This is my third post on my own self-motivation problems and the steps that I’ve taken to address them. You can find the first post on identifying my procrastination problems here and the second post on solving those procrastination problems here.
This is the first part of my post on mindset – the second part on solving my mindset problems is available here.
I’m going to talk about the experiences that led me to write my Inspiration to Action eBook series. The series is an interactive guide to applying the methods that I’ve discovered for overcoming blockers to achieving your goals. Each chapter focuses on a specific issue, providing an explanation and a step-by-step guide to how I have addressed the problem. You can find chapters on procrastination, lack of motivation, lack of inspiration, having unclear goals and many other topics. You can find a full list of the chapters here.
When I talk about mindset, I’m referring to your beliefs about where your abilities come from. You can either believe that your abilities in any discipline are inherited at birth or that they are developed through practice.
You can, of course, also be somewhere in-between – you can believe that your abilities are mostly inherited but can also be developed a little with practice.
Additionally you can have different mindsets for different disciplines – you can believe that your drawing abilities were inherited at birth but your tennis abilities can be developed through practice.
Identifying the problem
It wasn’t a specific event that led me to start thinking about my mindset – it was a recurring theme. Over and over again I would feel myself not wanting to struggle with things. I was prepared to put in the work to overcome the struggle, but it felt like the act of struggling was an indication that my talents weren’t good enough.
I knew this didn’t really make sense – you have to struggle to become great at things. I knew that things didn’t come easily and I was prepared to put in the time and effort. But it still felt wrong – struggling made me feel like a failure.
It was a confusing contradiction – I knew that effort = success, but I also felt like effort = failure. If you’re having to make an effort, you obviously don’t have that much talent. If you don’t have that much talent, surely you can’t achieve success?
Although my fear of struggling was the reason that I initially started thinking about mindset, it wasn’t the only symptom of my faulty mindset.
In addition to fearing struggle:
- I was afraid of making mistakes. Mistakes felt like indications of my lack of talent, rather than an opportunity to learn
- I wouldn’t learn from mistakes when I did make them. I would be so focused on the devastation of having made a mistake that I wouldn’t want to think about it any more. Any opportunity for learning was lost
- I would miss opportunities. If there was any chance of making a big mistake or looking bad, I’d avoid the situation. This would happen even if the opportunity could lead to major learning and development
- I cared a lot about the opinions of others. Any positive opinion was a validation of my inherited talent. Any negative opinion was a signal that I lacked talent. Even if the person was totally unqualified to have an opinion, I’d take it to heart
- I didn’t take responsibility for my development. Setbacks weren’t opportunities to learn – they were opportunities to blame my lack of progress on some external factor. Rather than try to succeed despite the external factor, I’d let it beat me
To be clear, mindset doesn’t just apply to work. It applies to everything. I didn’t just fear making mistakes at work, I also feared making mistakes in my personal life.
Believing your personality was inherited can be seriously destructive. If you believe you were born shy and can’t change it, why bother trying? You fear making mistakes (having an awkward moment), you don’t learn from your mistakes (you don’t say ‘how could I have made that less awkward?’) and you miss opportunities (not wanting to go to a party because you won’t know anyone).
My mindset was holding me back in every area of my life – I was constantly trying to protect my fragile self-esteem and prove that I had talent.
With hindsight, it’s easy to feel like I should have identified that my mindset was causing me problems. In practice, however, I just didn’t understand what was happening.
It would be a while before I did understand – but it would be well worth the wait.
Until next week
In next week’s post I’ll detail the actions that I’ve taken to correct my faulty mindset.
In the mean time, please let me know your thoughts in the comments below!