“The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.” (Albert Einstein)
I am more and more convinced that ones success or failure in life depends on one’s mindset – how you think. Indeed, if I look back at how I have led, I am struck by how my most effective leadership has been when my mindset has been right. If my thinking has been wrong, my leadership has not been my best. If my thinking as a father and husband has been wrong or focussed on the wrong things, then my connection with my wife and girls has suffered. The Bible makes it clear in Proverbs 23:7 that “as a man thinks in his heart, so is he.” The philosopher René Descartes echoed this sentiment in his famous quote: “Cogito ergo sum” – “I think, therefore I am.” Bruce Lee (not famous for his philosophy) made the same point, “The spirit of the individual is determined by his dominating thought habits.” What thought patterns dominate your thinking? What is shaping and influencing the way you think?
I have recently been reading an incredible book that has been the inspiration for this particular blog-post. Entitled Mindset: The New Psychology of Success and written by Carol S. Dweck, this book has challenged me incredibly in my thinking. Nicky and I have been having some arguments of late and in these arguments – being the flexible understanding guy that I am – I always decide unanimously that she is wrong and that my view or opinion is the correct one. In leadership I have found myself being too sensitive about stupid things and have taken challenges to my leadership too seriously. My thinking has impacted both my relationships and my leadership.
As I read this book, I realized with a shock as well as a good measure of embarrassment that I have been wrong. The basic premise of the book is that we either have a fixed mindset or a growth mindset. To give an example, if on a given day one gets the results of an exam back and realize that one has failed, and that on this same day a friend brushes you off. Those with a fixed mindset would take these setbacks very personally – they might decide that they cannot succeed in that particular subject and that they are failures. They would either withdraw from the friendship or fight back in a nasty way. Those with a growth mindset would look at these challenges and although perhaps they might feel distressed, they would look at the challenges and find a way to overcome them. They would not take failure personally. They are not a failure but they merely failed a test. Now to be honest, if I looked at this scenario, I have a fixed mindset. I do take things too personally and often see a challenge as a personal affront rather than as something to be overcome. This has been hard for me to realize as I so much want to be right, but I have realized that I need to grow in this area.
WHICH MINDSET DO YOU HAVE?
Read the following sentences from Dweck’s book? Which do you mostly agree with and which do you mostly disagree with?
- Your intelligence is something very basic about you that you can’t change very much
- You can learn new things, but you can’t really change how intelligent you are
- No matter how much intelligence you have, you can always change it quite a bit.
- You can always substantially change how intelligent you are.
- You are a certain kind of person, and there is not much that can be done to really change that.
- You can always change basic things about the kind of person you are.
If you tended to agree more with questions, 1, 2 and 5, then you have a fixed mindset. If you tended to agree more with questions 3, 4 and 6 then you have a growth mindset.
WHY IS THIS IMPORTANT?
Dweck demonstrates in her book that those with a growth mindset tend to be more successful in life and relationships, while those with fixed mindsets tend to not have as much success and are often stopped in their tacks by challenges. The following diagram from her book illustrates the flow of ideas from a fixed mindset and from a growth mindset and how this impacts upon life.
THE GOOD NEWS
Having seen the challenges of having a fixed mindset, I was eager to change. This road for me has not been easy, but Dweck makes it clear that moving from a fixed to a growth mindset is possible – not always comfortable – but possible. Dweck provides some great practical insight on how partners, parents, teachers and employers can make small decisions to help change their mindsets so I would encourage you to read her book to learn more. For me, the most important and helpful realization was that I had a problem and that I needed to think differently. This is a daily journey. Now, if I get into an argument or feel threatened by criticism or change, I ask myself: Which mindset am I reacting out of? Am I taking this too personally and shying away from growth? Am I stepping up to the fight and overcoming the obstacle in my way instead of just giving up or withdrawing?
I would encourage you to read the book and I would challenge you to think about the way you think. You can change your thinking, you can grow in your intelligence and your view of the world. You can overcome obstacles and can succeed. Author, Denis Avey noted: “The mind is a powerful thing. It can take you through walls.” I pray that you will think more and that you will break down some significant walls in your life.
NEXT WEEK: Profile of an educational institution