I recently finally finished reading Carol Dweck’s book on Growth Mindset. It’s one that has sat on my Kindle for the longest while, yet like so many things, seems to have popped up again just at the moment when I was most likely to need it. Thank you Universe.To have a growth mindset is to develop the view of ourselves that we are capable of anything, that we are worthy of doing so and that anything is possible if you put your mind to it. Done well, a growth mindset really is the key to unlocking a life lived to its expansive potential.The opposite of a growth mindset is to have a fixed mindset; something entirely inflexible and completely limiting. The average person has a blend of both. Where we have a growth mindset in some areas of our lives we might be fixed in others.I was never aware of what kind of mindset I had up until recently, when I started to consider more about what makes people thrive within startups and in particular, as Founders. To build and sustain businesses in quite the way they do means a growth mindset is essential; they have to believe that anything is possible.
This leads to the question; is a growth mindset something that we can learn?I am pleased to say that the answer is a resounding yes.Whilst I am definitely still the average person here, with different mindset approaches in different areas of my life, I’m delighted to say that in the past few years I’ve unwittingly developed a growth mindset across many spectrums of my life that previously were blocked. Though let’s also be clear it was a little more by accident rather than by design. Thank you again Universe.Up until about 7 years ago my mindset was very much fixed when it came to myself and my own capability.As a young child I was confident, sassy and felt I could do anything. The shutdown came for me at around 10 or 11 years old. I can remember a series of disappointments, often linked to creative expression, that led me to shrink myself smaller and become less confident in sharing my ideas.Even though I have always been one of the smallest people in the room, I have also often been one of the loudest. That meant I often had the attention of teachers for the wrong reasons, and that I caused a reaction in some of those teachers and their perception of me as a threat to their authority. I asked a lot of questions. Rather than work with the spirited child they were faced with to yield excellent results, instead they generally formed a negative view around my capability to learn.Granted, my ideas were often a little outside of the norm, but rather than cherish them and help me work them into something that fit the bill for what they were looking for, the teachers around me tended to squash them.The views they held on me academically felt absolute, so I took them at their word and decided quite unconsciously that traditional learning wasn’t for me. Sure, I continued to learn from the ‘school of life’, but even simple things like reading became sidelined as I focused on my street savvy as my sole means of survival. I created a hard belief about myself and my ability that mirrored theirs.Instead I applied my creative energies into a full scale teenage rebellion and perpetuated the labels that they had given me.At around that time I also started the ugly pursuit of seeking validation from the world around me and look for its approval, and in doing so, curbed my tongue on almost everything. I was constantly seeking a new tribe to belong to, one that I could feel safe in, so metamorphosised through many different identities throughout my teens. My apparent confidence was merely a smokescreen for a deep sadness and a very low self esteem.I then let the views of others dictate my reality for a very long time indeed.The key to unlocking it was love. Love for myself and love in the form of the belief of others. The key to that love was to develop a real connection with myself. Thank you (yet again) Universe.I’d been taking tiny steps in the direction of self, inspired largely by others that crossed my path. The big shift in my early 30s, when those little steps culminated into a big loud voice inside myself that told me I needed to tear everything up and start over. I needed to build a new life from the inside out. So that’s exactly what I did.I had finally found (and started to pay attention to) my own voice.Since then, I have continued taking those little tiny steps to make positive choices in alignment with what truly serves me. Bit by bit those choices have helped me to learn to love myself, respect myself and see my value in the world.One of those choices was to learn how to learn again. I did that by quietly giving myself the safe space to do so, by creating a learning commitment to myself that started small with just 10 minutes of reading a day. That has gradually developed over time and I have now become someone who is basically always learning something; whether teaching yoga, how to do the people stuff better or whatever else.This has only been possible as a by product of the love and admiration I was developing for myself. I now know (and truly believe) that I am capable of anything I put my mind to, I just have to be brave enough to do it. I am now committed to life long learning.
Whatever we apply ourselves to, we can get better at.As I said at the beginning, we generally have a mix of mindsets; we can still be abundant in some areas and closed off in others. A fixed mindset is insidious, and will creep around you in a myriad of different ways if you allow it.Sometimes you can be exposed to people who trigger old patterns within you and the fears can resurface, I have experience that in the workplace with a former boss. You have to protect your mindset when this kind of challenge occurs and become aware of when you are retreating back to something that feels safer. Be bold, be brave and hold your course.My work here is by no means done. Now that I’m aware of just how important my mindset is, I am careful to look at the areas where I am still fixed and holding myself back. From that place of awareness I can work to create the right dialogue with myself to continue to set myself free, to be bold, be brave and to hold my course.
Fear is a big word. It’s big, because most of our negative decisions stem from this very place. By negative I don’t mean the big stuff, I mean the tiny decisions we make day after day. The ones that prevent us from growing into the person we are capable of becoming.
I am constantly inspired by my work in the startup space in that sense. Our Engineering teams embrace ‘failings’ as learning opportunities. They aren’t expected to know everything, they are allowed to learn, but are trusted to test things out and experiment along the way. They feel the fear and do it anyway.
Fear of failure simply does not drive our best performance; in work life and in personal life. If we don’t try new things, we are stifled as people and as businesses. The mindsight of our teams is the thing that keeps us propelling our business forward.
I allowed my life to be dictated by fear, and that fear was enough to keep me plodding on in a failing situation for 12 years. I wasn’t able to identify fear as a feeling at the time, but I allowed it to keep me in suspended animation.
The tipping point for me was when the pain of staying in the situation became bigger than leaving it. Honestly, that’s the truth. For me to leave, the pain of staying had to become unbearable. The body is a clever piece of machinery, and it turned my pain from emotional to physical, so that suddenly the message was loud and clear.
Big decisions to change things (even when they hurt us) are SUPER hard. The only way that I was able to make them successfully was by turning them into little ones. Little. Happy. Choices.
If you are faced with making a decision about something huge, focus on the here and now; ask yourself if you are making small choices that support your growth or hinder your development, be it the food you eat, the quality of your sleep or the people you spend time with. Be as honest as you can be.
Looking back on the situation (much as I wouldn’t change it, for each tiny detail makes me who I am today) it has given me cause to reflect on why I let myself become stuck, largely so that I can learn to not to let my choices be dictated by fear in the future.
Mo Gawdat writes beautifully about this in his book, Solve for Happy and has some ideas that are worth applying. Once we identify what our fears are, he encourages us to ask the following questions:
What’s the worst that can happen? It’s normally no where near as bad as we first catastrophised.
So what? The worst case scenario that we are imagining, normally isn’t that bad.
How likely is it? Probably very unlikely. How many times has the worst case scenario actually happened?
Is there anything I can do now to prevent this scenario? Is it even within your power? If it is, then do what it takes.
Can I recover? Absolutely yes, I am sure of it.
What will happen if I do nothing? What is the price of the current status quo?
What is the best case scenario? Visualise it and make that your focus instead.
He also suggests that at the heart of most fears is a fear of rejection. I would agree. We want to be accepted and we want to belong, so we often clip ourselves to mitigate that risk.
The bigger risk, as far as I’m concerned, would be to let fear rule over everything and dictate your choices.
The fear I held was of the unknown, of what life might be if I completely changed everything within it, of what it would feel like to lose everything. But guess what? I DID lose everything that I had before, but I gained SO much more. Suddenly I was free, free to figure out what my life could look like with me in charge, free to embrace the love and support of others.
It took time to rebuild and I’m still figuring so many things out, but that in itself is wonderful. My choice to move positively away from pain and to allow myself to evolve into a different kind of life was the best choice I ever made.
What I am trying to harness the energy of now is the ability to live fearlessly. To take risks, to try things and to realise that if things don’t happen to unfold the way we hoped, sometimes that allows us to tap into something even greater, just like our Engineers.
Balance has been one of the things that has eluded me in different ways throughout my adult life, whether it be physically or spiritually. The pendulum swings in different directions, with the emphasis on one specific area at any one given time.
Yoga has been one of the things that has brought this front and centre for me and has made me to start to look at it in a little more detail. When I started to practice yoga I literally could not balance. Whilst my strength and flexibility improved throughout the rest of my practice, I struggled to see improvement when it came to balance for a long time. The shift happened just recently, when suddenly I realised that my intense wobbles had begun to subside, and that the hard fought battle I have been fighting to find my balance has almost been won.
What changed? In yogic terms, that took the form of deep core training, and learning to lift my core from it’s very root at my pelvic floor, to stabilise the rest of my being. From the point of awareness, its taken me 12 months to really see a shift, 12 months to start to feel the benefit of this new focus and training.
This got me to thinking about balance more generally, and how actually, more often than not, it’s something that can’t be achieved overnight. We have to put in the ‘core’ work, to create the stability at the roots that we need to be able to grow.
Another example of this would be in terms of my relationship with work. When you love your job and want to do the very best you can at something, it is very easy to give all of yourself to it. In my first year at Shazam, I was guilty of that very thing. I gave so much of myself to my work, that I left no space for anything or anyone else, least of all me. I lost my balance.
Just like the core work in yoga, I needed to train myself over time to put the boundaries in place that meant I was able to achieve balance. Simple measures like; not arranging calls after a certain time of day and being prepared to leave things to be completed tomorrow. Though both of those took some fairly significant mental shifts within me; I had to address my desire to be perfect, and to do perfect work, my desire not to let people down, my desire to be perceived in the best possible light always.
How did I do that? By a lot of study of self, discussion with others in the form of coaching support, and also reading. The feelings don’t go away – I will always be a perfectionist – but I am now able to rationalise them and let them go when they appear. I am now able to be good enough, and not strive for the impossible bar of perfection, or at least what I perceive that to be.
Another example of losing balance would be my love of music. This love saw me at one time, attending up to three gigs a week. I lost my balance. I had allowed myself to be caught up in something that, rather than enriching me, had begun to deplete me. The greedy lust for new experiences, the rush of new music. I was exhausted.
The step change there came in the form of learning to say no. To me as much as everyone else – actually probably even more so. That change took a similar form to the one described above, my connecting to myself and putting better parameters in place. Sure enough, over time I have got much better at saying no.
I now stick to a bedtime that supports me, supports my early rises and creates the space in my world instead for things that enable me to grow; creating time for reading being one of them. I still go to gigs. I just make sure they are the ones I really want to see, and that I am not just there because I don’t want to miss out on something.
Balance isn’t about being perfect, or being hard on ourselves when we notice things are a little off. It’s just about being prepared to have an honest dialogue with ourselves, and do the ‘deep core’ work if there’s an area that needs some special attention.
My balance in yoga still is far from perfect, but that’s kind of the point, we don’t need to be perfect. Balance isn’t something fixed, it’s alive, just like we are. It’s something that’s ever fluid and evolving. We just need to be prepared to alter the weight on the scales when we feel ourselves dipping too deeply in one direction.
Navigating these little battles is just another part of being truly alive, and a beautiful part at that. As is embracing yourself as the perfectly imperfect human you truly are. For that’s been one of the most important things I have ever done.