understand and a willingness to learn, rather than reply and prove them wrong. Try to find positions where you could adapt their perspective. You will be amazed at how freeing it is not to be constantly fighting for your position.
3. Status Quo mindset
The final, much more subtle type of mindset is what I’ll call the “status quo” bias. This isn’t as much of a deficiency as it is simply the lack of desire for experimenting, learning, and growth. It is the tendency to keep the status quo, stay in the same rut, live the same life, drive the same way to work every day, talk to the same people, follow the same routine and just be completely satisfied for things never to change. This preference to stay inside our comfort zone is almost as dangerous as our desire to stay entrenched in our own opinions. As Einstein said: “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expect a different result”. Especially if you don’t like the result you are currently getting, the only way to change the trajectory of your life is to do something different; to learn something new. To take a new fork in the road. If you’re not convinced, just think about what happens to companies who remain in the status quo; who don’t change, who don’t innovate. They most certainly go the way of the Dodo. Extinct. As humans, we are no different. If you are not changing by growing, you are most certainly changing by dying. In relation to the rest of the world, you are becoming obsolete.
Two ways to break the Status Quo:
Make it your goal to do one thing different every day. Change your morning ritual. Go to a different coffee shop. Talk to someone you never talk to. Use your non-dominant hand to open the door. There are literally millions of ways you can change things up. Why? What exactly does this do? It develops your “change muscle”. It develops your brain to think of new and different ways to do things. It develops your innovation skills. It gets you out of stale, autopilot thinking and exercises the muscle most needed for success. Your brain.
Recognize and revise the rules and boundaries you’ve set for yourself. We all impose rules and boundaries on ourselves. Sometimes consciously, sometimes unconsciously. “I must have my Starbucks every morning”, “I can’t eat green M&M’s”, “I’ll never go out with a guy that is shorter than me” … etc. etc. If you were to sit down and make a list of all the times you use “I always, I never, I can’t, I won’t” I bet it would be a very, very long list. A long list of self-imposed rules you’ve created for yourself over the years. And here’s the action step: For every rule that you recognize, ask yourself this question: “How’s that working for me?” Is it making me better, helping me become more healthy, more successful or accomplishing my goals? If so, great! Keep going. If not, change it! Break the status quo! Make a new rule, create a new habit, do something different. Something that does work for you!
Now that we’ve covered three mindset traps and solutions; I have a test for you. You’ve read this article. You either have new information or a refresher on the information you already knew. What are you changing as a result? What are you going to do differently? Do you have a list? Do you have a plan? Or are you thinking: “That’s nice, but nothing I haven’t heard before. What’s for dinner?” And there you have it: Fixed, Non-Learning and Status Quo mindset demonstrated in one simple little test. How did you do?