Picture this: A global pandemic has engulfed the world and shut down our cities. There are two similar restaurants – both now closed by their owners. These owners have the same family backgrounds, served the same cuisine and earned the same income. Despite their identical situations, they’re reacting very differently. One owner, feeling anxious, watches Netflix all day to distract himself from his troubles. The other decided to start an online delivery service for his business, to try and make the best of things.
Two ways of thinking
For many people, COVID-19 is a difficult time. How, then, is it possible that people in similar situations behave so differently? The answer lies in the way they think: their mindset.
There are two types of mindset: Growth Mindsets and Fixed Mindsets. Those with a Growth Mindset believe they are flexible and can grow through time and experience. They believe they can adapt. Those with Fixed Mindsets believe they simply are who they are, and that success is the product of natural talent and luck. They believe they cannot adapt.
The way we think dictates how we perceive this crisis. Is it a problem or a challenge? Is it a threat to our identity or an opportunity to reinvent ourselves? Spotting people with Growth Mindsets is easy right now. It’s those taking online courses, working out at home, or getting married on Zoom. Growth Mindsetters focus on what they can control, instead of what they cannot.
“It is your reaction to adversity, not the adversity itself, that determines how your life’s story will develop.” – Dieter F. Uchtdorf
I count myself lucky to have been raised with a Growth Mindset. When stressing for a school exam, my father would always tell me: “as long as you try your best, everything will be okay." I learned it wasn’t my end grade but the effort I put in that mattered. Research from Carol Dweck (author of ‘Mindset') showed that praising children for effort instead of results is key to cultivating a Growth Mindset.
During COVID-19, my mindset has helped me greatly. I don’t wish to downplay the hardships of those on the frontlines in any way, but to me, these times are strangely thrilling. It’s a challenging expedition, with new opportunities.
I’m now hosting workshops online, which makes them scalable – enabling me to impact more people around the world. Professionals that are taking time to reflect (as explored in my last blog) want more guidance from coaches or consultants like me, to help adapt their lives and organisations to the situation.
Developing this mindset
Whether you’re wondering if it’s still possible to develop this mindset, or whether you believe you already possess it, there’s good news and bad news.
The good news is that anyone can develop a Growth Mindset. Neuroplasticity means we can mould our minds to think in more desirable and productive manners. This is possible because the brain is reorganising itself throughout our lives. It strengthens neural pathways we use (by consciously thinking certain thoughts) and weakens the pathways we don’t use.
The bad news is that everyone has Fixed Mindsets about some things. We need to keep identifying areas that limit us and transform them. The good news about the bad news is that this is not too difficult. Let’s get to work.
Think of a new challenge you faced, where you doubted yourself
What triggered this doubt?
Give it a persona. How do you feel and behave when the Fixed Mindset takes over? What does this voice in your head say to you?
Talk back to this persona with a Growth Mindset voice
Write down this new Growth Mindset
You can repeat this process for many situations, to identify areas where you might still have a Fixed Mindset. Tip: I’ve found that visualising yourself with the new mindset makes the exercise even more effective for the participants in my Growth Mindset workshop. And you can have a positive influence on the mindsets of others, too. You could praise a colleague or your spouse for the effort they made, instead of focusing on the result (although I wouldn’t recommend saying ‘good effort’ to your partner after they made dinner).
If you doubt yourself in these difficult times, remember that you are the result of millions of years of evolution. You are naturally wired with an optimistic mindset. Without it, your ancestors wouldn’t have lived long enough to pass on their genes. They dealt with things that those of us living in the developed world couldn’t possibly imagine; fighting with rival tribes, losing half their children before they reached adolescence, seeing loved ones ripped apart by sabretooth tigers... We built our complex modern-day societies through envisioning possibilities – not threats. We will get through this. And with the right mindset, we may even come out stronger.