“Once your mindset changes, everything on the outside will change along with it.” — Steve Maraboli
I know a mindset makes all the difference in the world, because it shapes how you see the world and how you show up in the world.
Your mindset is the lens of how you look at things and the lens of how you perceive things.
I’ve always been a fan of mindsets, even when I didn’t know exactly how to describe them. To me, I could feel the difference whether I was in a victim vs. hero mindset, or when I was operating from a scarcity vs. abundance mindset, or when I was looking at something from a fixed mindset vs. a growth mindset, etc.
But I couldn’t quite explain what a mindset is in a simple enough way, to somebody who didn’t already know what a mindset was. It was like the “I know it when I see it” scenario.
Now, I think I found a good enough way to explain a mindset in a way that’s useful, precise, and actionable. I’ve been testing it, and so far, so good.
What is a Mindset
The simplest way I describe a mindset is that it’s your outlook or your world view. It’s how you look at things.
Your mindset is the expression of a belief that you embrace.
This last part is key. If you realize that your mindset is really the expression of a belief, then now you know how to change your mindset.
You change your mindset by embracing a new belief.
Examples of Mindsets
If you think of a mindset as the fundamental belief that shapes how you see things
Here are some examples:
- Victim Mindset – the world’s against me, it always happens to me
- Hero Mindset – you can rise above your challenges
- Scarcity Mindset – there’s not enough for everyone
- Abundance Mindset – there’s plenty for everyone, or we’ll make more
- Fixed Mindset – you are born that way, things are stuck the way they are
- Growth Mindset – you can learn how to get better at something if you try
- Agile Mindset – embrace change
The key thing to really notice is that each mindset is really rooted in a belief that shapes how you see the world, show up in the world, and how you respond and react with the world.
How the Right Mindset Changes Everything
The right mindset changes everything because it changes how you look at things. When you change how you look at things, it changes how you feel.
When you change how you feel, you change how you think. And vice-versa.
When you change how you feel and how you think, you change what you do. When you change what you do, you change your results.
Changing your mindset, changes your results.
How To Change Your Mindset
A lot of people, want to change their mindset, but they don’t know how. Once they become aware that their mindset limits them, they want to change their mindset, but they don’t know how.
You change your mindset by changing your belief.
Herein lies the challenge. We are talking about beliefs. You get what you expect. Whether you believe you can change your beliefs, or you believe you can’t, you are right.
But a funny thing happens when you entertain the possibility of embracing a new belief. Your brain can rationalize anything. When you embrace a new belief, your mind will start to find evidence to support you. You will suddenly see a new world all around you.
We delete and filter things all day, every day. It’s how our perception works. Our mindset is one of the most pervasive lenses across all of our perception. So by playing with new beliefs, you are playing with your ability to see the world in a brand new way.
One of the biggest challenges of changing beliefs is when negative beliefs get in the way. Talk back to your thoughts. You might have talked back to your parents or to your teachers or argued with your friends. Well, do the same with yourself. The more you challenge your limiting beliefs, the more they will crush and crumble. You will gradually awaken your consciousness to a new level of insights where you will find yourself making leaps and bounds in your own understanding.
And this is exactly how you will carve out your new character as you hack your way forward.
A great way to adopt a mindset is to simply treat it like an experiment. Try a mindset on for size and see how it changes the way you look at the world.
Experiment #1 – Adopt an Abundance Mindset
Long ago, I remember Stephen Covey talking about the Abundance mindset. He said it was the key to fostering collaboration and building better relationships, which he said was really the backbone of being effective.
The fundamental belief of the Abundance mindset is:
“There is plenty for everyone.”
Many people believe in a Scarcity mindset, or a survival-of-the-fittest mindset. When people operate from a Scarcity mindset, they feel threatened by other people’s success. They feel that there is not enough success to go around.
It might sound simple, but it’s pretty primal. If somebody is in scarcity mode, or survival mode, they tend to operate out of fear. Their lizard brain kicks in and treats other people as a threat. Worse, they feel if you win, they lose, so they don’t want you to win.
That’s why Covey challenged people to think Win-Win. It’s easy to think Win-Lose. When you think Win-Lose, you focus on how you win, at others expenses. You might even think the only way to win is for the other person to lose.
When you think Win-Win, we cooperate and collaborate to find ways to create a bigger, better solution, where we both win. What makes this work is embracing the idea that there is enough for everyone, and that if there’s not, we will make more. We will find a way.
When you work from the Abundance mindset, you celebrate the success of others, instead of fear it.
How To Cultivate an Abundance Mindset
If you want to cultivate an Abundance mindset, there are several things you can practice that will help.
You can actually practice building an Abundance mindset by practicing Covey’s habits of highly effective people.
Here are some way to cultivate an Abundance mindset:
- Be proactive. The first habit of highly effectively people is to be proactive. By being proactive, you anticipate and prepare for challenges that will come your way. Reactive people wait for problems to happen and then they try to react. They often get surprised. By the time they react, now they are in stress mode and operating out of fear. When you are proactive, you choose your response. You can’t control everything that happens to you, but you choose how to respond. The more you reflect on your goals and step into the challenges you will face, the more you will learn how to respond with skill.
- Begin with the end in mind. Another habit of highly effective people is to work backwards from the ideal outcome. This is a great chance to envision and play with multiple possibilities. This is a chance to be inclusive of others and to imagine a future where everybody wins. If you find that your end in mind creates a lot of losers, then it’s your chance to rethink your possibilities. It’s a small world. Your choices will come back to you, and when you find ways to help hack a better world, others will join you on your journey.
- Think Win-Win. Another habit of highly effective people is to deliberately focus on creating a solution where everybody wins. Don’t confuse this with “everybody gets a trophy”. This isn’t trite and trivial. This is a job for smart people where it means hitting pause, taking a step back, taking the balcony view, and looking at the much bigger land of opportunity. This is where you give your creative mind the space it needs to intentionally carve out a bigger playing ground for everyone. We are living in the collaboration economy.
- Practice self-affirmation. Don’t let a lack of appreciation drive you to downward behaviors. Lift yourself up with skill. When you celebrate your personal victories, you fill the need. So many people feel underappreciated. They look to others. But the key is to first look within. If you do a good job of appreciating when you do the tough stuff, or when you do a good job, you will cultivate better abundance. Create more moments to be proud of. And reflect on those victories. They will be your juice and joy as you slay your day.
- Practice an attitude of gratitude. This is really where you let the sunshine in. If you notice a pattern across the most successful people on the planet, it’s a deep attitude of gratitude. They celebrate all they are thankful for. They appreciate all that they have. Too many times people don’t know what they’ve got until it’s gone. By fueling yourself with an attitude of gratitude, you will cultivate a powerful
Experiment #2 – Adopt a Growth Mindset
A Growth mindset could be your ticket to a brand new life of possibility and potential. If you are stuck in a rut, or hitting a ceiling, it’s time to unbound your abilities and explore your limitless opportunities for growth and greatness.
Carol Dweck, Ph.D, writes about the power of a Growth mindset in her book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success – How We Can Learn to Fulfill Our Potential.
The fundamental belief of a Growth mindset is:
“You can learn and you get better.”
Here is the essence of a Fixed mindset according to Dweck:
“In a fixed mindset, people believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits. They spend their time documenting their intelligence or talent instead of developing them. They also believe that talent alone creates success—without effort.”
Here is the essence of a Growth mindset according to Dweck:
“In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment.”
A fixed mindset is no way to grow.
How To Cultivate a Growth Mindset
The beauty is that you can cultivate a Growth mindset with skill. In fact, according to Dweck:
“Mindsets are an important part of your personal, but you can change them. Just by knowing the two mindsets, you can start thinking and reacting in new ways.”
Here are some pragmatic ways to cultivate a Growth mindset:
- Choose a Growth mindset. This really is the first step. Once you decide that you are choosing a Growth mindset over a Fixed mindset, you will start to pay attention to your behaviors and thoughts (and thoughts are behaviors, too). You will start to challenge whether the words coming out of your mouth reflect somebody who is learning new things or staying stuck in the past. You will start to challenge everything you think and everything you do, and whether that embraces what you are learning and how you can get better at things you put your mind to.
- Focus on learning vs. achievement. This is a big one. If you worry about your performance, you will balk at chances to step outside of your comfort zone or to try new things. If you embrace the idea of learning and trying new things, then it’s OK to look silly, stupid, or whatever. Don’t judge. Embrace the learning aspect. I know I suck when I start. So I don’t focus on that, I focus on what I need to learn. I get feedback. I find people who can give me precision on how change my behavior, to change my results. In general, people give judgy feedback – they are used to just rating things… good, bad, hot.. or not. I seek out people that are able to give suggestions and ideas in a relevant and tangible way.
- Enjoy the process. A mentor of mine once gave me a powerful piece of insight. He asked me how I feel when I was trying to figure something out. I said I feel awkward. He said, “Exactly, that’s what growth feels like.” I had to learn to enjoy the feeling of awkwardness. It might seem counter-intuitive, but it’s similar to exercise for me. I do enjoy the pain of a workout. I know it’s growth. I remember the Navy Seal’s saying, “Pain is weakness leaving the body.”
- Explore and expand what you are capable of. This is a powerful way to live and lead with a Growth mindset. Hack at your physical and creative capabilities. When I took up archery again, I was surprised by how I was able to get better faster, by really focusing on learning instead of just performance. When I was a kid, sure I tried to get better. But I overly focused on hitting the bulls-eye and I missed out on all the learning opportunities. I’m revisiting old skills as I also add new ones, and I’m surprised by how changing my mindset, changes my ability to learn in a much deeper and much more effective way.
- The gift is your growth. It’s easy to get caught up in rewards. It’s easy to fall into the trap of carrots and sticks. Rise above it, and focus on the give you keep on getting. The gift of your growth. It’s similar to the idea of the gift is a job well done. Actually, it’s more like how John Wooden coached his basketballs teams to success. He didn’t care if they won or lost. He cared how they played the game. More specifically, he cared if each person played their best. He personally journaled for each player to focus deeply on their learning and growth.
Experiment #3 – Adopt an Agile Mindset
An Agile mind is a very powerful one. One of my favorite quotes I use in my talks when I present Agile Results is how agility trumps being smarter or stronger:
“It is not the most intellectual or the strongest species that survives, but the species that survives is the one that is able to adapt to or adjust best to the changing environment in which it finds itself.”
My pithy way to say it is, “Nature favors the flexible.”
The essential belief of an Agile mindset is:
Imagine if instead of getting disrupted or run over by change, you embrace it. You see it as a chance to figure out something new, or a new way to do something.
You can turn your disruptive change into constructive change and create more opportunities for your growth and greatness.
Instead of feeling threatened by change and instead of feeling anxious, you feel excited and look forward to how you are going reframe the challenge as a chance to find a better way.
With an Agile mindset, you become flexible in your approach and you adapt to whatever comes your way.
And the more you adapt, the better you get, like building a muscle. It’s a muscle you can use to go from surviving to thriving in work and life.
One you adopt an Agile mindset, you will eat change and disruption for breakfast.
How To Cultivate an Agile Mindset
Flexibility will come with practice. One of your biggest challenges is going to be your self-image. You might say to yourself, “I’m not an artist”, or “I’m not a musician”, or “I can’t do that”, etc.
Talk back to your thoughts. Challenge them. Chip away at them. Prove them wrong a little victory at a time. Surprise yourself. Learn your way forward.
Armed with an Agile mind on your side, the future is full of possibilities and all of those doors open, once you realize the key to all of your possibility is your ability to adapt to change.
With that in mind, here are some pragmatic ways to cultivate an Agile mindset:
- Choose to be more flexible in your approach. It’s a choice. Choose it. We unconsciously hold on to ways of doing things or ways of thinking or ways of being because it’s unconscious and it’s a habit. By being aware, you instantly give yourself a chance to choose to be more flexible. You will catch yourself resisting change. Challenge yourself. Ask yourself, “If I was somebody who embraced change, how would I handle this differently?” And act accordingly. A great inspiration here is the move Yes Man, starring Jim Carrey. He breaks out of his former rigid self and embraces life in a whole new direction wide open with possibilities.
- Create more possibilities. A great way to do this is using the phrase, “Imagine if…” and then you fill in the blank. It’s a simple way to explore and expand possibilities as you go through your day. For example, imagine if you could fly a drone to work. Or, imagine if you you would work from your favorite place in the world. Or maybe you are eating at a restaurant, imagine if the menu was personalized to you. Or imagine if you ran Disney for the day, how would you share the magic of Disney with the world in an epic way? This is a powerful way to practice creative thinking during your everyday routines. Don’t get stuck in what is, or the way things are. That’s current state. Focus on the future state. Imagine how things could be. Play with possibility. You will gradually learn to reshape the future. Some people try to predict the future. I prefer to create it and shape it. You can, too.
- Practice scenario planning. Expect the unexpected. Futurists have a hack for planning the future. They don’t bet on one possibility. They play out multiple paths. They learn to look for how trends will intersect with every day lives. And they balance the appetite of the market and the users to figure out which scenarios are more probable. But the real power is that the more you play out scenarios, the more you are ready for whatever happens. Even if you didn’t predict exactly what the scenario would be, you are filled with lots of ideas about how things could play out. Instead of reacting now you are responding. You will feel more in control, because you are more prepared. And the art of preparation has a spill over effect into all aspects of your life.
- Reframe your problems. This is a very simple, but profound practice. We all have problems we face every day. The first things to do is to reframe even the idea of “problems”. Reframe your problems into “challenges”. This instantly gamifies it. And turn your “challenges” into “changes”. They are chances for your to learn something new, enhance your skills, meet new people, or whatever. Broaden the challenge in ways that stretch you. This s how you explore and expand what you are capable of. As legendary leadership author John Maxwell puts it: “You don’t overcome challenges by making them smaller but by making yourself bigger.” For a simple example, don’t just “call back a customer” – “win a raving fan!” You can be a source of your own inspiration every day as you practice your Agile mindset.
- Do the opposite. This is a technique that really helps if you find yourself really stuck. Whatever you would normally do, try doing the opposite. If you plan too much, try taking more action. If you dive into things too fast, try taking a step back and making a mini-plan. If you tend to say no to new things, try saying yes. There are lots of variations to this, but that’s the core approach. Just try the opposite of your normal responses. This will help you practice learning how to adapt. As you get advanced, you might ask some people you trust, “What would you do if you were me, in this particular situation?” You can also ask yourself, “What would [Fill in your favorite hero’’] do?” It doesn’t need to be a hero, actually. Simply plug in a cast of different characters you know and explore the different responses. This will gradually lead to your most profound breakthroughs. It’s like trying on a costume of super powers that helps you see the world in a new way.
You may feel a little rusty or stiff at first, as you try to flex your mind, but simply pay attention to where you get stuck. If you find yourself stuck, break out of it by asking, “What would Richard Branson do?”
For example, one time I was really stuck trying to figure out whether to take a new job offer.
I looked on my book shelf and saw Richard Branson’s book, Screw It, Let’s Do It.
The next day, I told the hiring manager, “Screw it, let’s do it” and I took on one of the best jobs of my career.
How I Changed My Mindset
Because I spent a great deal of my career at Microsoft in the bowls of high tech teams, pawing through code, and taking on big tech challenges around security, performance, application architecture, and more, I didn’t see myself as a business leader.
I imagined that I would continue my technical journey, and simply get better technically.
But then I had a change of heart, and a change of mind. Maybe it was seeing Tony Stark (aka Iron Man) in action, or maybe it was from watching how people like Richard Branson change the world.
Suddenly, I decided that I wanted to be a modern business leader – the kind of person that could use technology to help businesses win in the modern market. (The beauty of the modern market is that it’s a shift towards do good for people and do good for the planet.)
The key is that I decided to change my mindset.
And so I did.
How I Practice My Mindset
I was inspired to be a better business leader and hack a better world. I wanted to be able to change the world and create “better business because of technology.” I adopted the a Growth mindset, and I focused on learning all I could about business design, and I built my strategy skills. I learned a ton from Michael Porter, especially around modeling business success.
I learned all I could from Peter Drucker, especially his amazing insights in The Effective Executive. I learned all I could from Tom Peters and what exactly makes great businesses rise and shine. I learned all I could about creating better customer experience, and how to innovate better. Because I had focused on building my skills as a futurist, and I was good at figuring out future trends, I specialized in disruptive innovation.
I leverage my engineering skills to parse businesses in better ways and to model the future and to analyze scenarios from all angles. I don’t need to be smart. I just need to learn better. If you know Charlie Munger, he is Warren Buffet’s business partner. The world thinks he’s among the smartest people on the planet. Munger says he simply has more mental models to play with any problem. No matter what problem the market throws his way, he can slice and dice it down to size, and gain a new perspective.
I got to practice my strategy skills when I was “head coach” on Satya Nadella’s innovation team. I got pushed to help businesses reimagine their future in the digital era. What I learned quickly is what Einstein taught us:
“Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited, whereas imagination embraces the entire world, stimulating progress, giving birth to evolution.”
Now, I regularly get asked to be a CEO whisperer and share ideas and insights to help shape the future. And several friends lean on me for perspective into how to design a better business.
Over the years, my mind has filled up with new stories and examples, where I’ve helped people with business breakthroughs.
These examples and frames of reference reinforce my Growth mindset and remind me that I can learn whatever I want to.
Dream Big, Start Small, and Set the Stage for Serendipity
My journey is not what I expected. Sometimes I’m amazed by the people I’ve met, the ideas I’ve created, and the businesses I’ve shaped.
And other days, it’s just business as usual.
But if I look back, the single most important thing I did was to change my mindset. I embraced a Growth mindset that I could learn anything I need to, and I hacked at innovation and entrepreneurship.
What I really learned though is that changing your mindset is the first step that sets the stage for all sorts of serendipity.
As much as I belief in learning, I also believe in luck. As Peter Thiel put it:
“I’m a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work the more I have of it.”
May your mindset help the world conspire with you.