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Does Mindset Even Matter When Life’s Going to Hell in a Handbasket?

Updated: Jun 29, 2020

The Big Deal With Mindset

When you’re shuttered in your house and the economy is upended, when protests are taking place out in the streets and unemployment is at an all-time high, does having the right kind of mindset really matter? 

The short answer is YES, mindset always matters!

Mindset determines how you appreciate then address a situation because what you think becomes your reality – regardless of actual circumstances. For any given situation, your outlook (or mindset) influences what you perceive, how you experience it, and what you do about it.

Growth vs. Fixed Mindset in Real Life

Let’s look at how this plays out in real life. Let’s imagine a situation where someone is laid off. Everyone would agree that losing your job is stressful, scary even, possibly frustrating, and even depressing depending on a number of factors.

Meet Joy, she is generally optimistic, and usually sees potential and possibility in things. Joy approaches life’s roadblocks like puzzles rather than impenetrable barriers. When Joy gets laid off she’ll experience a period of shock and even grief at the loss. She’ll worry about the financial ramifications of unemployment, how to find her next job, and what it says about her that she wasn’t able to keep her position. Joy like any of us would feel stressed and unhappy in this position.

Meet Bane, Bane is pretty pragmatic, although she tends towards the half-empty end of the thinking spectrum. When bad things happen, Bane is just not surprised. She’ll tell you that life isn’t fair and that if you wait long enough the other shoe is bound to drop. When Bane gets laid, like Joy, she’s anxious about making ends meet, she feels robbed (once again) by the injustice of a system that can leave her high and dry after all she gave them. She even questions what it all means about and for her that this is happening. Bane, however, is not really surprised by any of this, bad things happen to good people all the time.

Mindset Matters

Both Bane and Joy are experiencing a painful situation, one that is stressful and demoralizing.  Here is where mindset makes a world of difference:

Joy has a growth mindset, she believes that things can change, that there is hope. When she faces obstacles her first reaction is to think of a way around or through the roadblock. This allows her to bounce back from upsets a bit more rapidly. After a few days of wandering aimlessly in her apartment and tearful conversations with supportive friends, she realizes that she has a choice, she has agency, and she has hope.

She moves forward with her job search. She reaches out to people in her network, calls old contacts, connects with new ones on LinkedIn. She decides to use this time away from work to do some introspection and figure out what she really wants out of life. Joy still experiences doubt, sad days, and moments where she feels more hopeless than hopeful, but she has cultivated a possibility-based mindset. With it, she can navigate through distressing emotions rather than avoiding them. She can evaluate her roadblocks and strategically identify how to challenge them. 

Bane has a fixed mindset – things like this are bound to happen, life’s unfair, nothing will change. She too will eventually start her job search, she’s got bills to pay, but it will take her longer to get started. She’s angry and mad at the unfairness of it all, and she knows nothing can keep this kind of thing from happening again. Eventually, she sits down to look at what’s out there. She, also, touches base with a few contacts, but the whole thing is done slowly and in a state of frustration and hopelessness.

Bane will likely look for the exact same position she’s just lost, not because she loved it, but because it’s what she knows. Other jobs, other opportunities rife with unknowns and too many obstacles; so much could go wrong. Things will work out, they usually do, but the experience provides neither growth nor relief of any kind.

The First Step to Building a Growth Mindset

When life is down it is down. No amount of positive thinking can change external circumstances. Your mindset, however, will have a huge impact on the way you experience those circumstances. It can significantly hasten or slow your progress, make times more or less painful. 

How do you start to build a growth mindset?

  1. Stop wishing things were different and start working with the variable you have.

  2. Channel your inner engineer - these are not problems, they are puzzles, they can be solved but you have to use the pieces you’re given.

  3. Avoid the temptation to fix the world, instead focus on improving yourself then your immediate circles of influence.

What is your mindset? In the midst of the current upheaval and crisis are you feeling stuck and powerless or are you looking for ways to make a change? A common recommendation I make in circumstances likes these is to start small. Consider making a change at the personal or even individual level. Learn something new, build your awareness, reach out to the humans in your immediate circle, and make an impact in their lives. From there you can expand to taking action in your neighborhood, your community, your company, or even your city. 

There’s a place for optimism and pessimism, for dreamers and pragmatic thinkers, each one of these types of individuals can cultivate a growth mindset, it starts with the belief in possibility and agency.

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