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.
When I said I made it my mission to get better at giving authentic feedback in my last post, what I didn’t tell you was that I ended up with a two for one deal; by learning how to give feedback well it made me consider how well I was receiving feedback, which honestly had some room for improvement. Wowch.
This was quite some revelation and one I became determined to work on. Receiving feedback well is an essential piece of the self awareness puzzle; if we aren’t open to receiving it, even when it hurts a little, we are essentially living in an echo chamber.
How you receive feedback can vary wildly according what kind of person you are, and quite honestly, the degree to which you care what other people think.
There are different kinds of innate reactions to feedback and these are often reactions that we can’t help. What we can do however, is to get better at creating the space in the moment to control what our response is. That doesn’t mean the reaction goes, it just means that we are able to rationalise it and behave a little more graciously (hopefully) when it really counts.
For the purposes of looking at how we evolve the way we receive this kind of data, I’ve created some personas by way of illustration. It’s worth noting that we can also be at different ends of that spectrum on different days depending on what is going on for us.
Let’s start with the zero f’s operator.
One of life’s lucky devils who gets to live by their own rules, at least in the main. They feel comfortable being just who they are and expressing their opinions – great right? Yes. A lot of the time it’s wonderful, but there’s also a flip side to that level of sureness. It can be at the expense of genuine learning. They can feel so content with their view that they dismiss the views of others without introspection.
Whilst I 100% salute the sureness and champion living by your whole body intelligence first and foremost (all the wisdom you need is all within you; FACT), it’s worth approaching feedback conversations a little differently.
If we think we know best and let ourselves be completely closed to the views of others, we create a myriad of different (and potentially deadly) blind spots. It’s crucial to learn the art of openness, the joy to be found in hearing someone else’s perspective, and then allowing the new data to marinate.
Let’s now consider the other end of the spectrum; the worry wort.
By total reverse this person cares so deeply what people think that they allow themselves to be derailed by even the slightest murmur of critique. They feel it tangibly within their bodies, as they ping into fight or flight response and try to find a way out – or even more insidiously, they take that new data as fact.
Fear and perfectionism can leave this person paralysed in the moment, either sounding super defensive as they try to deal with their emotional reaction to the thing or just glibly nodding and agreeing and quietly questioning internally how on earth the world had allowed them to do this job in the first place, given that they are such a bad person.
This has been me at times. Even if I managed to hold it together outwardly, inside I was mortified. The conversations we have with ourselves are deadly my friends, so you have to put in the work to make sure that your inner dialogue is a good one.
The happy medium lies somewhere in the middle.
Our happy place is somewhere between those two extremes; where we care enough to learn and grow but we don’t default to taking things personally. When people give us feedback we are able to hear it, control our actions and break it down into actionable learning.
Whilst I was never 100% at one of the extremes, I’ve suffered like most people by the very human characteristics of wanting to do good things, wanting people to think good things about me, wanting to feel like I’m doing my best and wanting to be liked.
Whilst this is a very normal state of affairs, it’s fundamentally flawed as you are eternally seeking external validation. We are all born whole, magnificent beings that have an inner compass that could steer them through anything, yet all too often we have our focus elsewhere.
But we are where we are, so it’s important that we learn how to get back to our essence, whilst being open to learning at the same time.
My advice for taking feedback well – even if you fake it until you make it – would be to:
- Teach your heart to smile when presented with new data, approach conversations positively – meditating just beforehand is a great leveller for me.
- Learn to rationalise your emotional responses and choose better ones. Getting to know your emotional spectrum intimately will help you to evolve and grow your EQ. This has to start with self. Meditation has allowed me the connection I needed to create the space to do this.
- Keep your body in an open dynamic by sitting in an open posture. Sounds crazy I know, but crossed legs and crossed arms sends messages of defensiveness not only around your own body, but also to the person giving you feedback. I have forcefully made myself do this in difficult interactions so I can tell you first hand, it really works.
- Be warm, friendly and supportive to the person who is giving you the feedback, where possible thanking them. Even if you come back later to say thank you; no one is perfect. Respect the challenge of the person in front of you and the energy and care it has taken them to do so, it’s hopefully coming from a place of love after all.
- It’s okay to ask questions and clarify your understanding, but be careful that you aren’t using your questions as a form of defence. Remember: feedback doesn’t have to be fully accurate to be useful, but even 5% could be something game changing for you.
- Make life easier for yourself by telling your closest team mates how you like to receive feedback, and ask them the same question. Taking control of how you like people to give feedback to you will allow you to create the support you might need to get better at taking it. As a leader, it’s even more important that you make bi-directional feedback a ‘thing’ and that you set the platform for honesty with your team. The very definition of leading by example.
I’d love to hear from those of you who have had to put the work in to get better, and if there are any other tricks that have worked for you, whichever part of the spectrum you are sitting on.
In the meantime, if you have any feedback for me on my blog, or anything else, I invite you to approach me with your whole heart and let’s have a feedback conversation.
“I define love thus: The will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth.” ― Scott Peck, The Road Less Traveled: A New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values and Spiritual Growth
I love Scott’s book. I’ve read it twice (both times by my friend Doug‘s recommendation), with about three years between readings. Each time I found a little something else in it, based on the degree of awareness I have of myself and how I operate. I agree with his definition of love being the willingness to extend one’s self into something expansive whether for your own growth or that of another.
We hear a lot about self love these days but often from the perspective of ‘outside in’. We have come to associate the phrase with the idea of doing nice things for ourself, or adding something else in to our already hectic lives. We add ‘self love’ as something to an already over burdened ‘to do’ list, yet seem to still procrastinate over that action over all the rest.
Real self love is an inside job.
It is not frantic, it is not stressful and it is definitely not striving to be something other than that which we truly are. It is the deep, delicious feeling of calm when you make choices that are aligned with who you are, how you want to be and your moral compass.
We all have a deep wisdom within that cannot be learnt as it has always been there, it can only be exposed by washing away and discarding the things that have contributed to the disconnection.
Real self love is therefore often less about what we add in, but more about what we take out.
Removing things that no longer serve us from our lives can be one of the most painful things of all, and therefore is likely to be something that we conveniently avoid doing. To successfully do so may well mean experiencing pain to some degree, and the experience or even idea of that pain can feel so overwhelming for us that we choose to abort the mission and stay just as we are.
Love is therefore the opposite. Love means being prepared to step into that pain and to put in the work to get us where we want to be. Extending ourselves beyond the confines of our comfort zones takes real courage and commitment.
Let us consider what that courage and commitment to extend might look like in real world terms.
- It could be the more introspective examples like embarking upon a voyage of self discovery whether in the form of therapy or self education.
- It could be learning how to meditate and finding a way to slow down and connect.
- It could be learning something new; something children often do so well. I watch my nieces lap up and apply each piece of new information that comes their way and experiment limitlessly with how they might apply that new data.
- It could mean taking on a project that you are scared of doing but is well within your capabilities. This is different to striving to be something other than who you are, this is about stepping into your power.
- It could also be something seemingly benign like driving on a motorway, and that was me recently.
I am still a reluctant driver, due to the stories I tell myself about my capabilities as a driver throughout adulthood. As soon as I get in the car and start moving, I realise I love it. To me it symbolises a form of freedom, yet I still hold myself back from stepping into that power and therefore that freedom. To overcome it, I am pushing myself to do it, pushing to learn a new normal and to step into my power.
In doing so recently I felt a sense of expansiveness, a sense of breaking free of self imposed shackles. Right up until I turned the key in the ignition as I set off, I was trying to find excuses not to be there and reasons to make it okay for me to cancel the plan and take the train.
Instead I turned the key and set myself free again. It really is that simple. What are the limitations that you are placing on yourself right now? Where are you ‘taking the train’ instead of hopping on the motorway?
Are you taking up all of the space that you should be in the world? Are you keeping yourself smaller than you are? Are you making choices that extend you in the direction of spiritual growth? Are you really loving you?
Love is not something new to us. We are born as the very embodiment of love, embraced tenderly as infants (at least for the most part) and have no question at that time of what love is and what love isn’t. It just is.
As soon as we get a little older and more physically robust, the world changes its interaction with us to become less tender, and we grow harder to meet it. That can often spell the beginning of the end of love for us, until hopefully we find some way to make our way back to our default setting: LOVE.
Having gone on an expansive, invasive journey through my own experiences and learnt behaviours I’d be lying if I said the journey was without peril.
But I can also tell you first hand that the joy that is left in its place once the real calmness of your innermost is uncovered, is quite literally the stuff that dreams are made of.