How your mindset can enable or limit you

Mindset is a key factor in informing your outlook and decision-making, and operates at the individual, team and organisational level. We explore this idea below, and explain how your mindset can enable rather than limit you. This issue links to my recent article on growth and fixed mindset: How to sustain change.

Defining mindset

Mindset can be defined as a person’s way or attitude of thinking about something. In organisations we see this as “the way things are done around here”, and in established teams it can manifest itself as an established way of thinking about topics or stakeholders – dangerous if this is not frequently tested or challenged!

The model on the right is known as the ‘iceberg model’. Icebergs have only 10% of their mass above the water line – and yet the ocean acts on and creates the tip above the water line. The same can be said of mindset:

  • Above the waterline is the behaviour you exhibit that other people see
  • Below the waterline are the values, assumptions and beliefs that drive your mindset and your observable behaviour

These attributes are set based on your childhood, innate personality, and the people you interact with day by day.

Please email me for a handout to help identify your personal values.

Mental models

Peter Senge is a Senior Lecturer at MIT and has written extensively about systems theory and how this is necessary for organisations to realise their potential. In his book, The Dance of Change, he talks about ‘mental models’, and how these can enable or hinder organisational success.

Mental models are images, associations and stories we carry in our minds, about ourselves, other people, and every aspect of the world. However, they are not perfect, because the lens through which we perceive reality can block and distort key information.

“By continually reflecting upon, talking about, and reconsidering these internal pictures of the world, people can gain more capability in governing their actions and decisions.
Peter Senge

To find out more, read his book:
The Fifth Discipline, The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization

Examples of limiting and enabling beliefs

A limiting belief is a belief that limits or constrains you in some way. By contrast, an enabling belief helps move you forward.

Here are some examples of limiting beliefs, with my suggestions of how they can be re-framed:

What limiting beliefs do you have, and how could you re-frame them to be an enabling belief? (See below for an exercise to help you do this.)

Organisations and teams

Organisations can also have limiting beliefs and mental models. Here are a few; do you recognise any of them from your experience?

  • “This is how we’ve always done it”
  • “We have to wait to be told the direction from above”
  • “We cannot say that to the boss”
  • “That’ll never work here”

In every team and organisation it is essential to avoid ‘group think’ by embracing different viewpoints. Whilst it may feel uncomfortable and slow things down initially, embracing a different viewpoint stops the team becoming stale and complacent. Try it next time someone in your team is being ‘difficult’ – chances are they are pointing something out you need to listen to. Knowing that the majority of people have positive intentions helps you suspend your own viewpoint to listen to theirs.

Reframing limiting beliefs

So, what are your limiting beliefs and what can you do about them?

1. Keep a journal
We are not always self-aware, so start by keeping a journal – each day, jot down your recurring/most common thoughts. After a week, review your journal, and try to identify your limiting beliefs.

2. Change your limiting beliefs to enabling ones
Think of a task or a relationship you want to improve, and work through these questions:

  1. Describe the mindset that is limiting you at doing x
  2. How does this mindset manifest in terms of your behaviour?
  3. What underlying assumptions might there be which are connected to this mindset?
  4. Which statement is having most effect on your behaviour?
  5. What mindset would you need to hold in order to be more effective?
  6. What step or experiment could be taken to loosen the grip on the limiting assumption?

Follow this up by answering:

7. What is your key enabling mindset(s) which assists you in doing x?

3. When you hear yourself express a limiting belief…
Pause and replace it with an enabling belief using what you learned in the exercise above. Do this consciously every day for 30 days, and you will be on the path to ‘re-programming’ your mindset.

Other tactics to try:

Research shows we feel more positive about life when we are grateful for what we have and who we are. Do random acts of kindness for others, even small things like opening a door for someone or buying a coffee for a colleague on the way into work.

Positive images and outcomes
If you want to achieve something, imagine in your mind what that will look/sound/feel like when you have it. Be detailed in your mind and describe it to a friend – you are more likely to do it if you do this!

Next month: The benefits of celebrating failure. Sometimes our mindset is not to try something in case we get it wrong – yet getting it wrong is the path to learning and getting it right. So, let’s see how we can do this next month.

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